Getaway Reads: Two Poems by Stephen Dunn

This entry is part of Getaway Reads, a weekly e-mail series curated by Stephanie Cawley that features the writing of the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway faculty.

Don’t Do That

by Stephen Dunn

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.

What Goes On

by Stephen Dunn

After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet

into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis

of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn’t
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated
and saved her, and one day

her husband asked her to come back —
his wife, who after all had only fallen
in love as anyone might
who hadn’t been in love in a while —

and he held her, so different now,
so thin, her hair just partially
grown back. He held her like a new woman

and what she felt
felt almost as good as love had,
and each of them called it love
because precision didn’t matter anymore.

And we who’d been part of it,
often rejoicing with one
and consoling the other,

we who had seen her truly alive
and then merely alive,
what could we do but revise
our phone book, our hearts,

offer a little toast to what goes on.

© Stephen Dunn.

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Stephen Dunn‘s seventeenth volume of poetry, Falling Backwards into the World, was released by Jane Street Press at the 2012 Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway. His previous books include Different Hours, which was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and Here and Now (2011), both from W.W. Norton. Stephen has received awards and fellowships from American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Magazine, NJ State Council on the Arts, Poetry NorthwestMid-American Review and many others. A new and expanded edition of his book of essays, Walking Light, was published in 2001. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, but spends most of his time in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd. You can read or listen to some of his poems here.

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Want to study with Stephen Dunn? At the 2014 Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway, Stephen will lead three special sessions of Advanced Poetry Writing.

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Advance your craft and energize your writing at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway. Enjoy challenging and supportive sessions, insightful feedback and an encouraging community. Learn more.

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