Friday, April 06, 2007

"Tenderness," by Stephen Dunn

Back then when so much was clear
and I hadn't learned
young men learn from women

what it feels like to feel just right,
I was twenty-three,
she thirty-four, two children, a husband

in prison for breaking someone's head.
Yelled at, slapped
around, all she knew of tenderness

was how much she wanted it, and all
I knew
were back seats and a night or two

in a sleeping bag in the furtive dark.
We worked
in the same office, banter and loneliness

leading to the shared secret
that to help
National Biscuit sell biscuits

was wildly comic, which led to my body
existing with hers
like rain that's found its way underground

to water it naturally joins.
I can't remember
ever saying the exact word, tenderness,

though she did. It's a word I see now
you must be older to use,
you must have experienced the absence of it

often enough to know what silk and deep balm
it is
when at last it comes. I think it was terror

at first that drove me to touch her
so softly,
then selfishness, the clear benefit

of doing something that would come back
to me twofold,
and finally, sometime later, it became

reflexive and motiveless in the high
ignorance of love.
Oh abstractions are just abstract

until they have an ache in them. I met
a woman never touched
gently, and when it ended between us

I had new hands and new sorrow,
everything it meant
to be a man changed, unheroic, floating.


  1. Cry more please KThx.

  2. This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing.

    I've actually never known anyone else who reads Stephen's poetry, I met him a million years ago, in one of his workshops at an aesthetic education 'camp'. I'll always remember his intensity . . .

    I have quite a few of his books, and you've inspired me to pull one out today.