Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses ―
until we’re ready.
― Stephen Dunn, Essay On the Personal
Our lives are composed of so many different stories; how do we choose which ones to share?
I first picked up Stephen Dunn’s New and Selected Poems in the bedroom of my Philosophy professor’s house. My friend Sarah and I were house-sitting (and by house-sitting, I mean that we were rifling through all of his bookcases for new reads) while he was away. Through the years, Stephen has been the vessel for many secrets and confessions, as well as visceral honesty. I wrote an essay about him once in college. The assignment was to write about a poet who had influenced our voice as writers. There was no one else I could possibly write about.
Stephen drew me to T. as well: he made me reach out to her. Someone who loves Stephen so clearly is a person I have to know. One day, I will write him a thank-you letter. For everything.
This is part of our story. Just the beginning part.
I cannot put into words how much I love Stephen Dunn, but I’m going to try: it’s like he has been there, from the beginning. Since the beginning. I pass through the days, feeling, breathing, not feeling, not breathing. And then at the most necessary moments he reaches out, and with the merest touch, wakes me up, jolts me, and I am alive again, goddamn. Like I’ve never been. Each poem is like that. Always.
The day M. found me: it was better than a dream, better than anything I could have imagined. I felt my world opening, giving. Suddenly I’m not so alone. Suddenly life is a bit more bearable. My gratefulness at this chance encounter can only be summed up by a line from Story: “Praise the odd, serendipitous world.”
M. inspires me to be a better person. I read her words and I take a second look at my life through her eyes. I don’t know how I lived before without her letters; they feel so much a part of me now. This deep friendship that we have: it’s a gift. And it all began because of a poet who doesn’t even know I exist. (One day, M., I’m going to write him a letter, too. To say thank you. For everything.)
We started writing to each other in August 2011. Somehow, it feels much longer than that. It’s like I’ve known her all my life, and in all my other lives before this.