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The Soul’s Agents

by Stephen Dunn


Every night before bed, say for a week,
we recommend admitting a lie
or a deception, sotto voce, a rogue’s prayer
to the soul you know you have,
no matter how tattered or dormant.
Trust us, your secrets differentiate you
from no one, but the soul awakens
a little when it hears them.
We have its interests at heart,
which means your interests as well.

Try to practice unsettling
what remains settled in you—
those ideas, for example,
inherited, still untested.
And if only you could raise
your hypocrisy to the level of art,
like forgery, there might be
real hope for you.

Some people of course expect
to be rewarded for stumbling
and rising from the floor
and stumbling again, but we give
no credit for living. We favor vitality
over goodness, even over effort;
we love a great belly laugh
more than anything.

In your case we do worry
there may not be enough
quarrel in you, or enough courage
to acknowledge your worst inclinations.
Know that the soul converts them
into tenderness. Nothing pleases it more.

So next week why not admit
that what Raskolnikov did
has always made you dream?
The more you expose yourself
the more you become unrecognizable.
Remember, we are here to help.
What you decide to keepfrom the world,
tell us. We understand
everything. We pass it on.

 

Stephen Dunn is the author of thirteen collections of poetry, including Different Hours (winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize) and the recently published The Insistence of Beauty. He lives in western Maryland with his wife, the writer Barbara Hurd. (10/2005)


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