Different Hours: Poemsby Stephen Dunn
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
Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
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."
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt
Before the Sky Darkens
Sunsets, incipient storms, the tableaus
of melancholymaybe these are
the Saturday night-events
to take your best girl to. At least then
there might be moments of vanishing beauty
before the sky darkens,
and the expectation of happiness
would hardly exist
and therefore might be possible.
More and more you learn to live
with the unacceptable.
You sense the ever-hidden God
retreating even farther,
terrified or embarrassed.
You might as well be a clown,
big silly clothes, no evidence of desire.
That's how you feel, say, on a Tuesday.
Then out of the daily wreckage
comes an invitation
with your name on it. Or more likely,
that best girl of yours offers you,
once again, a small local kindness.
You open your windows to good air
blowing in from who knows where,
which you gulp and deeply inhale
as if you have a death sentence. You have.
All your life, it seems, you've been appealing it.
Night sweats and useless strategem. Reprieves.
Because in my family the heart goes first
and hardly anybody makes it out of his fifties,
I think I'll stay up late with a few bandits
of my choice and resist good advice.
I'll invent a secret scroll lost by Egyptians
and reveal its contents: the directions
to your house, recipes for forgiveness.
History saysmyventricles are stone alleys,
my heart itself a city with a terrorist
holed up in the mayor's office.
I'm in the mood to punctuate
only with that maker of promises, the colon:
next, next, next, its says, God bless it.
As García Lorca may have written: some people
forget to live as if a great arsenic lobster
could fall on their heads at any moment.
My sixtieth birthday is tomorrow.
Come, play poker with me,
I want to be taken to the cleaners.
I've had it with all stingy-hearted sons of bitches.
A heart is to be spent. As for me, I'll share
my mulcher with anyone who needs to mulch.
It's time to give up the search for the invisible.
On the best of days there's little more
than the faintest intimations. The millennium,
my dear, is sure to disappoint us.
I think I'll keep on describing things
to ensure that they really happened.
The silhouette of a mountain. Above it
a dark halo of rain. Dusk's light
fading, holding on. He thinks he's seen
some visible trace of some absent thing.
Knows he won't talk about it, can't.
He arrives home to the small winter pleasures
of a clothes tree, a hatrack,
his heroine in a housedress saying hello.
He could be anyone aware of an almost,
not necessarily sad. He could be a brute
suddenly chastened by the physical world.
They talk about the storm in the mountains
destined for the lowlands, the béarnaise sauce
and the fine cut of beef it improves.
The commonplace and its contingincies,
his half-filled cup, the monstrous
domesticated by the six o'clock news
these are his endurances,
in fact his privileges, if he has any sense.
Later while they make love, he thinks of
Mantle's long home run in the '57 Series.
He falls to sleep searching for a word.
AT THE RESTAURANT
Life would be unbearable
if we made ourselves conscious of it.
Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you're thinking
stop this now.
Who do you think you are?
The duck à l'orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.
But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.
And there's your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you'll dare not say
You should have stayed at home.
It's part of the social contract
to seem to be where your body is,
and you've been elsewhere like this,
for Christ's sake, countless times;
Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan's
black dress, Paul's promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter in this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.
The Death of God
When the news filtered to the angels
they were overwhelmed by their sudden aloneness.
Long into the night they waited for instructions;
the night was quieter than any night they'd known.
I don't have a thought in my head, one angel lamented.
Others worried, Is there such a thing as an angel now?
New to questioning, dashed by the dry light
of reason, some fell into despair. Many disappeared.
A few wandered naturally toward power, were hired
by dictators who needed something like an angel
to represent them to the world.
These angels spoke the pure secular word.
They murdered sweetly and extolled the greater good.
The Dark Angel himself was simply amused.
The void grew, and was fabulously filled.
Vast stadiums and elaborate malls
the new cathedralswere built
where people cheered and consumed.
At the nostalgia shops angel trinkets
and plastic crucifixes lined the shelves.
The old churches were homes for the poor.
And yet before meals and at bedtime
and in the iconographies of dreams,
God took his invisible place in the kingdom of need.
Disaffected minstrels made and sang His songs.
The angels were given breath and brain.
This all went on while He was dead to the world.
The Dark Angel observed it, waiting as ever.
On these things his entire existence depended.
A Century of Great Exploration
Edited by David Roberts
W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright © 2000 David Roberts. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Stephen Dunn is the author of poetry collections including What Goes On: New and Selected Poems 1995–2009 andHere and Now. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Different Hours. He has also been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and has received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Richard Stockton College, he lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.
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