A Postmortem Guide
for my eulogist, in advance
Do not praise me for my exceptional serenity.
Can't you see I've turned away
from the large excitements,
and have accepted all the troubles?
Go down to the old cemetery; you'll see
there's nothing definitive to be said.
The dead once were all kinds—
boundary breakers and scalawags,
martyrs of the flesh, and so many
dumb bunnies of duty, unbearably nice.
I've been a little of each.
And please, resist the temptation
of speaking about virtue.
The seldom-tempted are too fond
of that word, the small-
spirited, the unburdened.
Know that I've admired in others
only the fraught straining
to be good.
Adam's my man and Eve's not to blame.
He bit in; it made no sense to stop.
Still, for accuracy's sake you might say
I often stopped,
that I rarely went as far as I dreamed.
And since you know my hardships,
understand they're mere bump and setback
against history's horror.
Remind those seated, perhaps weeping,
how obscene it is
for some of us to complain.
Tell them I had second chances.
I knew joy.
I was burned by books early
and kept sidling up to the flame.
Tell them that at the end I had no need
for God, who'd become just a story
I once loved, one of many
with concealments and late-night rescues,
high sentence and pomp. The truth is
I learned to live without hope
as well as I could, almost happily,
in the despoiled and radiant now.
You who are one of them, say that I loved
my companions most of all.
In all sincerity, say that they provided
a better way to be alone.
Stephen Dunn, What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009, W.W. Norton, 2010.