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Stephen Dunn

Dunn’s “The Snowmass Cycle”

Dunn’s series of poems “The Snowmass Cycle” is my favorite poem of the more recent poems inNew and Selected Poems 1974-1994 though it’s particular lines, rather than whole passages that seem to strike home.

1.   RETREAT

The sailor dreamt of loss,
but it was I who dreamt the sailor.
I was landlocked, sea-poor.
The sailor dreamt of a woman
who stared at the sea, then tired
of it, advertised her freedom.
She said to her friend: I want
all the fire one can have
without being consumed by it.
Clearly, I dreamt the woman too.
I was surrounded by mountains
suddenly green after a long winter,
a chosen uprootedness, soul shake-up,
every day a lesson about the vastness
between ecstasy and repose.
I drank coffee called Black Forest
at the local cafe. I took long walks
and tried to love the earth
and hate its desecrations.
All the Golden Retrievers wore red
bandannas on those muttless streets.
All the birches, I think, were aspens.
I do not often remember my dreams,
or dream of dreamers in them.
To be without some of the things
you want, a wise man said,
is an indispensable part of happiness.

This first poem in the sequence establishes the setting for the sequence, a high-priced resort town in Colorado, perhaps reinforced by these lines from the second poem in the sequence: “Here in this rented house,/ high up, I understand./ I’m one of the rich for awhile.” It’s the kind of place rich people go for “a soul shake-up,” and who can blame them. It’s a yuppie paradise, a real Rocky Mountain High, only slightly despoiled by Golden Retrievers wearing red bandannas. Still, such places can be too rich for some people’s taste, mine for instance.

No doubt about it, “To be without some of the things/ you want, a wise man said,/ is an indispensable part of happiness.”

These last lines struck ancient chords, leading back to these lines from Carl Sandburg’s “father-to-son”

A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
And left them dead years before burial
The quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
Has twisted good enough men
Sometimes into dry thwarted worms.

which struck me as right on even when I read them in college many years ago, and nothing has happened in my life to make them ring false.