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Workshop with Stephen Dunn
Paul Hostovsky

At first I mistook the Parkinson’s for
exuberance for the poems, the tremor
in his hand resting on his leg making
the leg softly jackhammer under the table
like the leg of a schoolboy dying to raise his hand
or dying to escape outside into the field
across the street, and because he can’t
enter the field the field has entered his leg;
exuberance for all poems, not just our
stalled ones lying around on the long
wooden table where he worried about them
for us, the ones that didn’t turn, opened
each one up and scratched his beard and stared,
and tinkered with it from underneath,
and gave it a kick, insisting it would go if
we let it; exuberance for the ones by other poets
he carried all the way from New Jersey without
making copies for us, as if our desire to have them—
once he’d seduced us by reading them aloud—
were just another superfluous poignancy
in a poem that otherwise pleased him, a poem
where the speaker is complicit, is part of
the problem which doesn’t get solved, exactly.
But whenever he read a poem that he loved
his voice was in love with it, and you could hear it
trembling imperceptibly with the pleasure
you take in the voice in any poem that knows
how to keep its own promises. And on the last
day, when we said goodbye, I shook his hand
and maybe because the tremor had gone
underground, I held onto his hand for what seemed
far too long. As soon as I’d let it go it felt
like the first poor choice in a poem that would lead
to other poor choices, unless of course I went back
and gave it permission to be wholly beautiful.



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