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poemoftheweek poem of the week


Stephen Dobyns


Cemetery Nights


Sweet dreams, sweet memories, sweet taste of earth:
here's how the dead pretend they're still alive-
one drags up a chair, a lamp, unwraps
the newspaper from somebody's garbage, 
then sits holding the paper up to his face.
No matter if the lamp is busted and his eyes 
have fallen out. Or some of the others
group together in front of the TV, chuckling
and slapping what's left of their knees. 
No matter if the screen is dark. Four more
sit at a table with glasses and plates,
lift forks to their mouths and chew. No matter 
if their plates are empty and they chew only air.
Two of the dead roll on the ground,
banging and rubbing their bodies together 
as if in love or frenzy. No matter if their skin
breaks off, that their genitals are just a memory.

The head cemetery rat calls in all the city rats,
who pay him what rats find valuable-
the wing of a pigeon or ear of a dog.
The rats perch on tombstones and the cheap 
statues of angels and, oh, they hold their bellies
and laugh, laugh until their guts half break;
while the stars give off the same cold light
that all these dead once planned their lives by,
and in someone's yard a dog barks and barks
just to see if some animal as dumb as he is
will wake from sleep and perhaps bark back. 


-from Cemetery Nights 

BIO: Stephen Dobyns has published over a dozen volumes of poetry, including Concurring Beasts, The Balthus Poems, Cemetery Nights, Velocities: New and Selected Poems , Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides, and The Day's Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech. Of the governing style of his work over time, Dobyns noted in an interview, “If there’s a consistency in any of the books, it’s the fact that I like a long line ... [and] use the linebreak to affect the rhythm of the lines, to affect the rhythm of the poem.” The terms “masculine,” “witty,” and “humane” are frequently used to describe Dobyns’s poetry. His narrative and sometimes absurdist work contains “the juxtaposition of the profane and the exalted,” noted the Alsop Review. A New York Times review of Body Traffic (1990) remarked on the poet’s humor: “Life can be pretty grisly in Mr. Dobyns’s poems. But life isn’t a tragedy in which we are fatally mired. Instead, it is a farce we view from a certain remove.”

Dobyns grew up in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, was educated at Shimer College and Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the University of Iowa. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit Newsand has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Warren Wilson College, the University of Iowa, Syracuse University, and Boston University.

Dobyns has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Not only have his poems been anthologized in Best American Poems, two of his short stories have been chosen for Best American Short Stories. He is also a successful fiction writer. His work includes a collection of short stories, Eating Naked; a novel, The Wrestler’s Cruel Study; a celebrated collection of essays on poetry, Best Words, Best Order; and several mystery and thriller books, one of which, The Church of Dead Girls, has been optioned by HBO.

In his essay “Writing the Reader’s Life,” Dobyns discussed his view of the creative process: “The act of inspiration is, I think, the sudden apprehension or grasping of metaphor.”

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