Stephen Dunn (1939 – 2021)

He wrote about the “ordinary”. His last book will be published in 2022.
NYT Obit. And a poem.


This week’s audio digest


Recent Publication

I’m proud to have a poem included in the anthology for the Borders in Globalization Review (page 104).


A Beautiful Short Film for Pride Month

How to Raise a Black Boy by Justice Jamal Jones. (Just over 13 minutes).
Such beautiful lines of poetry here!

from How to Raise A Black Boy on Nowness.com

This Week’s Writing/Meditation Prompt: Nothing But Metta 4


Have a Great Sunday!

Yesterday I went shopping. It has been a while. And for the first time – for a split moment – the plexiglass in front of the cashiers at the clothing store reminded me of the bullet-proof glass at convenience stores in downtown Louisville. Shook me. I didn’t really shrug off the thought – I let it hover without looking too closely at it.

Threats and deterents.

Is it me, or do words like “deter” and phrases like “fend off” imply “try to” or “tried to”. There’s an undercurrent of overwhelm in the conversation.

He managed to fend off his attackers. Against the odds. A miracle.

Every time I found myself in one of those stores with bullet-proof glass, I recognized which side of the glass I was standing on. Where I was being sorted in the potential categories of victim and perpetrator. So finding myself in the clothing store, on the contagion side of the glass, all I wanted to do was go home and take a shower.

It’s hard living in a world where we sort strangers this way. I thought I left that behind as a major cultural feature when I left America. Talk about privilege. It took me a long time to let down my guard.

Last weekend we had dinner with friends. One of them is a bit older than we are and she moved in to embrace us saying she’s fully vaccinated. We aren’t. I later giggled about the image that came into my mind of a cuttlefish embracing its prey. An uncomfortable giggle.

It’s odd how the unthinkable becomes the norm. Recoiling from a friend’s arms. Responding to an overture of warmth with suspicion. I believe that our body literally shapes our behaviors which create our thoughts. Not the other way around. Goosebumps are the result of the body responding to the environment, not the mind relaying a thought to the skin.

I wonder about all these precautions we are taking with one another—to protect ourselves or to protect one another—in the communication loops of body-mind-body/mind-body-mind, what kind of a groove are we forming in the soft pathways of our neurons?

The brain is plastic. For good and for… change?

Scientists proclaim
the solitary creatures
but waters run deep

I don’t want to write today. My computer screens’ backgrounds are black instead of showing the photo I have had on them for four years. It is one of those days. Everything seems to be slightly out of its respective groove. Out of focus. Grinding. Even Leonard, who is lying on the floor next to me, is breathing more heavily than usual. Arhythmically.

On the walk this evening I was thinking about work. Already playing out autumn term scenes in my head that are unlikely to happen and unnecessary to itch about. What’s wrong with me? I’m trying to breathe easily and to listen to the blackbirds. And the train that is passing. And the truth is that once it has passed, the fading sound is pleasurable to focus on. The quieting to a hush. The world goes on. Is going on.

Someone outside is scolding. Leonard takes notice. Stands up. Figures it’s none of his business and lies down again.

These tiny things make up my days now. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in them. I mean, isn’t that what we have to do when our lives are stuck: find meaning in/for the small, meaningless things?

I write. I suppose that is an attempt to make meaning. To dig up what’s needed from memory to construct a story I can be satisfied with. That will justify the extra glass of wine, the extra hour of sleep, the dropped obligation.

Dropped obligations – so many of them – swept up into closets and threatening to topple on my head like a bit of slapstick if I ever go there in my mind.

And yet. Walking in the sunshine felt good this evening. It’s been a year since I felt the sun on my face like that. The grass in the field has grown past my waist. A dozen or so oystercatchers were calling while they skimmed the surface of the pond.

I am trying to be patient with myself. Things take time to circle back. And I want to believe all things do. Though there are still no signs of ducklings in the area.

So tonight I will construct a better story. Blackbirds and strawberries, ginger tea and a soft chair. A good book of poetry and faith in the world’s changing seasons.

Leonard is barking softly now. Growling. I wonder if it were hare he smelled on the walk. I wonder what story he’s constructing in his sleep.

It seems everything is taking more time than it should. The wheels turning slowly. The system gummed up. If my life has been like this before, I am not sure I noticed it in this way. But I am trying to accept this. At least for now.

I was listening to a Radiolab podcast the other day about how lithium works in the body. How the salt mimics and replaces the normal sodium in the brain. But lithium is less efficient and it slows the connections of the neuropathways. The thing is, I don’t feel like I am going slower. The world is slower – and more stubborn. I am fine.

Really.

I move through downward dog and upward dog easily but feel my hamstring taught and dangerous in a side lunge. Breathe. Count on exhalations. Give in, while extending in all directions. Yoga is all about contradictions, about holding several truths at once while trying to find a comfortable equanimity. In out the stillness in-between all flowing together.

Stay in the present. Yes, but on the other hand, there is a query deadline on Sunday and packing to do for next week. Reviews and newsletters and housework. And everything feels as choked and sticky as my hamstring. And if I can’t rush through it, I just want to hop off. I am struggling to hold both truths, and leaning toward either/or. Or nothing: I want to pour a glass of wine and watch soap operas. I tell myself I deserve it. As though life should be like that: work and rewards in turn. Rewards like those flimsy gold foil stars that teachers would stick on our foreheads in elementary school. Making us feel proud and ridiculous in turns. I wanted one, and I didn’t. At any rate, they’d fall off before we got home to show the grown-ups.

I didn’t have the kind of grown-ups around who would fuss over gold stars, or even say things like “work is its own reward”. I had “that’s nice, but stay in your lane” grown-ups. But part of me has always wanted the gold stars. External rewards only abstractly connect to an actual achievement, because there’s no risk involved that way. Really being seen is dangerous.

A gold star is just a little shot of dopamine. A bit of chocolate. A glass of wine. And then it’s over. No vulnerable hopes, no expectations, no disappointments. Just a bit of pleasure. And back to work. The baseline is familiar and easy.

But I am beginning to think that tiny wins can be like pebbles in a jar. Over time, they can add up, overflow the jar and fill the whole room. Maybe the trick is to get to the point where holding a pebble, running a finger along the pocked surface, measuring its weight cupped in a palm, is as satisfying as chocolate. But more enduring.

These things – foil stars, chocolate, pebbles – mean what we decide they mean. Maybe it is possible that we are continually being rewarded by the world for just being here. If only we’d only take the time to look closely.

And breath in a continous flow.