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Prairie Schooner 79.2 (2005) 24-26

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Three Poems


I've learned mine can't be filled,
only alchemized. Many times
it's become a paragraph or a page.
But usually I've hidden it,
not knowing until too late
how enormous it grows in its dark.
Or how obvious it gets
when I've donned, say, my good
cordovans and my fine tweed vest
and walked into a room with a smile.
I might as well have been a man
with a fez and a faux silver cane.

Better, I know now, to dress it plain,
to say out loud
to some right person
in some right place
that there's something not there
in me, something I can't name.
That some right person
has just lit a fire under the kettle.
She hasn't said a word.
Beneath her blue shawl
she, too, conceals a world.
But she's been amazed
how much I seem to need my emptiness,
amazed I won't let it go. [End Page 24]

The Slow Surge

How sweetly disappeared the silky distraction
of her clothes, and before that the delicacy
with which she stepped out of her shoes.

Can one ever unlearn what one knows?
In post-coital calm I was at home
in the great, minor world

of flesh, languor, and whispery talk.
Soon, I knew, the slow surge of dawn
would give way to rush hour and chores.

It would be hard to ignore the ugliness –
the already brutal century,
the cold, spireless malls – everything the mind

lets in after lovemaking has run its course,
when even a breast that excited you so
is merely companionable, a place to rest your hand.

Bad Plants

Driven to take over by imperatives beyond their control,
it takes more than good reasons
to stop them – kudzu and crown vetch, for example,
villains that even sound villainous. [End Page 25]

Sometimes they're called invasive species, sometimes –
and this is my preference – exotics,
which suggests the beautiful and the dangerous
in one package,

like purple loosestrife, and often life as I've known it.
I'm not surprised that many
have beautiful names, like thistle or honeysuckle.
Even the well-thought-of violet

tends to muscle in, shove aside. All of them are inclined
to choke out what's native.
Bad plants? Nature of course would say, Careful now,
watch your language, let's just see

what survives. But I've been bad enough myself
to know it can be dangerous
to allow the natural to be natural. Never make a deal,
I'd say, with kudzu,

or become purple loosestrife's Neville Chamberlain.
And let's not praise plants either
which tend to keep to themselves, be good citizens.
No rewards

for being what only you can be. Sure, though,
pick a violet
for your best girl. Pick several. Let love when it can
be a form of containment.

Stephen Dunn is the author of thirteen books of poems, including Different Hours (W. W. Norton), winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book is The Insistence of Beauty (W.W. Norton).



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