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The Sudden Light And The Trees -- Stephen Dunn

Guest poem submitted by Sarah Korah:

I've seen just one poem by Stephen Dunn on Minstrels. Here's an attempt to
change the status quo :).
(Poem #1533) The Sudden Light And The Trees
 My neighbor was a biker, a pusher, a dog
 and wife beater.
 In bad dreams I killed him

 and once, in the consequential light of day,
 I called the Humane Society
 about Blue, his dog. They took her away

 and I readied myself, a baseball bat
 inside my door.
 That night I hear his wife scream

 and I couldn't help it, that pathetic
 relief; her again, not me.
 It would be years before I'd understand

 why victims cling and forgive. I plugged in
 the Sleep-Sound and it crashed
 like the ocean all the way to sleep.

 One afternoon I found him
 on the stoop,
 a pistol in his hand, waiting,

 he said, for me. A sparrow had gotten in
 to our common basement.
 Could he have permission

 to shoot it? The bullets, he explained,
 might go through the floor.
 I said I'd catch it, wait, give me

 a few minutes and, clear-eyed, brilliantly
 afraid, I trapped it
 with a pillow. I remember how it felt

 when I got my hand, and how it burst
 that hand open
 when I took it outside, a strength

 that must have come out of hopelessness
 and the sudden light
 and the trees. And I remember

 the way he slapped the gun against
 his open palm,
 kept slapping it, and wouldn't speak.
-- Stephen Dunn
This is a grim poem. There's something ominously menacing in the image of a
man slapping a gun against his open palm.

I felt an almost palpable sense of relief towards the end of the poem. A
doomed sparrow finds strength in its hopelessness, the 'clear-eyed,
brilliantly afraid' poet nevertheless faces the sullen protagonist. Bird and
beast have already escaped. Something tells me that there's hope in the
sudden light and trees.

I was poignantly, and somewhat pointlessly, reminded of the lines 'All the
history of grief, An empty doorway and a maple leaf' when I read this poem.

About Stephen Dunn :

Stephen Dunn won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection
titled Different Hours. Dunn is currently a Distinguished Professor of
Creative Writing at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He lives in
Port Republic, New Jersey.

Stephen Dunn was born in New York City in 1939. He earned a B.A. in history
and English from Hofstra University, attended the New School Writing
Workshops, and finished his M.A. in creative writing at Syracuse University.
Dunn has worked as a professional basketball player, an advertising
copywriter, and an editor, as well as a professor of creative writing.

Dunn's books of poetry include Loosestrife: New and Selected Poems,
1974-1994; Landscape at the End of the Century; and Between Angels.

Minstrels has run one of Dunn's poems before.

Breaking Up -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Guest poem submittedy by Vivek Nallur :
(Poem #1532) Breaking Up
 I fell out of love: that's our story's dull ending,
 as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
 Excuse me -- I'll break off the string of this love song
 and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

 The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
 can't decide why we complicate simple things so --
 he whines at your door and I let him enter,
 when he scratches at my door, you always go.

 Dog, sentimental dog, you'll surely go crazy,
 running from one to the other like this --
 too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
 it's ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

 Get sentimental and we end up by playing
 the old melodrama, "Salvation of Love."
 "Forgiveness," we whisper, and hope for an echo;
 but nothing returns from the silence above.

 Better save love at the very beginning,
 avoiding all passionate "nevers," "forevers;"
 we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
 "Do not make promises!" Promises are levers.

 We should have made note of the broken branches,
 we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
 warning the witless pretensions of lovers --
 the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

 True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
 weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
 Don't promise her heaven -- suggest half an acre;
 not "unto death," but at least to next year.

 And don't keep declaring, "I love you, I love you."
 That little phrase leads a durable life --
 when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
 it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

 So -- our little dog in all his confusion
 turns and returns from door to door.
 I won't say "forgive me" because I have left you;
 I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.
-- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
The thing that I like most about Yevtushenko is the absence of drama and
metaphor. He's direct and yet not too harsh. Nevertheless, this has never
taken away from his poems, only added charm. A few words, a simple rhyming
scheme and a tale told with sagacity. This one on 'breakup' for instance is
as poignant as Mayakovsky and yet is somehow gentler. No doubt, a breakup is
tumultous and passionate, but it is also a time for reflection.

An archive of his poetry can be found at

Past One O'Clock -- Vladimir Mayakovsky

Guest poem submitted by J.T. Tatur :
(Poem #1531) Past One O'Clock
 Past one o'clock. You must have gone to bed.
 The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
 I'm in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
 I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
 And, as they say, the incident is closed.
 Love's boat has smashed against the daily grind.
 Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
 to balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
 Behold what quiet settles on the world.
 Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
 In hours like these, one rises to address
 The ages, history, and all creation.
-- Vladimir Mayakovsky

This poem is for all those who have recently been through a break-up.

When my girlfriend split up with me, a dear friend of mine sent me this
poem. She explained that it had been Mayakovsky's last poem; he had it in
his pocket when he committed suicide. But unlike Mayakovsky, she assured me,
I would get over it.

Biographical point: Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky born July 7, 1893 in
Bagdadi, Georgia; died April 14, 1930 in Moscow, Russia (U.S.S.R.)

What matters to me most: When the Russian Revolution broke out, Mayakovsky
was wholeheartedly for the Bolsheviks. Later, he grew disillusioned as the
Revolution's ideals were smashed 'against the daily grind' and criticised
the Party aggressively. He took his own life at the age of 36.

The Donkey -- G K Chesterton

Guest poem submitted by VG:
(Poem #1530) The Donkey
 When fishes flew and forests walked
 And figs grew upon thorn,
 Some moment when the moon was blood
 Then surely I was born;

 With monstrous head and sickening cry
 And ears like errant wings,
 The devil's walking parody
 On all four-footed things.

 The tattered outlaw of the earth,
 Of ancient crooked will;
 Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
 I keep my secret still.

 Fools! For I also had my hour;
 One far fierce hour and sweet:
 There was a shout about my ears,
 And palms before my feet.
-- G K Chesterton
At the age of eight, my eldest sister decided to teach me (aged six) and our
two other sisters (aged four and eight) this poem. Why she chose this poem I
don't know, nor do I remember how she went about teaching it. All I know is
that she was eminently successful, and even now we can recite the poem
perfectly. At six, I had no idea what the poem was about (though I recited
it with pride and passion, excited by the idea of flying fish and a moon of
blood), but because I learned it so early, the fierce beauty of the poem is
now enriched with nostalgia for me.


Timid Frieda -- Jacques Brel

Guest poem submitted by Stephen Pecha:
(Poem #1529) Timid Frieda
 Timid Frieda
 Will they greet her
 On the street where
 Young strangers travel
 On magic carpets
 Floating lightly
 In beaded caravans
 Who can know if
 They will free her
 On the street where
 She comes to join them
    There she goes
    With her valises
    Held so tightly in her hands

 Timid Frieda
 Will life seize her
 On the street where
 The new dreams gather
 Like fearless robins
 Joined together
 In high-flying bands
 She feels taller
 Troubles smaller
 On the street where
 She's lost in wonder
    There she goes
    With her valises
    Held so tightly in her hands

 Timid Frieda
 Won't return now
 To the home where
 They do not need her
 But always feed her
 Little lessons
 And platitudes from cans
 She is free now
 She will be now
 On the street where
 The beat's electric
    There she goes
    With her valises
    Held so tightly in her hands

 Timid Frieda
 Who will lead her
 On the street where
 The cops all perish
 For they can't break her
 And she can take her
 Brave new fuck you stand
 Yet she's frightened
 Her senses heightened
 On the street where
 The darkness brightens
    There she goes
    With her valises
    Held so tightly in her hands

 Timid Frieda
 If you see her
 On the street where
 The future gathers
 Just let her be her
 Let her play in
 The broken times of sand
 There she goes now
 Down the sidewalk
 On the street where
 The world is bursting
    There she goes
    With her valises
    Held so tightly in her hands
-- Jacques Brel
A few weeks ago you ran a poem about growing up, which made me think of
"Timid Frieda" by the French song writer Jacques Brel.  Song lyrics, I know,
don't sound so well if you don't know the music, but I still think this
holds up as poetry.  I first heard this when I was in high school.  My
Language Club had taken a field trip to New York City, it was 1968, and we
went to Greenwich Village.  The hippie movement was in full swing, and it
was incredible fun to buy black-light posters and other similar things, and
just to be in the Village. There, at the Village Gate, we heard the revue
"Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris."  I purchased the album
when I was in college, and enjoyed it a lot over the years.

"Timid Frieda" always seemed to me to capture the tentative nature of
leaving your parents' home and going out into the world, with timid courage.
In the heady counterculture days of the late sixties, the lines about being
"on the street where the beat's electric"  and the "brave new f*** you
stand" were strong stuff.  If you know the music, you also realize the the
slow 3/4 time sounds a little wistful, as if the singers are pitying Frieda
and the mistakes she's bound to make, which they know they must let her
make.  In growing up, we all go out there, with our valises held so tightly
in our hands.  There are a few websites where you can look up more of
Jacques Brel's lyrics, and they make interesting reading.

Stephen Pecha.

Sonnet -- To Science -- Edgar Allan Poe

Guest poem submitted by E. Brooke :
(Poem #1528) Sonnet -- To Science
 Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
   Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
 Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
   Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
 How should he love thee? or deem thee wise?
   Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
 To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies,
   Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
 Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
   And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
 To seek a shelter in some happier star?
   Has thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
 The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
 The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
-- Edgar Allan Poe
        (1829, 1845)

   Under the traditional Shakespearean sonnet structure, Poe expresses
nontraditional accusations for science.  Like mostly all Poe's poems, it is
a psychological study of a speaker suffering the most human of flaws.  In
this case, it is spoken through the tunnel vision of a passionate man
mourning the slaughter of mythology, fantasy, art by its alleged archenemy,
Science.  He questions the desertion of the imagination by the objective
force of science.  He is inclined to avoid logic in his argument, although
the classic sonnet structure implies his own attempt to rationalize his own
thoughts.  Perhaps the structure contrasted with such unreigned feelings
further insinuates humanity's paradoxical need for organization in every
field of thought, including the self-proclaimed resisters of logic.
   You cannot fully trust this speaker.  He is borderline obsessive, which
blinds him to truth through moderation.  He constrains his thinking to one
side of the spectrum where he is unable to see the interconnection between
science and art.  He prophesizes ultimate death approaching poetry through
science's "peering eyes."  He is scared -- if not for himself -- then for
art in general, for the obliteration of his ability to dream.  Herein lies
the speaker's hypocrisy.  Although he speaks wildly about his disrespect for
science because it disallows for fantasy and dreaming, he adheres to the
logic applied to poetry as demonstrated by the conventional sonnet
   This is a beautiful poem, rich with layers to every aspect.  The concept
of remaining open-minded to every field of thought is one that is relevant
to every human being since ignorance breeds ignorance.  To modern readers,
especially now during the age of skepticism, this poem rings true since the
current emphasis and faith has been placed on science to supply truth.  The
speaker is microcosmic of most of humanity, for he believes there is a gap
between science and art.
   Nothing could be further from Truth.
   Poetry and art are not in opposition to science in its perception of
reality.  Rather, poetry uncovers another level of reality that science
cannot, and vice versa.  While the path of scientific fact is one way to
discover truth, so is the path of fantasy.  They are as interconnected and
interdependent as land and ocean.
   We should all consider our own biases.