It’s Like This

By Stephen Dobyns b. 1941 Stephen Dobyns

for Peter Parrish

Each morning the man rises from bed because the invisible
      cord leading from his neck to someplace in the dark,
      the cord that makes him always dissatisfied,
      has been wound tighter and tighter until he wakes.

He greets his family, looking for himself in their eyes,
      but instead he sees shorter or taller men, men with
      different degrees of anger or love, the kind of men
      that people who hardly know him often mistake
      for him, leaving a movie or running to catch a bus.

He has a job that he goes to. It could be at a bank
      or a library or turning a piece of flat land
      into a ditch. All day something that refuses to
      show itself hovers at the corner of his eye,
      like a name he is trying to remember, like
      expecting a touch on the shoulder, as if someone
      were about to embrace him, a woman in a blue dress
      whom he has never met, would never meet again.
      And it seems the purpose of each day’s labor
      is simply to bring this mystery to focus. He can
      almost describe it, as if it were a figure at the edge
      of a burning field with smoke swirling around it
      like white curtains shot full of wind and light.

When he returns home, he studies the eyes of his family to see
      what person he should be that evening. He wants to say:
      All day I have been listening, all day I have felt
      I stood on the brink of something amazing.
      But he says nothing, and his family walks around him
      as if he were a stick leaning against a wall.

Late in the evening the cord around his neck draws him to bed.
      He is consoled by the coolness of sheets, pressure
      of blankets. He turns to the wall, and as water
      drains from a sink so his daily mind slips from him.
      Then sleep rises before him like a woman in a blue dress,
      and darkness puts its arms around him, embracing him.
      Be true to me, it says, each night you belong to me more,
      until at last I lift you up and wrap you within me.

Stephen Dobyns, “It’s Like This” from Velocities: New and Selected Poems. Copyright � 1994 by Stephen Dobyns. Reprinted with the permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors, see

Source: Poetry (January 1980).


This poem originally appeared in the January 1980 issue of Poetry magazine

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January 1980
 Stephen  Dobyns


Stephen Dobyns has published over 10 volumes of poetry, including Concurring Beasts (1972), The Balthus Poems (1982), Cemetery Nights (1987), Velocities: New and Selected Poems (1994), and Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides (1999). Of the governing style of his work over time, Dobyns noted in a recent 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 . . .

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Poems by Stephen Dobyns

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Home Life, Relationships, Jobs & Working, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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