Submit Your Poems
Get Your Premium Membership

Best Famous Stephen Dunn Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Stephen Dunn poems. This is a select list of the best famous Stephen Dunn poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Stephen Dunn poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Stephen Dunn poems.

Search for the best famous Stephen Dunn poems, articles about Stephen Dunn poems, poetry blogs, or anything else Stephen Dunn poem related using the PoetrySoup search engine at the top of the page.

See also: Best Member Poems

Go Back

by Stephen Dunn |

Essay On The Personal

 Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses—
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.


by Stephen Dunn |

The Routine Things Around The House

 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 separate 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.


by Stephen Dunn |

Allegory Of The Cave

 He climbed toward the blinding light
and when his eyes adjusted
he looked down and could see

his fellow prisoners captivated
by shadows; everything he had believed
was false. And he was suddenly

in the 20th century, in the sunlight
and violence of history, encumbered
by knowledge. Only a hero

would dare return with the truth.
So from the cave's upper reaches,
removed from harm, he called out

the disturbing news.
What lovely echoes, the prisoners said,
what a fine musical place to live.

He spelled it out, then, in clear prose
on paper scraps, which he floated down.
But in the semi-dark they read his words

with the indulgence of those who seldom read:
It's about my father's death, one of them said.
No, said the others, it's a joke.

By this time he no longer was sure
of what he'd seen. Wasn't sunlight a shadow too?
Wasn't there always a source

behind a source? He just stood there,
confused, a man who had moved
to larger errors, without a prayer.


by Stephen Dunn |

Slant

 Yesterday, for a long while,
the early morning sunlight
in the trees was sufficient,
replaced by a hello
from a long-limbed woman
pedaling her bike,
whereupon the wind came up,
dispersing the mosquitoes.
Blessings, all.
I'd come so far, it seemed,
happily looking for so little.

But then I saw a cow in a room
looking at the painting of a cow
in a field -- all of which
was a painting itself --
and I felt I'd been invited
into the actual, someplace
between the real and the real.

The trees, now, are trees
I'm seeing myself seeing.
I'll always deny that I kissed her.
I was just whispering into her mouth.


by Stephen Dunn |

The Sudden Light And The Trees

 My neighbor was a biker, a pusher, a dog
and wife beater.
In bad dreams I killed him

and once, in the consequential light of day,
I called the Humane Society
about Blue, his dog. They took her away

and I readied myself, a baseball bat
inside my door.
That night I hear his wife scream

and I couldn't help it, that pathetic
relief; her again, not me.
It would be years before I'd understand

why victims cling and forgive. I plugged in
the Sleep-Sound and it crashed
like the ocean all the way to sleep.

One afternoon I found him
on the stoop,
a pistol in his hand, waiting,

he said, for me. A sparrow had gotten in
to our common basement.
Could he have permission

to shoot it? The bullets, he explained,
might go through the floor.
I said I'd catch it, wait, give me

a few minutes and, clear-eyed, brilliantly
afraid, I trapped it
with a pillow. I remember how it felt

when I got my hand, and how it burst
that hand open
when I took it outside, a strength

that must have come out of hopelessness
and the sudden light
and the trees. And I remember

the way he slapped the gun against
his open palm,
kept slapping it, and wouldn't speak.


by Stephen Dunn |

Biography In The First Person

 This is not the way I am.
Really, I am much taller in person,
the hairline I conceal reaches back
to my grandfather, and the shyness my wife
will not believe in has always been why
I was bold on first dates. My father a crack salesman.
I've saved his pines, the small acclamations
I used to show my friends. And the billyclub
I keep by my bed was his, too; an heirloom.
I am somewhat older than you can tell.
The early deaths have decomposed
behind my eyes, leaving lines apparently caused
by smiling. My voice still reflects the time
I believed in prayer as a way of getting 
what I wanted. I am none of my clothes.
My poems are approximately true.
The games I play and how I play them
are the arrows you should follow: they'll take you
to the enormous body of a child. It is not
that simple. At parties I have been known to remove
from the bookshelf the kind of book
that goes best with my beard.
My habits in bed are so perverse that they differentiate me
from no one. And I prefer soda, the bubbles just after
it's opened, to anyone who just lies there. Be careful:
I would like to make you believe in me.
When I come home at night after teaching myself
to students, I want to search the phone book
for their numbers, call them, and pick their brains.
Oh, I am much less flamboyant than this.
If you ever meet me, I'll be the one with the lapel 
full of carnations.


by Stephen Dunn |

Named

 He'd spent his life trying to control the names
  people gave him;
oh the unfair and the accurate equally hurt.

Just recently he'd been a son-of-a-bitch
  and sweetheart in the same day,
and once again knew what antonyms

love and control are, and how comforting
  it must be to have a business card -
Manager, Specialist - and believe what it says.

Who, in fact, didn't want his most useful name
  to enter with him,
when he entered a room, who didn't want to be

that kind of lie? A man who was a sweetheart
  and a son-of-a-bitch
was also more or less every name

he'd ever been called, and when you die, he thought,
  that's when it happens,
you're collected forever into a few small words.

But never to have been outrageous or exquisite,
  no grand mistake
so utterly yours it causes whispers

in the peripheries of your presence - that was
   his fear.
"Reckless"; he wouldn't object to such a name

if it came from the right voice with the right
  amount of reverence.
Someone nearby, of course, certain to add "fool."


by Stephen Dunn |

With No Experience In Such Matters

 To hold a damaged sparrow
under water until you feel it die
is to know a small something
about the mind; how, for example,
it blames the cat for the original crime,
how it wants praise for its better side.

And yet it's as human
as pulling the plug on your Dad
whose world has turned
to feces and fog, human as--
Well, let's admit, it's a mild thing
as human things go.

But I felt the one good wing
flutter in my palm--
the smallest protest, if that's what it was,
I ever felt or heard.
Reminded me of how my eyelid has twitched,
the need to account for it.
Hard to believe no one notices.


by Stephen Dunn |

I Come Home Wanting To Touch Everyone

 The dogs greet me, I descend
into their world of fur and tongues
and then my wife and I embrace
as if we'd just closed the door
in a motel, our two girls slip in
between us and we're all saying
each other's names and the dogs
Buster and Sundown are on their hind legs,
people-style, seeking more love.
I've come home wanting to touch
everyone, everything; usually I turn
the key and they're all lost
in food or homework, even the dogs
are preoccupied with themselves,
I desire only to ease
back in, the mail, a drink,
but tonight the body-hungers have sent out
their long-range signals
or love itself has risen
from its squalor of neglect.
Everytime the kids turn their backs
I touch my wife's breasts
and when she checks the dinner
the unfriendly cat on the dishwasher
wants to rub heads, starts to speak
with his little motor and violin--
everything, everyone is intelligible
in the language of touch,
and we sit down to dinner inarticulate
as blood, all difficulties postponed
because the weather is so good.


by Stephen Dunn |

Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry

 Relax. This won't last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist 
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there's a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he'll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you're busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it's sex you've always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party's unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don't think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don't know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it's needed. For it's apparent 
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer 
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don't give anything for this poem.
It doesn't expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case 
or in your house. And if you're not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.