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Stephen Dobyns


Consolations of Water

Picking your way barefoot across the parking lot to the beach your face contorts as your feet press down hard on the rough points of stones— jagged stones, dagger stones, needles and knives. Think of these as the souls of those who raged, stripped [...]


The abrupt presentment of illness, the sudden invasion of the foreign: your wife has been sick, your daughters sick, and all at once while listening to a lecture you grow aware of some new thing within you, something not there a moment ago. The room [...]

The Body’s Joy

The slick kiss of an oyster slipping across the tongue, a woman's bare thighs with her belly a velvet lake beneath one's hands, warm wind in spring, a change in the weather, the touch of silk, sleep— these become the body's joy: a fire on a cold n [...]


Oh, much maligned one, meager hunkerer beneath the heart, they slander you who claim that anger is your little engine, that melancholy squats within you like a frog in its rank grotto. My hands feel anger, my fingers feel anger, but you in your basem [...]

The Body’s Journey

Born, it's not good for much, a vehicle stuck on its top, spinning its tires, a pink VW Beetle or something resembling a turtle. But it's cute so we keep it. Soon it gets the hang of things and starts to travel—first on its pudgy belly, then on its [...]

Song of Basic Necessities

for E. F. The day hates you and the wind has stolen the coat from your back. Take this poem. Unfolding it from the page, it becomes a cloak. Now as you walk through the streets of winter, you listen idly to the talk of the unfaithful: how you must h [...]

(At the Ocean He Studied the Waves)

Summer 2002 | Poetry

At the ocean he studied the waves—how they built and broke, their regularity and variety. It seemed meaningful, yet no meaning came to him beyond a sense of boundless space. But ships crossing the horizon, the shapes of clouds, the calligraphic p [...]

(Sometimes Confusion Was Veil)

Summer 2002 | Poetry

Sometimes confusion was a veil across his eyes. Then what he loved became suspect, what he had disliked he now despised. Colors grew darker, sounds sharper. In his blindness, he trusted nothing and he struck out at whoever came too close. Better to [...]

(The Clouds Above the Mountains)

Summer 2002 | Poetry

The clouds above the mountains of Mexico—how palpable they were, towering expanses of particles of water, layer upon layer of overlays of white, brighter than white as if lit from within, mountainous shapes cresting the mountains. He dreamt of be [...]

The New Austerity

Heart is lonely so he buys a bird. He lugs the bird all over in a silver cage. In the morning, its feathers are orange, in the evening aquamarine. He tells the bird his life story, but when the bird stops singing, Heart decides it's unhappy. He worr [...]

To Keep One’s Treasure Protected

Within the lump of coal the flame lies hidden, within its darkness hides the diamond's glory: all unseen from without, it must be imagined— the fire that heats the house, the wedding ring sparkling with future promise. But what would be the coal's [...]


Those patches of cold air on the far side of the barn at night or down the hill among the trees—what souls are these? What must have happened for them to linger as such tentative gestures—the touch of damp air against the skin, the smell of wet [...]