That Saturday Without a Car
for Ellen Dunn (1910-1969)
Five miles to my mother’s house,
a distance I’d never run.
“I think she’s dead”
my brother said, and hung up
as if with death
language should be mercifully approximate,
should keep the fact
that would forever be fact
at bay. I understood,
and as I ran wondered what words
I might say, and to whom.
I saw myself opening the door—
my brother, both of us, embarrassed
by the sudden intimacy we’d feel.
We had expected it
but we’d expected it every year
for ten: her heart was the best
and worst of her—every kindness
fought its way through damage,
her breasts disappeared
as if the heart itself, for comfort,
had sucked them in.
And I was running better
than I ever had. How different it was
from driving, the way I’d gone
to other deaths—
my body fighting it all off, my heart,
this adequate heart, getting me there.
-from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994 by Stephen Dunn (W.W. Norton, 1994)