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Stephen Dunn

11-09-2010

The Insistence of Beauty

The day before those silver planes
came out of the perfect blue, I was struck
by the beauty of pollution rising
from smokestacks near Newark,
gray and white ribbons of it
on their way to evanescence.

And at impact, no doubt, certain beholders
and believers from another part of the world
must have seen what appeared gorgeous -
the flames of something theirs being born.

I watched for hours – mesmerized -
that willful collision replayed,
the better man in me not yielding,
then yielding to revenge’s sweet surge.

The next day there was a photograph
of dust and smoke ghosting a street,
and another of a man you couldn’t be sure
was fear-frozen or dead or made of stone,

and for a while I was pleased
to admire the intensity – or was it the coldness? -
of each photographer’s good eye.
For years I’d taken pride in resisting

the obvious – sunsets, snowy peaks,
a starlet’s face – yet had come to realize
even those, seen just right, can have
their edgy place. And the sentimental,

beauty’s sloppy cousin, that enemy,
can’t it have a place too?
Doesn’t a tear deserve a close-up?
When word came of a fireman

who hid in the rubble
so his dispirited search dog
could have someone to find, I repeated it
to everyone I knew. I did this for myself,
not for community or beauty’s sake,
yet soon it had a rhythm and a frame.

              -from The Insistence of Beauty