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In Another Country, and: Letter to the Man I Once Was, and: The Problem of You
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In Another Country

The merchants of solace are out tonight
hawking their antidotes
for this or for that, and you think
you're smart enough not to yield.
Soon, though, you'll be caught up
in the vortex of a strange compulsion,
pulled into the spectacle life
of a visitor in a foreign country.
You'll want what you don't want
because the smells are new,
the murmurs in the market apparently
sounds of satisfaction. But take up
residence, and it's all likely to fall apart,
almost everything that feels exalted
weakened by time. Her eyes will lose
their luster, his charm will mark him
as unambitious, the colorful garments
the natives wear will seem showy, foppish.
You buy the stuffed lizard for your son
because you know a bargain when you see one.
You'd buy menace if it were on sale.
The promiscuous always gives you pleasure
before a certain melancholy sets in.
The truth is you've never been smart enough
not to yield, especially in places
where the dancers click their heels
and dinner begins long after dark. You're
an American. You were born to be pleased.
Somewhere it says so.

Letter to the Man I Once Was

Let's say the place you wish to belong
won't have you, and the nights turn
charcoal, the heat they once engendered
just a darkness now, an absence really,
and you can only talk to your friends
about privation, which means
gradually they won't want you either—
if it came to this, would you
turn away to mope and snivel, or continue
to imagine conversations getting exciting,
sometimes even fiery and brilliant
in the place that won't have you?

And if there's a middle ground
between the actual and the desirable,
can someone like you find it,
and if you could would you consider
it, by definition, bland, dreamless,
and therefore one of those clubs
you wouldn't enter because it accepted you?

And let's say it's true that loving
makes a place for love, opens you
to the frightening possibilities of joy,
and you also know that most romances
are fraught with failure, would you walk
down that aisle anyway? Or would you
continue to live as if there's always
a better elsewhere, a more dazzling partner?
What logic, if logic is to be followed,
would you follow? Will a cold cup of worry
and a spoonful of dread give you more
comfort, better ease you into the evening?

The Problem of You

I've learned that when I don't know
what I'm doing—when no recognizable
calamity is weighing in, or desperate push
toward importance presses down—often I find myself
inventing a precipice, and from its edge
look 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 kind
of woman who becomes a siren,
calling me to make the long, bloody slide,
urging me downward.

Sometimes there we are, full
of the old muchness, and once again
I begin to suffer from optimism, that disease
of inexperience. Everyone is waiting for what
usually 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 you
to be a comedy, nervous applause
when the curtain falls, a few people
smiling inwardly, recognizing themselves in it.

Stephen Dunn  

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.

Copyright © 2013 Louisiana State University Press
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Stephen Dunn. "In Another Country, and: Letter to the Man I Once Was, and: The Problem of You." Southern Review 49.3 (2013): 383-385. Project MUSE. Web. 18 Jul. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Dunn, S.(2013...

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