Dunn’s “Parable of the Fictionist”

Although nothing I can say about


He wanted to own his own past,
be able to manage it
more than it managed him.
He wanted all the unfair
advantages of the charmed.
He selected his childhood,
told only those stories
that mixed loneliness with
rebellion, a boy’s locked heart
with the wildness
allowed inside a playing field.
And after he invented himself
and those he wished to know him
knew him as he wished to be known,
he turned toward the world
with the world that was within him
and shapes resulted, versions,
In his leisure he invented women,
then spoke to them about
his inventions, the wish just
slightly ahead of the truth,
making it possible.
All around him he heard
the unforgivable stories
of the sincere, the boring,
and knew his way was righteous,
though in the evenings, alone
with the world he’d created,
he sometimes longed
for what he’d dare not alter,
or couldn’t, something immutable
or so lovely he might be changed
by it, nameless but with a name
he feared waits until you’re worthy,
then chooses you.

is nearly as enlightening as Dunn’s own commentary called A riff on refuge, it’s one of my favorites of the poems included from Local Time and Between Angels and represents one of the major themes in this section, echoing a theme from the long poem “Round Trip,” which contains the lines, “Later, I’m thinking, each of us/ will have a story to tell/ about the bay and the ships./ We’ll leave out all we can,/ all that is a traveler’s life/ or a sailor’s life. We’ll make our friends/wish they were us, we’ll replace experience/ with what we say.”

Anyone who maintains a blog, is to some extent a “fictionist.” Otherwise they’d be unable to attract readers. Perhaps the very act of writing creates a fiction because it requires us to select details to represent our life. If one selects the positive details, as I tend to do, life will seem more enjoyable and exciting than it is. If one selects the negative details, which is not uncommon, life will appear more dramatic, and certainly less boring, than it may really be.

The concept wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, though, if all of us weren’t guilty of it to some degree. The everyday act of “putting your best face forward” (Google that) creates a “fictional” character, one we create because we hope it will help us to do better than we might otherwise do, especially with those of the opposite sex, since it makes us seem more interesting than “the sincere, the boring.”

The danger is that this fictional self ensures our relationships can never be “real,” and we can end up longing for “what he’d dare not alter,/ or couldn’t, something immutable/ or so lovely he might be changed/ by it”.