A wise and graceful new collection by one of our "major, indispensable poets" (Sidney Lea). The mysteries of Eros and Thanatos, the stubborn endurance of mind and body in the face of diminishment--these are the undercurrents of Stephen Dunn's eleventh volume. "I am interested in exploring the 'different' hours," he says, "not only of one's life, but also of the larger historical and philosophical life beyond the personal."
Below are a few of my favorites from Different Hours,
Earlier, everyone was in knee boots, collars up.
The paper boy's papers came apart
in the wind.
Now, nothing human moving.
Just a black squirrel fidgeting like Bogart
in The Caine Mutiny.
My breath chalks the window,
gives me away to myself.
I like the intelligibility of old songs.
I prefer yesterday.
Cars pass, the asphalt's on its back
smudged with skid. It's potholed
and cracked; it's no damn good.
Anyone out without the excuse of a dog
should be handcuffed
and searched for loneliness.
My hair is thinning.
I feel like tossing the wind a stick.
The promised snow has arrived,
I remember the blizzard of...
People I don't want to be
speak like that.
I close my eyes and one
of my many unborn sons
makes a snowball
and lofts it at an unborn friend.
They've sent me an AARP card.
I'm on their list.
I can be discounted now almost anywhere.
"The Reverse Side"
The reverse side also has a reverse side.
-- A Japanese Proverb
It's why when we speak a truth
some of us instantly feel foolish
as if a deck inside us has been shuffled
and there it is --the opposite of what we said.
And perhaps why as we fall in love
we're already falling out of it.
It's why the terrified and the simple
latch onto one story,
just one version of the great mystery.
Image & afterimage, oh even
the open-minded yearn for a fiction
to rein things in--
the snapshot, the lie of a frame.
How do we not go crazy,
we who have found ourselves compelled
to live within the circle, the ellipsis, the word
not yet written.
"A Postmortem Guide"
For my eulogist, in advance
Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.
Can't you see I've turned away
from the large excitements,
and have accepted all the troubles?
Go down to the old cemetery; you'll see
there's nothing definitive to be said.
The dead once were all kinds--
boundary breakers and scalawags,
martyrs of the flesh, and so many
dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.
I've been a little of each.
And, please, resist the temptation
of speaking about virtue.
The seldom-tempted are too fond
of that word, the small-
spirited, the unburdened.
Know that I've admired in others
only the fraught straining
to be good.
Adam's my man and Eve's not to blame.
He bit in; it made no sense to stop.
Still, for accuracy's sake you might say
I often stopped,
that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.
And since you know my hardships,
understand they're mere bump and setback
against history's horror.
Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,
how obscene it is
for some of us to complain.
Tell them I had second chances.
I knew joy.
I was burned by books early
and kept sidling up to the flame.
Tell them that at the end I had no need
for God, who'd become just a story
I once loved, one of many
with concealments and late-night rescues,
high sentence and pomp. The truth is
I learned to live without hope
as well as I could, almost happily,
in the despoiled and radiant now.
You who are one of them, say that I loved
my companions most of all.
In all sincerity, say that they provided
a better way to be alone.