poetry by stephen dunn

Cruelties

When Peter Lorre, Casablanca’s pathetic, good-hearted man,
said, “You despise me, don’t you?” and Bogart replied,
“Well, if I gave you any thought, I might,”

I laughed, which the movie permitted.
It had all of us leaning Bogart’s way.

“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” Beckett has one
of his characters say, as if it might be best
to invent others to speak certain things
we’ve thought and kept to ourselves.

If any of us, real or fictional, had said to someone,
“Nothing’s funnier than your unhappiness,”
we’d have entered another, colder realm,

like when news came that a famous writer had died
in an accident, and his rival said,
“I guess that proves God can read.”
Many of us around him laughed.
Then a dark, uneasy silence set in.

All day long, my former love, I’ve been revising
a poem about us. First, a gentle man
spoke it, then I gave the Devil a chance.
But you always knew my someone else
could only be me.

 

Stephen Dunn is the author of twelve collections of poems, including the forthcoming The Insistence of Beauty (Norton, 2004). His Different Hours was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2001.




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