Stephen Dunn
The Widening

I was holding forth at the dinner table,
trying to fill what I perceived to be a void.
I had just read a book on music,
about which I know very little,
and, anticipating being corrected, was saying
something about the courage to have
a full stop, the courage to break off,
the breaking of rhythmic obligations.

Then the phone rang: my daughter’s lost cat
had been found.  I told everyone, and the void 
seemed to fill a little with good cheer,
like vodka at the bottom of a glass.

So I told them that the baby crow 
a hawk had tried to kill this morning
was still alive – three birds of different species 
standing around it as if on guard. 

The hawk was up on a nearby branch,
frowning, I said.  No one smiled or laughed.

But we were mostly a dour group,
long neglected reciprocity dinners
finally acted upon, payback time,
and the social scientists among us —
who wouldn’t know a good story
unless research confirmed it good —
wanted me to name the three species.
Nutfinch, plutark, free-to-be  – I couldn’t
help myself – and the void widened again.

I wanted to go home, but I was home.

How about the hawk, my friend
Bjorn, the clarinetist, said,
and the hungers of the strong?
And by the way, he added,
there’s no such thing as a full stop
in music – silence is a sound, an afterlife
for anyone with an ear.

I’d like to say I felt corrected,
not betrayed, and when I began to talk
about miracles and the Bee Gees singing “Staying Alive”
and Travolta being reborn before our eyes,
I’d like to say I didn’t know why.

Actually I wanted to confess that when discussing
music and obligations my mind had drifted
to baseball, its hesitations and double plays,
the beautiful choreography of dreams and errors.
I wanted to say that with some good stops
and luck it’s possible to survive.

I wanted to tell them that in my ignorance
I was serious, and that when things get lost
or are about to die all kinds of thoughts are legitimate.
It was my house, after all, and the floor was mine.


[Note: This version of “The Widening” differs from the earlier draft which appeared by mistake in the November/December 2013 issue of APR. We apologize for the error. — The Editors]

Found In Volume 42, No. 06
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Stephen Dunn
About the Author

Stephen Dunn is the author of 17 collections of poetry, including Different Hours, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book is Lines of Defense (W.W.Norton, 2013).