The Design Observer Twenty

Stephen Dunn | Poetry


When the neighbor’s drapes are open,                                   
I’m not like the kind of man
who refuses to put down his binoculars
so that their steamy, good time
can remain his as well. No,

I’m exactly that kind of man,
wary of anyone who’d turn away
mid-view, skedaddle off to a room
that overlooks, say, a pond.
I’m so tired of superior smiles.

Something I’m unaware of is likely
governing me, which doesn’t excuse
these dark, bottom-feeding things
I tend to let rise into daylight.
I’ll take discredit for all of them.

Nevertheless I wish to be true to life,
though not entirely to the one I live.
When in trouble I’ve been known
to give myself some wiggle room,
to revisit that once important sliver

of moon that slid across the Bay
to our table back when we were in love,
to even change our names. In the world
of feelings, aren’t attractive opposites
always nearby? — dogwood blossoms,
for example, and the springtime puffery

of rhododendrons trumping the memory,
at least for a moment, of that heat
my binoculars brought close.
Life itself is promiscuous. It feels right
to place a few renegade details together,
let them cavort. A moment later,

it feels right to discipline them,
smack them into shape — the pink cadillac
that motored by while I was eating macaroni
and cheese, the meteor that fell
at a terrible speed and dissolved into darkness,
that apology on the tip of my tongue.

Editor's note: It's hard to understand how Stephen Dunn can fit so much tension — so many kinds of tension, so many layers of each kind — into a poem that at first feels so effortless. It's a dramatic monologue in the guise of a stand-up routine, then vice versa. The speaker knows himself well enough to draw this inconsistency (or inconstancy) together in the end of the poem. But how do we know if he's joking? —Adam Plunkett

From HERE AND NOW: POEMS by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Dunn  Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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