Please Understand (A Bachelor’s Valentine)by Stephen Dunn

When, next day, I found one of your earrings,slightly chipped, on the steps leading up tobut also away from my house,
I couldn’t decide if I should return it to youor keep it for myself in this copper box.Then I remembered there’s always another choice
and pushed it with my foot into the begonias.If you’re the kind who desires fragile mementosof these perilous journeys we take,
that’s where you’ll find it. But don’t knockon my door. I’ll probably be sucking the pitout of an apricot, or speaking long distance
to myself. Best we can hope for on days like thisis that the thunder and dark clouds will veer elsewhere,and the unsolicited sun will break through
just before it sets, a beautiful dullness to it.Please understand. I’ve never been able to tellwhat’s worth more—what I want or what I have.

(text via avania)

Please Understand (A Bachelor’s Valentine)
by Stephen Dunn

When, next day, I found one of your earrings,
slightly chipped, on the steps leading up to
but also away from my house,

I couldn’t decide if I should return it to you
or keep it for myself in this copper box.
Then I remembered there’s always another choice

and pushed it with my foot into the begonias.
If you’re the kind who desires fragile mementos
of these perilous journeys we take,

that’s where you’ll find it. But don’t knock
on my door. I’ll probably be sucking the pit
out of an apricot, or speaking long distance

to myself. Best we can hope for on days like this
is that the thunder and dark clouds will veer elsewhere,
and the unsolicited sun will break through

just before it sets, a beautiful dullness to it.
Please understand. I’ve never been able to tell
what’s worth more—what I want or what I have.

(text via avania)

Here and Nowby Stephen Dunn             for Barbara        There are wordsI’ve had to save myself from,like My Lord and Blessed Mother,words I said and never meant,though I admit a part of me missesthe ornamental statelinessof High Mass, that smell        of incense. Heaven did exist,I discovered, but was reciprocaland momentary, like lustfelt at exactly the same time—two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,making a small case for themselves.        You and I became the wordsI’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,and again when I’d wake—wishfulwords, no belief in them yet.It seemed you’d been put on earthto distract mefrom what was doctrinal and dry.Electricity may start things,but if they’re to lastI’ve come to understanda steady, low-voltage hum        of affectionmust be arrived at. How else to offsetthe occasional slideinto neglect and ill temper?I learned, in time, to let heavengo its mythy way, to never again        be a supplicantof any single idea. For you and meit’s here and now from here on in.Nothing can save us, nor do we wishto be saved.        Let night comewith its austere grandeur,ancient superstitions and fears.It can do us no harm.We’ll put some music on,open the curtains, let things darkenas they will. 

Here and Now
by Stephen Dunn 

            for Barbara


        There are words
I’ve had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

        of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.

        You and I became the words
I’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,
and again when I’d wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you’d been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they’re to last
I’ve come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum

        of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again

        be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it’s here and now from here on in.
Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.

        Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.
 

Decorumby Stephen Dunn

She wrote, “They were making love up against a gymnasium wall,” and another young woman in class, serious enough to smile, said

“No, that’s fucking, they must have been fucking,” to which many agreed, pleased to have the proper fit of word with act. But an older woman, a wife, a mother, famous in class for confusing grace with decorum and carriage, said the F-word would distract the reader, sensationalize the poem. “Why can’t what they were doing just as easily be called making love?” It was an intelligent complaint, and the class proceeded to debate what’s fucking, what’s making love, and the importance of the context, tact, the bon mot. I leaned toward those who favored fucking; they were funnier and seemed to have more experience with the happy varieties of their subject. But then a young man said, now believing he had permission, “What’s the difference, you fuck ‘em and you call it making love; you tell ‘em what they want to hear.” The class jeered, and another man said “You’re the kind of guy who gives fucking a bad name,” and I remembered how fuck gets dirty as it moves reptilian out of certain minds, certain mouths. The young woman whose poem it was, small-boned and small-voiced, said she had no objection to fucking, but these people were making love, it was her poem and she herself up against that gymnasium wall, and it felt like love, and the hell with all of us. There was silence. The class turned to me, their teacher, who they hoped could clarify, perhaps ease things. I told them I disliked the word fucking in a poem, but that fucking might be right in this instance, yet I was unsure now, I couldn’t decide. A tear formed and moved down the poet’s cheek. I said I was sure only of “gymnasium,” sure it was the wrong choice, making the act seem too public, more vulgar than she wished. How about “boat house?” I asked. 
(via underneathyourbed)

Decorum
by Stephen Dunn

She wrote, “They were making love 
up against a gymnasium wall,” 
and another young woman in class, 
serious enough to smile, said

“No, that’s fucking, they must 
have been fucking,” to which many 
agreed, pleased to have the proper fit 
of word with act. 

But an older woman, a wife, a mother, 
famous in class for confusing grace 
with decorum and carriage, 
said the F-word would distract 

the reader, sensationalize the poem. 
“Why can’t what they were doing 
just as easily be called making love?” 
It was an intelligent complaint, 

and the class proceeded to debate 
what’s fucking, what’s making love, 
and the importance of the context, tact, 
the bon mot. I leaned toward those 

who favored fucking; they were funnier 
and seemed to have more experience 
with the happy varieties of their subject. 
But then a young man said, now believing 

he had permission, “What’s the difference, 
you fuck ‘em and you call it making love; 
you tell ‘em what they want to hear.” 
The class jeered, and another man said 

“You’re the kind of guy who gives fucking 
a bad name,” and I remembered how fuck 
gets dirty as it moves reptilian 
out of certain minds, certain mouths. 

The young woman whose poem it was, 
small-boned and small-voiced, 
said she had no objection to fucking, 
but these people were making love, 

it was her poem and she herself up against 
that gymnasium wall, and it felt like love, 
and the hell with all of us. 
There was silence. The class turned 

to me, their teacher, who they hoped 
could clarify, perhaps ease things. 
I told them I disliked the word fucking 
in a poem, but that fucking 

might be right in this instance, yet 
I was unsure now, I couldn’t decide. 
A tear formed and moved down 
the poet’s cheek. I said I was sure 

only of “gymnasium,” sure it was 
the wrong choice, making the act seem 
too public, more vulgar than she wished. 
How about “boat house?” I asked. 

(via underneathyourbed)

The Kissby Stephen Dunn 
She pressed her lips to mind.    —a typoHow many years I must have yearnedfor someone’s lips against mind.Pheromones, newly born, were floatingbetween us. There was hardly any air.She kissed me again, reaching that placethat sends messages to toes and fingertips,then all the way to something like home.Some music was playing on its own.Nothing like a woman who knowsto kiss the right thing at the right time,then kisses the things she’s missed.How had I ever settled for less?I was thinking this is intelligence,this is the wisest tonguesince the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,speaking sense. It’s the Good,defining itself. I was out of my mind.She was in. We married as soon as we could.

The Kiss
by Stephen Dunn 

She pressed her lips to mind.
    —a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.

Welcomeby Stephen Dunn 
if you believe nothing is always what’s leftafter a while, as I did,If you believe you have this collectionof ungiven gifts, as I do (right herebehind the silence and the averted eyes)If you believe an afternoon can collapseinto strange privacies -how in your backyard, for example,the shyness of flowers can be suddenlyoverwhelming, and in the distancethe clear goddamn of thunderpersonal, like a voice,If you believe there’s no correct responseto death, as I do; that even in grief(where I’ve sat making plans)there are small corners of joyIf your body sometimes is a light switchin a house of insomniacsIf you can feel yourself strainingto be yourself every waking minuteIf, as I am, you are almost smiling…
(text via crashinglybeautiful)

Welcome
by Stephen Dunn 

if you believe nothing is always what’s left
after a while, as I did,
If you believe you have this collection
of ungiven gifts, as I do (right here
behind the silence and the averted eyes)
If you believe an afternoon can collapse
into strange privacies -
how in your backyard, for example,
the shyness of flowers can be suddenly
overwhelming, and in the distance
the clear goddamn of thunder
personal, like a voice,
If you believe there’s no correct response
to death, as I do; that even in grief
(where I’ve sat making plans)
there are small corners of joy
If your body sometimes is a light switch
in a house of insomniacs
If you can feel yourself straining
to be yourself every waking minute
If, as I am, you are almost smiling…

(text via crashinglybeautiful)

 
 
Don’t Do Thatby Stephen Dunn, 2009 
It was bring-your-own if you wanted anythinghard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Redalong with some resentment I’d held infor a few weeks, which was not helpedby the sight of little nameless thingspierced with toothpicks on the tables,or by talk that promised to be nothingif not small. But I’d consented to come,and I knew what part of the housetheir animals would be sequestered,whose company I loved. What else can I say,
except that old retainer of slights and wrongs,that bad boy I hadn’t quite outgrown—I’d brought him along, too. I was outto cultivate a mood. My hosts greeted me,but did not ask about my soul, which was whenI was invited by Johnnie Walker Redto find the right kind of glass, and pour.I toasted the air. I said hello to the wall,then walked past a group of womendressed to be seen, undressing themone by one, and went up the stairs to where
the Rottweilers were, Rosie and Tom,and got down with them on all fours.They licked the face I offered them,and I proceeded to slick back my hairwith their saliva, and before longI felt like a wild thing, ready to mess upthe party, scarf the hors d’oeuvres.But the dogs said, No, don’t do that,calm down, after a while they open the doorand let you out, they pet your head, and everythingyou might have held against them is gone,and you’re good friends again. Stay, they said.
(text via The New Yorker)

Don’t Do That
by Stephen Dunn, 2009 

It was bring-your-own if you wanted anything
hard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Red
along with some resentment I’d held in
for a few weeks, which was not helped
by the sight of little nameless things
pierced with toothpicks on the tables,
or by talk that promised to be nothing
if not small. But I’d consented to come,
and I knew what part of the house
their animals would be sequestered,
whose company I loved. What else can I say,

except that old retainer of slights and wrongs,
that bad boy I hadn’t quite outgrown—
I’d brought him along, too. I was out
to cultivate a mood. My hosts greeted me,
but did not ask about my soul, which was when
I was invited by Johnnie Walker Red
to find the right kind of glass, and pour.
I toasted the air. I said hello to the wall,
then walked past a group of women
dressed to be seen, undressing them
one by one, and went up the stairs to where

the Rottweilers were, Rosie and Tom,
and got down with them on all fours.
They licked the face I offered them,
and I proceeded to slick back my hair
with their saliva, and before long
I felt like a wild thing, ready to mess up
the party, scarf the hors d’oeuvres.
But the dogs said, No, don’t do that,
calm down, after a while they open the door
and let you out, they pet your head, and everything
you might have held against them is gone,
and you’re good friends again. Stay, they said.

(text via The New Yorker)

Mon Semblableby Stephen Dunn 

Altruism is for those who can’t endure their desires. There’s a world as ambiguous as a moan, a pleasure moan our earnest neighbors might think a crime. It’s where we could live. I’ll say I love you, Which will lead, of course, to disappointment, but those words unsaid poison every next moment. I will try to disappoint you better than anyone else has. 

Mon Semblable
by Stephen Dunn 

Altruism is for those 
who can’t endure their desires. 
There’s a world 

as ambiguous as a moan, 
a pleasure moan 
our earnest neighbors 

might think a crime. 
It’s where we could live. 
I’ll say I love you, 

Which will lead, of course, 
to disappointment, 
but those words unsaid 

poison every next moment. 
I will try to disappoint you 
better than anyone else has. 

The Routine Things Around the House    by Stephen DunnWhen Mother diedI thought: now I’ll have a death poem.That was unforgivableyet I’ve since forgiven myselfas sons are able to dowho’ve been loved by their mothers.I stared into the coffinknowing how long she’d live,how many lifetimes there arein the sweet revisions of memory.It’s hard to know exactlyhow we ease ourselves back from sadness,but I remembered when I was twelve,1951, before the worldunbuttoned its blouse.I had asked my mother (I was trembling)if I could see her breastsand she took me into her roomwithout embarrassment or coynessand I stared at them,afraid to ask for more.Now, years later, someone tells meCancers who’ve never had mother loveare doomed and I, a Cancer,feel blessed again. What luckto have had a motherwho showed me her breastswhen girls my age were developingtheir separated countries,what luckshe didn’t doom mewith too much or too little.Had I asked to touch,perhaps to suck them,what would she have done?Mother, dead womanwho I think permits meto love women easily,this poemis dedicated to wherewe stopped, to the incompletenessthat was sufficientand to how you buttoned up,began doing the routine thingsaround the house.

The Routine Things Around the House   
by Stephen Dunn

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable

yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
if I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer,

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separated countries,
what luck

she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

perhaps to suck them,
what would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

who I think permits me
to love women easily,
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.