The Return of the Thursday Short Poem: Dunn’s “John & Mary”

All of us who teach have favorite examples of accidental student genius.  They are archived and collected (see here ) and treasured, passed around among countless teachers.  Some are surely apocryphal.  Some are simple malapropisms, others — as in this fine Stephen Dunn offering — are not only unintentionally hysterically funny, but oddly poignant as well.  With school underway this week, this is a fine choice for my first Thursday Short Poem since coming off hiatus.

John & Mary

"John & Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who also had never met."
– from a freshman’s short story.

They were like gazelles who occupied different
grassy plains, running in opposite directions
from different lions. They were like postal clerks
in different zip codes, with different vacation time,
their bosses adamant and clock-driven.
How could they get together?
They were like two people who couldn’t get together.
John was a Sufi with a love of the dervish,
Mary of course a Christian with a curfew.
They were like two dolphins in the immensity
of the Atlantic, one playful,
the other stuck in a tuna net—
two absolutely different childhoods!
There was simply no hope for them.
They would never speak in person.
When they ran across that windswept field
toward each other, they were like two freight trains,
one having left Seattle at 6:36 p.m.
at an unknown speed, the other delayed
in Topeka for repairs.
The math indicated that they’d embrace
in another world, if at all, like parallel lines.
Or merely appear kindred and close, like stars.

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6 thoughts on “The Return of the Thursday Short Poem: Dunn’s “John & Mary”

  1. Nice – this reminds me a lot of Non Campus Mentis, another source of “accidental student genius”.

  2. It’s a lovely poem, though the initial quote is neither an accident nor a student’s work — it’s from either a Bulwer-Lytton contest or one of the Style Invitational WaPo contests (or something like that), and those things are hard to write.

  3. Well, wolfa, I’m just takin’ Dunn’s word for it here… but you’re right, it’s almost too spectacularly good to have been written by a frosh.

  4. Yes, I figured as much. I’m just tired of seeing the same carefully crafted sentences go out as “hee hee, accidental wit”, and tend to point it out. I don’t know how to get in touch with the poet.

    I really like your Thursday short poem series (I’d like it even more if there were a list of them, category or somesuch, because I miss them occasionally).

    It actually reminds me of a short story by Diane Schoemperlen, in her collection ‘Forms of Devotion’. I cannot recall the name of the story, and I can’t find my copy of the book, but it’s a good collection and worth reading.

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