Sunday, January 2, 2011

At the Restaurant

Jonathan and Laura brought up this Stephen Dunn poem on New Year's Eve while discussing our favorite writers. Dunn's work, albeit remarkably approachable, remains a rare truth in contemporary prose. He never gets pretentious-- I love that about him.

Laura called him an 'old mountain man who writes about his feelings'. I like that too. This poem in particular touches on The Human Condition in its most glorious form. It's about dreading small talk at dinner parties and aching for sincerity in a world so neglectful of such things. That last line kills me--

"Inexcusable, the slaughter of this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man."


(My New Years Eve, by the way, was in no means a reflection of the poem below. Incidentally, it was one of the most enjoyable New Years I've ever had, partially because we skipped over formalities and went straight to discussing poetry.)

At the Restaurant
by Stephen Dunn

“Life would be unbearableif we made ourselves conscious of it.”– Fernando Pessoa

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you’re thinking–

stop this now.

Who do you think you are?
The duck à l’orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.

But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.

And there’s your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you’ll dare not say

without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It’s part of the social contract

to seem to be where your body is,
and you’ve been elsewhere like this,
for Christ’s sake, countless times;

behave, feign.

Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan’s

black dress, Paul’s promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter of this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.

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