Stephen Dunn: A poet I recommend

A Postmortem Guide


For my eulogist, in advance


Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.

Can't you see I've turned away

from the large excitements,

and have accepted all the troubles?


Go down to the old cemetery; you'll see

there's nothing definitive to be said.

The dead once were all kinds---

boundary breakers and scalawags,

martyrs of the flesh, and so many

dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.


I've been a little of each.


And, please, resist the temptation

of speaking about virtue.

The seldom-tempted are too fond

of that word, the small-

spirited, the unburdened.

Know that I've admired in others

only the fraught straining

to be good.


Adam's my man and Eve's not to blame.

He bit in; it made no sense to stop.


Still, for accuracy's sake you might say

I often stopped,

that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.


And since you know my hardships,

understand that they're mere bump and setback

against history's horror.

Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,

how obscene it is

for some of us to complain.


Tell them I had second chances.

I knew joy.

I was burned by books early

and kept sidling up to the flame.


Tell them that at the end I had no need

for God, who'd become just a story

I once loved, one of many

with concealments and late-night rescues,

high sentence and pomp. The truth is

I learned to live without hope

as well as I could, almost happily,

in the despoiled and radiant now.


You who are one of them, say that I loved

my companions most of all.

In all sincerity, say that they provided

a better way to be alone.

                                                                                    Stephen Dunn