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14 May 2009 @ 05:28 pm
Tenderness, Stephen Dunn  
Favorite Stephen Dunn poem


Back then when so much was clear
    and I hadn't learned
young men learn from women

what it feels like to feel just right,
    I was twenty-three,
she thirty-four, two children, and husband

in prison for breaking someone's head.
    Yelled at, slapped
around, all she knew of tenderness

was how much she wanted it, and all
    I knew
were backseats and a night or two

in a sleeping bag in the furtive dark.
    We worked
in the same office, banter and loneliness

leading to the shared secret
    that to help
National Biscuit sell biscuits

was wildly comic, which lead to my body
    existing with hers
like rain that's found its way underground

to water it naturally joins.
    I can't remember
ever saying the word, tenderness,

though she did.  It's a word I see now
    you must be older to use,
you must have experienced the absence of it

often enough to know what silk and deep balm
    it is
when at last it comes. I think it was terror

at first that drove me to touch her
    so softly,
then selfishness, the clear benefit

of doing something that would come back
    to me twofold,
and finally, sometime later, it became

reflective and motiveless in the high
    ignorance of love.
Oh abstractions are just abstract

until they have an ache in them. I met
    a woman never touched
gently, and when it ended between us

I had new hands and new sorrow,
    everything it mean
to be a man changed, unheroic, floating.