“I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.”
~ Stephen Dunn
to John Jay Osborn, Jr.
"Anything that you rub long enough becomes beautiful."
I once saw a painter smear black paint
on a bad blue sky,
then rub it in until that lie of hers
was gone. I've seen men polish cars
so hard they've given off light.
As a child I kept a stone in my pocket,
thumb and forefinger in collusion
with water and wind,
caressing it day and night.
I've begun a few things with an eraser,
waited for friction's spark.
I've learned that sometimes severe
can lead to truer, ever true.
But few things human can stand
to be rubbed for long—I know this
and can't stop. If beauty comes
it comes startled, hiding scars,
out of what barely can be endured.
Poems should be more like essays and essays should be more like poems.
Two of every sort shall thou bring into the Ark.
* * *
by Stephen Dunn, from Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs
First, it was more about mystery than about trying to get us to behave. Whichever, we’re still in some lonely cave, not far from that moment a lightning storm or a sunset drove us to invent the upper reaches of the sky. Religion is proof that a good story, we'll-told, is a powerful thing. Proof, too, that terror makes fabulists of us all. We’re pitiful, finally, and so oddly valiant. The dead god rising into ism after ism—that longing for coherence that keeps us, if not naive, historically challenged. To love Christ you must love the Buddha, to love Mohammed or Moses you must love Confucius and, say Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well. They were all wise and unsponsored and insufficient, some of the best of us. I’m saying this to myself: the sacred cannot be found unless you give up some old version of it. And when you do, mon semblable, mon frère, I swear there’ll be an emptiness it’ll take a lifetime to fill. Indulge, become capacious, give up nothing, Jack my corner grocer said. He was pushing the portobellos, but I was listening with that other, my neediest ear.