- In Another Country, and: Letter to the Man I Once Was, and: The Problem of You
In Another Country
The merchants of solace are out tonighthawking their antidotesfor this or for that, and you thinkyou're smart enough not to yield.Soon, though, you'll be caught upin the vortex of a strange compulsion,pulled into the spectacle lifeof a visitor in a foreign country.You'll want what you don't wantbecause the smells are new,the murmurs in the market apparentlysounds of satisfaction. But take upresidence, and it's all likely to fall apart,almost everything that feels exaltedweakened by time. Her eyes will losetheir luster, his charm will mark himas unambitious, the colorful garmentsthe natives wear will seem showy, foppish.You buy the stuffed lizard for your sonbecause you know a bargain when you see one.You'd buy menace if it were on sale.The promiscuous always gives you pleasurebefore a certain melancholy sets in.The truth is you've never been smart enoughnot to yield, especially in placeswhere the dancers click their heelsand dinner begins long after dark. You'rean American. You were born to be pleased.Somewhere it says so. [End Page 383]
Letter to the Man I Once Was
Let's say the place you wish to belongwon't have you, and the nights turncharcoal, the heat they once engenderedjust a darkness now, an absence really,and you can only talk to your friendsabout privation, which meansgradually they won't want you either—if it came to this, would youturn away to mope and snivel, or continueto imagine conversations getting exciting,sometimes even fiery and brilliantin the place that won't have you?
And if there's a middle groundbetween the actual and the desirable,can someone like you find it,and if you could would you considerit, by definition, bland, dreamless,and therefore one of those clubsyou wouldn't enter because it accepted you?
And let's say it's true that lovingmakes a place for love, opens youto the frightening possibilities of joy,and you also know that most romancesare fraught with failure, would you walkdown that aisle anyway? Or would youcontinue to live as if there's alwaysa better elsewhere, a more dazzling partner?What logic, if logic is to be followed,would you follow? Will a cold cup of worryand a spoonful of dread give you morecomfort, better ease you into the evening? [End Page 384]
The Problem of You
I've learned that when I don't knowwhat I'm doing—when no recognizablecalamity is weighing in, or desperate pushtoward importance presses down—often I find myselfinventing a precipice, and from its edgelook down and see a woman I think I could love,everything about her radiating the possible.
I know the realities now,that she never can be a you—that rarity,bountiful and generous—more likely the kindof woman who becomes a siren,calling me to make the long, bloody slide,urging me downward.
Sometimes there we are, fullof the old muchness, and once againI begin to suffer from optimism, that diseaseof inexperience. Everyone is waiting for whatusually happens. How to happily disappoint them?
Where is the sad denouement? they'll be thinking.Where the familiar hints and contretemps?I want the problem of youto be a comedy, nervous applausewhen the curtain falls, a few peoplesmiling inwardly, recognizing themselves in it. [End Page 385]
Stephen Dunn is the author of sixteen books of poetry, including Here and Now and Different Hours, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He has received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, and this September Syracuse University Press will publish a book of essays on his life and work, edited by Laura McCullough.