Letter to Stephen Dunn

Dear Steve,

I’ve had to look away for most of three decades now—away from your work.

“Why.” That’s the title of a poem, a poem in your book Here and Now, I read this morning.

“Because you can be sure a part of yourself is always missing,” the poem begins.

When I read your poems now, like when I read them regularly decades ago, when, for a brief time, I was your student, your friend, I discover a part of myself that, if not exactly missing, had been nagging to be recognized, acknowledged, expressed.

“If the imagined woman makes the real woman / seem bare-boned, hardly existent…” you write in “The Imagined,” and I nod, no, not nod, exactly, but soften, warmed by the companionship of a poem that knows me better than most people do, a poem that says what I’ve experienced but would never, could never say aloud.

At thirty-six, Steve, I married. You know this. I visited you once before the wedding. I said, she doesn’t read poetry. We won’t have that to talk about. You can find plenty of people, you said, to talk poetry with.

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The Truth Told Slant

Every winter I plunge into darkness.

As Seattle days shorten to eight hours with clouds covering most of the sky and the city readies for ten months of showers, my inner world becomes as bleak as the world outside. I burrow through three seasons like a shrew mole through the mud, tunneling deeper to cry, surfacing only to complain.

Born and raised in New York, I’ve not adjusted in twenty-seven years.

I suppose this isn’t surprising. All my grandparents were natives of Sicily, a place where even in winter daylight persists for ten hours with nary a cloud in the sky. The people of Palermo wake to sun 228 days per year.

When my grandparents immigrated to the US, they did well to settle in Manhattan, where the sun shines over Central Park 235 days each year. The Space Needle basks in sun rays only fifty-eight.

My doctor calls my melancholy SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a depression caused by lack of sunlight resulting in low serotonin. Those who experience it suffer desolation, petulance, anxiety, and social strain.

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The Daughter Who Defied Gravity

Guest Post

By Gregory Wolfe

The following remarks were given by the author at his daughter’s wedding this past weekend. 

For Barry and Helena Wolfe-Blevins.

When the father of the bride steps up to say a few words at the wedding reception, his remarks typically have a certain amount of—what should I call it?—leverage, given the sizeable contribution that’s been made to the wedding budget.

But in this case, Helena and Barry have done such a wonderful job of making this a simple, modest, beautiful event, put together largely by friends and family, that I find myself without much leverage at all….

Still, I do feel it important to say that as parents your mother and I are very concerned and protective, so we just want to go on the record that if you ever, ever do anything at all to hurt our dearly beloved Barry, there will be hell to pay, Helena. [Read more...]

A Theology of Singleness, Part 2

Guest Post

By J. M. Samuelson

Continued from yesterday

Alan Jacobs recently made a wise observation: “there are certain kinds of ‘growing up’ that don’t happen until you get married—that simply getting older doesn’t do for you.”

I’d like to point to some parallel category of knowledge specific to singleness, but I don’t know if I can. Marriage seems to reconstitute one’s experience of time in a way that singleness simply cannot.

Man is the doubtful creature: every avenue of life prompts its own order of doubts and questions. Have I merely aged with time, or do I exhibit a pattern of real growth made possible precisely by the strange road my life has taken? [Read more...]

A Theology of Singleness, Part 1

Guest Post

By J. M. Samuelson

Publishers today are churning out self-help literature at ever-increasing rates. Many of these tomes aim at helping selves better enjoy or endure singleness.

Based on my acquaintance with this literature I can say that few areas of descriptive English fail so utterly to satisfy as the nomenclature of singleness. Virtually every term of choice sells somebody short, whether single persons themselves or the “attached” persons from whom these terms are supposed to offer useful distinction.

Singleness implies a state of doubleness in others, thus implying that the single person lacks some essential element. With this particular family of words, classification bleeds into character indictment. “Singleness” says too little and too much. [Read more...]