Poem of the Week, by Stephen Dunn

Original artwork by Peter H. Reynolds

A long time ago, I was showing someone around the 150 acres of woods and fields where I grew up. We were closing in on what my sisters and I always called the pine tree house, a small outdoor room-like space enclosed by sheltering pines where I kept a tiny table and stool and paper and pens. I loved and trusted this person and wanted to show them the pine tree house as a kind of beautiful surprise –it was an important place to me–but at the last minute I veered away and didn’t mention it, either then or later.

When I first read this poem, by the wondrous Stephen Dunn, I ducked my head and shrank in my chair even though no one else was home. That long ago day came shimmering back into my mind, how something in me needed to keep the place and what it revealed about me secret, only for myself.

A Secret Life, by Stephen Dunn

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don’t say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you’ve just made love
and feel you’d rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you’re brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that’s unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you’d most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it’s like a small fire
in a clearing, it’s what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It’s why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,­­­
the one who’ll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.

Click here for more information about Stephen Dunn.

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Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Stephen Dunn

My dog and I often walk past a house being built on Lake of the Isles. For two years now I’ve watched this house take shape from a staked hole in the ground to the beamed stone and frame beauty it’s becoming. A craftsman built curved and arched stone walls by hand, hefting each rock in his hands, considering its possible place in the wall.

Every time we walk past I compliment the men on their work. Windows like portholes. A huge framed entrance. Those beautiful wave-like stone walls. The house is made of rock and slate and wood and light and endless hours of skill and artistry and labor.

At some point this house will be finished, and the people who paid for it will move in. Along with their belongings they will bring their hearts and minds, their feelings toward each other and the world. Within the untouched rooms of this huge home will be laughter and fights and sorrows and hopes and regrets.

But the rooms of the house will always remember the touch of the men who made them, the deep, slow care embedded in their walls.

The Room, by Stephen Dunn

The room has no choice.
Everything that’s spoken in it
it absorbs. And it must put up with

the bad flirt, the overly perfumed,
the many murderers of mood—
with whoever chooses to walk in.

If there’s a crowd, one person
is certain to be concealing a sadness,
another will have abandoned a dream,

at least one will be a special agent
for his own cause. And always
there’s a functionary,

somberly listing what he does.
The room plays no favorites.
Like its windows, it does nothing

but accommodate shades
of light and dark. After everyone leaves
(its entrance, of course, is an exit),

the room will need to be imagined
by someone, perhaps some me
walking away now, who comes alive

when most removed. He’ll know
from experience how deceptive
silence can be. This is when the walls

start to breathe as if reclaiming the air,
when the withheld spills forth,
when even the chairs start to talk.

Stephen Dunn, “The Room” from What Goes On. For more information on Stephen Dunn, please click here.

alisonmcghee.com
Words by Winter: my podcas

Poem of the Week, by Stephen Dunn

IMG_0447I’m teaching a Creative Writing Boot Camp this week. Six days in a row, seven hours a day, nineteen of us gather in a windowed classroom halfway between Minneapolis and St. Paul to write and write and talk and talk about the art and craft and act of writing. Poems and tiny short stories, tiny memoirs. Beautiful, painful, funny, wistful fragments of life, captured on paper and released into the invisible air of the room. I could teach for another fifty years and never lose this astonishment, that nurses and truck drivers and musicians and stay at home parents and hair stylists and sex workers and clerks and commodities traders and group home workers, Muslim and Christian and atheist, come together in a single small room and transform themselves and me and the whole outside world by the power of sharing stories. If a teacher asked me to name a sacred place, the classroom would be mine.

The Sacred
     – Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

 

For more information about Stephen Dunn, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Stephen Dunn

The Sacred
– Stephen Dunn


After the teacher asked if anyone had

a sacred place

and the students fidgeted and shrank


in their chairs, the most serious of them all

said it was his car,

being in it alone, his tape deck playing


things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth

had been spoken

and began speaking about their rooms,


their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,

the car in motion,

music filling it, and sometimes one other person


who understood the bright altar of the dashboard

and how far away

a car could take him from the need


to speak, or to answer, the key

in having a key

and putting it in, and going.



For more information on Stephen Dunn, please click here: http://www.stephendunnpoet.com/

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