Something Like Happiness

January 7, 2008

(by Stephen Dunn)

Last night Joan Sutherland was nuancing
the stratosphere on my fine-tuned tape deck,
and there was my dog Buster with a flea rash,
his head in his privates. Even for Buster
this was something like happiness. Elsewhere
I knew what people were doing to other people,
the terrible hurts, the pleasures of hurting.
I repudiated Zen because it doesn’t provide
for forgiveness, repudiated my friend X
who had gotten “in touch with his feelings,”
which were spiteful and aggressive. Repudiate
felt good in my mouth, like someone else’s tongue
during the sweet combat of love.
I said out loud, I repudiate, adding words
like sincerity, correctness, common sense.
I remembered how tired I’d grown of mountaintops
and their thin, unheavenly air,
had grown tired, really, of how I spoke of them,
the exaggerated glamor, the false equation between
ascent and importance. I looked at the vase
and its one red flower, then the table
which Zennists would say existed
in its thisness, and realized how wrong it was
to reject appearances. How much more difficult
to accept them! I repudiated myself, citing my name.
The phone rang. It was my overly serious friend
from Syracuse saying Foucault, Foucault,
like some lost prayer of the tenured.
Advocates of revolution, I agreed with him, poor,
screwed for years, angry–who can begrudge them
weapons and victory? But people like us,
Joan Sutherland on our tapes and enough fine time
to enjoy her, I said, let’s be careful
how we link thought and action,
careful about deaths we won’t experience.
I repudiated him and Foucault, told him
that if Descartes were alive and wildly in love
he himself would repudiate his famous dictum.
I felt something like happiness when he hung up,
and Buster put his head on my lap,
and without admiration stared at me.
I would not repudiate Buster, not even his fleas.
How could I? Once a day, the flea travels
to the eye of the dog for a sip of water.
Imagine! the journey, the delicacy of the arrival.

[If you want more from Stephen Dunn, you might buy this book.]

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