Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Landscape At The End Of The Century
This week’s poem comes from Stephen Dunn, a poet I’ve featured before. I picked up his book of poems titled Landscape at the End of the Century (W. W. Norton, 1991) today at the Book Exchange. The book’s new home is behind glass doors in one of two new towering shelves I bought at Ikea while on vacation.
Ah, but vacation is over, and the poem is a sort of creepy thought profile of a sociopath. Enjoy!
WHAT THEY WANTED
They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them
for years, a spy,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leave-taking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else. Everything, I said.