by Stephen Dunn

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you’re thinking–
stop this now.
Who do you think you are?
The duck à l’orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.
But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.
And there’s your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you’ll dare not say
without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It’s part of the social contract
to seem to be where your body is,
and you’ve been elsewhere like this,
for Christ’s sake, countless times;
behave, feign.
Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan’s
black dress, Paul’s promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter in this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in New York City in 1939, Stephen Dunn is the author of 15 collections of poetry, including DIFFERENT HOURS, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors include an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. Dunn is the Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College and lives in Frostburg, Maryland, with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.


I picked up DIFFERENT HOURS by Stephen Dunn recently for $1 at an Out of the Closet thrift store (the best place in L.A. to purchase used books — for the quality of titles and low prices). When I flipped open the book this morning, I came to “At the Restaurant,” which reminded me of the poem I posted yesterday (“Dinner at the Who’s Who” by Laure-Anne Bosselaar).

People who follow this blog (and thank you for doing so!) know that I often post a number of entries on the same day that follow a theme. We had days filled with poetry about hardboiled eggs, cheese, libraries, and other topics.

The two recent poems by Stephen Dunn and Laure-Anne Bosselaar are about people tired of artifices who want to speak what’s in their hearts and souls. And these wonderful poets have the sensitivity and talent to tell us just what they are thinking and feeling — and what they’d like to share with their cultured friends. Instead, they write poems  — and tell the world.

Laure-Anne Bosselaar also served as coeditor of NIGHT OUT: Poems About Hotels, Motels, Restaurants, and Bars, which we featured in a post last August. Find this terrific collection at