“A Small Part” - poem by Stephen Dunn

Stephen Dunn

The summer I discovered my heart

is at best an instrument of approximation

and the mind is asked to ratify

every blood rush sent its way


was the same summer I stared

at the slate gray sea well beyond dusk,

learning how exquisitely

I could feel sorry for myself.


It was personal – the receding tide,

the absent, arbitrary wind.

I had a small part in the great comedy,

and hardly knew it. No excuse,


but I was so young I believed

Ayn Rand had a handle on truth –

secular, heroically severe. Be a man

of unwavering principle, I told others,


and what happens to the poor

is entirely their fault. No wonder

that girl left me in August, a stillness

in the air. I was one of those lunatics


of a single idea, or maybe even worse –

I kissed wrong, or wasn’t brave enough

to admit I was confused.

Many summers later I’d learn to love


the shadows illumination creates.

But experience always occurs too late

to undo what’s been done. The hint

of moon above an unperturbable sea,


and that young man, that poor me,

staring ahead – everything is as it was.

And of course has been changed.

I got over it. I’ve never been the same.

Reprinted from Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Dunn. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. All rights reserved.