Wednesday Sep 20

Stephen Dunn is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, including Here and Now (Norton, 2011), and Different Hours (winner of the Pulitzer Prize).  Among his awards are The Paterson Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations.  In early 2014, Syracuse University Press will publish a book of essays about his life and work, edited by Laura McCullough, and tentatively titled To Live in This World.
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The Visitors
 
 
No one seems to be home,
and the note on the door
says “Gone,” yet what are words
these days but things
just slung around?  Still,
we’ve traveled such a distance.
If they’re gone, it would be
almost unbearable,
not because we love them—
in fact they’re hard to love—
but because, you know,
we’re the kind of people
who think a step forward
is a step well taken.
Life’s too short, we always say,
and don’t put off until tomorrow
what you can do today.
We pass these things on—clues
for living well and long.
We suspect they’re here, hiding
as they often have behind “Gone”
and “Beware,” and other signs
that we know are really saying,
“Find us, please.” They’re always
sort of lost.  And this house
of theirs, this house is weird,
as if it was built with floor boards
that wouldn’t tongue, wouldn’t groove.
Something about it feels forced.
On their walls is some framed mish
and mash, which they call art.
The door’s unlocked.
They don’t appear to be here—
closets emptied, refrigerator unplugged,
and a note on the kitchen table, addressed
to us, which they cannot possibly mean.
 
 
 
The Date
 
 
It was afternoon. Not a hair
of her long blond wig moved
as they cruised in his convertible
the town’s back streets and avenues.
 
At stop signs people could notice
the fixity of her smile. At red lights 
a disturbing pallor, something off.
So he knew that to really appear
 
to have a beautiful companion
he had to hit the open road,
and keep moving
at just the right speed.
 
Soon they were in the country.
The day was bright, warm.
He wanted to keep driving forever,
never stop, gas up
 
the way those planes do in mid-air.
Earlier, he had dressed her
in a black, off-the-shoulder Versace,
and for a moment feared
 
what the overly-stylish must—
that she looked oh-so-close to sad.
But now it was just him and her
in his ’96 Camaro, and around them
 
unjudgmental cows and horses
in the verdant fields.
Everything was as it seemed, and what
could be better than that?  He rested
 
his hand on hers. He told her
what she meant to him, and more.
Under the cover of dark, he finally drove
home, opened for her like a gentleman
 
the passenger door,  carried her in,
removed, then hung up her clothes.
He’d return her to the store window
in the morning. But now how chaste
 
she looked in her nightgown—
and ahead of him nothing
to look forward to but sleep
and the sweet misery of his dreams.
 
 
 
The Astronauts and You
 
 
Two days after you died, Marie, the astronauts
went out in sad spectacle, no more or less
dead than you, but exploding, no time to think
 
about or feel how the body disintegrates.
Though you died without high drama,
the heart is selfish about grief,
 
and in the intimate village of loss, where notions
of country grow small, our hearts make their own
history. You were our citizen, Marie, our first
 
lady of no nonsense, who when asked
how you were, always answered “terrific”
as if from a deeper self that didn’t lie.