Stephen Dunn

The Art of Letting Pass

El Parque del Retiro, Madrid, August 3, 2012

All That We Have
by Stephen Dunn, from Local Time 

            to John Jay Osborn, Jr.

It's on ordinary days, isn't it,
     when they happen,
those silent slippages,

a man mowing the lawn, a woman
     reading a magazine,
each thinking it can't go on like this,

then the raking, the turning
     of a page.
The art of letting pass

what must not be spoken, the art
     of tirade, explosion,
are the marital arts, and we

their poor practitioners, are never
     more than apprentices.
At night in bed the day visits us,

happily or otherwise.  In the morning
     the words good morning
have a history of tones; pray to say them

evenly.  It's so easy, those moments
     when affection is what
the hand and voice naturally coordinate.

But it's that little invisible cloud
     in the livingroom,
floating like boredom, it's the odor

of disappointment mixing with
     kitchen smells,
which ask of us all that we have.

The man coming in now
     to the woman.
The woman going out to the man.


[Thanks, Whiskey River!]

Beauty Comes Startled

by Stephen Dunn, from Different Hours

"Anything that you rub long enough becomes beautiful."
—Jim Opinsky

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.

Ism After Ism

Poems should be more like essays and essays should be more like poems.

~ Charles Olson

Two of every sort shall thou bring into the Ark.

~ Genesis

*     *     *

by Stephen Dunn, from Riffs and Reciprocities: Prose Pairs

Riffs & 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.