The following poem is in Stephen Dunn’s new book, “What Goes On, Selected and New Poems 1995-2009” and is from his book, “Riffs and Reciprocities” (1998) and carries an epigram, “Poems should be more like essays and essays should be more like poems,” by Charles Olson. And so, in this case, it is.
First, it was more about mystery than about trying to get us to behave. Whichever, we’re still in some lonely cave, not far from that moment a lightening storm or a sunset drove us to invent the upper reaches of the sky. Religion is proof that a good story, well-told, is a powerful thing. Proof, too, that terror makes fabulists of us all. We’re pitiful, finally, and so oddly valiant. The dead god rising into ism after ism – that longing for coherence that keeps us, if not naïve, historically challenged. To love Christ you must love the Buddha, to love Mohammed or Moses you must love Confucius and, say, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche as well. They were all wise and unsponsored and insufficient, some of the best of us. I’m saying this to myself: the sacred cannot be found unless you give up some old version of it. And when you do, mon semblable, mon frère, I swear there’ll be an emptiness it’ll take a lifetime to fill. Indulge, become capacious, give up nothing, Jack my corner grocer said. He was pushing the portobellos, but I was listening with that other, my neediest ear.