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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn
Poet Stephen Dunn received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his book Different Hours...
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FURTHER READING
Poems about Identity
A Legacy
by Prageeta Sharma
Black Laws
by Roger Reeves
Dream In Which I Meet Myself
by Lynn Emanuel
Escape
by Elinor Wylie
For Crying Out Loud
by Terrance Hayes
Happy first anniversary (in anticipation of your thirty ninth)
by Bob Hicok
Imaginary June
by C. D. Wright
Instructions on Damaging the Monster's Cloak of Invisibility
by Bradley Paul
Mirrors
by Tada Chimako
mulberry fields
by Lucille Clifton
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Anti-Biography
by Will Alexander
On Disappearing
by Major Jackson
Self-portrait as Thousandfurs
by Stacy Gnall
Sympathy
by Edith Franklin Wyatt
The Fare-well Letters [excerpt]
by Evie Shockley
The Purpose of Ritual
by Melissa Broder
Woman in Front of Poster of Herself
by Alice Notley
Poems about Voice
Coming and Going
by Tony Hoagland
Hearing your words and not a word among them (Sonnet XXXVI)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
If My Voice Is Not Reaching You
by Afzal Ahmed Syed
If the ocean had a mouth
by Marie-Elizabeth Mali
Lift Every Voice and Sing
by James Weldon Johnson
Meeting at Night
by Robert Browning
On Silence
by R. Zamora Linmark
Prayer from a Mouse
by Sarah Messer
Silences
by John Montague
Speedway
by Cedar Sigo
The Keeper's Voice
by Mike Carson
The Little Mute Boy
by Federico García Lorca
The Man Whose Voice Has Been Taken From His Throat
by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Voice
by Thomas Hardy
Time
by Chris Martin
Voices
by Sharon Olds
Why is Quiet "Kept"?
by Paul Hoover
Other Dramatic Monologues
Daffy Duck In Hollywood
by John Ashbery
Falling
by James Dickey
Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath
Ludwig Van Beethoven's Return to Vienna
by Rita Dove
Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh
XXI Dynasty

by Thomas James
My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning, read by Richard Howard
Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565
by Richard Howard
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
The Odyssey, Book 11: ll. 538-556
by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
[American Journal]
by Robert Hayden
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Mrs. Cavendish and the Dancer

 
by Stephen Dunn

Mrs. Cavendish desired the man in the fedora 
who danced the tarantella without regard
for who might care.  All her life she had
a weakness for abandon, and, if the music
stopped, for anyone who could turn
a phrase. The problem was
Mrs. Cavendish wanted it all
to mean something in a world crazed 
and splattered with the gook 
of apparent significance, and meaning  
had an affinity for being elsewhere.
The dancer studied philosophy, she told me,
knew the difference between a sophist
and a sophomore, despite my insistence
that hardly any existed. It seemed everyone 
but she knew that sadness awaits the needy.
Mr. Cavendish, too, when he was alive,
was equally naïve, might invite a wolf
in man's clothing to spend a night 
at their house. This was how the missus 
mythologized her husband – a man of what
she called honor, no sense of marital danger,
scrupled  beyond all scrupulosity. 
The tarantella man was gorgeous and oily,  
and, let's forgive her, Mrs. Cavendish
was lonely. His hair slicked back, he didn't
resemble her deceased in the slightest,
which in the half-light of memory's belittered
passageways made her ga-ga. And I, as ever,
would cajole and warn, hoping history
and friendship might be on my side.
Mrs. Cavendish, I'd implore, lie down 
with this liar if it feels good, but, please, 
when he smells most of sweetness, get a grip, 
develop a gripe, try to breathe your own air.
About this poem:
"I've been working on a sequence of 'Mrs. Cavendish' poems, and this is one of them. I'm finding out who she is as I go, and likewise discovering who the speaker is. I have about eight of them so far. Working like this, I feel enormous permission to be various and (I hope) interesting."

—Stephen Dunn






Copyright © 2014 by Stephen Dunn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 6, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.
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