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Stephen Dobyns

Stephen Dobyns

Stephen Dobyns has published thirteen books of poems, twenty novels, a book of essays on poetry (Best Words, Best Order) and a book of short stories (Eating Naked). His first book of poems, Concurring Beasts, was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Black Dog, Red Dog was a winner in the National Poetry Series. Cemetery Nights received the Poetry Society of America's Melville Cane Award. His newest collection of poems, Winter's Journey, was published just this year by Copper Canyon Press. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts as well as numerous awards for individual poems. He has taught at many colleges and universities, including the University of New Hampshire, Boston University, the University of Iowa, Brandeis University, Syracuse University, and Sarah Lawrence College. He lives with his wife in Westerly, Rhode Island, and teaches in the M.F.A. program at Warren Wilson College


Today I'll write a poem about myself—
not like the other poems I've written
about myself.  No, this one will be more
truthful, or at least more sincere. It's my
sincere self that's writing today, the self
that longs for intimacy, or some intimacy,
at least. My sincere self says: I work hard,
I try the best I can; I'm often a good person.
But today the self I'm writing about is also
more likeable than the self I wrote about
yesterday, not silly-likeable or I'll-give-you-
money likeable, but trust-worthy-likeable,
that is, more trust-worthy than not, trust-
worthy enough to be trusted. I want to be
completely honest about this. I want you
to see me ripping off my clothes and rising
before you shy and vulnerable, prepared
to tell my deepest secrets, or deep enough
for you to think they're hugely deep, which
they will be, most of them, more than half.
I want you to see me on the brink of tears,
my whole body on the brink of tears,
my elbows on the brink of tears, my feet,
my thumbs, my earlobes, my hair follicles,
even my genitals on the brink of tears,
each testicle on the brink of tears, big
ball, little ball, and each totally sincere.
I don't want any confusion about this.
I know at times I've stretched the truth.
For example, my dysfunctional childhood,
that spanking I once told you about had,
in fact, no sexual component. That time
I fell down stairs?  I shouldn't have said
I was pushed. And my sexual conquests?
My last girlfriend said I should have been
a monk; she said it would have saved me
years of embarrassment. In fact, she was
more a girl-acquaintance, than a girlfriend,
someone I sat next to on a cross-town bus.
So she's not the one who matters here. I'm
the one who matters. I want you to see me
with my arms out-stretched to reveal truth
stripped of hyperbole and sexual overkill,
sincerity throbbing like an exposed artery.
They're rustling within me like red squirrels
in the walls of a farm house: an old Cape Cod
on a dirt road with maples by the front door.
If you climb the steps, enter the hall, you can
hear those squirrels as well, all that sincerity
getting ready to make a vast display of itself,
the story of my sacrifices and beating the odds.  
But as we wait for the big subjects to role out
take a look at that picture on the wall, the one
showing the man waving hello from the yard.
Can you guess who it is? What a friendly face!
Would you like to meet him? It's me, of course.
We can sit on the stairs, hand in hand. Reader
and writer, together at last. Then I might ask
a single favor, an infinitesimal sweetness taken
from the truth beating its wings between us.
May I rest my head on your shoulder? Then,
in no more than a moment or two, you also,
will have a chance to speak. Trust me on this.

Book Review

David Rigsbee reviews
Stephen Dunn's new book
Here and Now


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5 New Poems


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