“Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

“Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn from New and Selected Poems. © Norton, 1994.

5 thoughts on ““Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn

    1. I definitely think it’s part of it, Michelle. Vulnerable writing can leave all your nerve endings exposed for a while; don’t be surprised if you feel sickish to your stomach or fatigued like you’re coming down with a cold or flu– I’ve heard it called an “emotional hangover.”

      Ever since Paris, I have been a live wire. The holidays, the ugliness running rampant, the despair, the small acts of beauty and heroism. My emotions don’t know which way is up lately. And now Planned Parenthood, Savannah, San Bernadino. Is there no end?

      Makes me grateful for small visits of sweetness.


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    1. A funny story about today’s piece. I’ve had it saved as a post for several months; each time I would push it back and back as I ran another poem or post instead. Eventually I forgot the message of the poem all together, expecting it to be a lovey-dovey poem given the title. After the recent tragedy, I sat down to find some perfect words (“The Good News” from yesterday)…this poem had been pushed out several weeks ago to this exact date. I opened it up, thinking I would push it out again, only to be moved to tears by its perfect perfect message. It was like it was waiting for the perfect day, and it knew before I did that today would be that day.
      How is that for a sweetness that changes nothing in the world, other than how we may stumble through it?

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