to be alive


 by Stephen Dunn
Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear

one more friend

waking with a tumor, one more maniac

  with a perfect reason, often a sweetness

has come 
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,

for a while lost

in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk

to mouth-size,

hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness

that doesn’t leave a stain,

no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Tonight a friend called to say his lover

was killed in a car 
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed

to repeat, and I repeated

the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.

Often a sweetness comes

as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,

then returns to its dark

source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road

it’s traveled

to come so far, to taste so good.
“Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994 by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 1994 by Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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