Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Stephen Dobyns: My Town

This happens occasionally in my town. Maybe

it’s a sort of nervousness or hysteria, even

displaced fervor, as if fervor were a kind

of cloud or the fog that rolls in to envelop

the coast, that chill August fog, really more

of a bandage than a fog. You see how I stumble.


It begins with a man running onto his neighbor’s

front porch. Come on, he shouts, let’s go!

His neighbor hurries out and the two of them

run down the street shouting. It’s coming!

Then another man joins them, maybe a woman,

and from other houses come more men and women,

some pulling on coats or sweaters. It’s coming!

they shout, and their voices sound eager.

Soon there are maybe twenty people; a man

is buckling his belt, one woman as she runs

is taking the yellow curlers from her hair.

They run onto porches, hammer on doors. Now

the street is getting full. It’s like a river,

little streams emerging from separate houses.

There’s the guy who cuts my hair, the checkout

girl from Jack’s Quik Stop. Let’s go! they shout,

and their faces shine as if just washed, as if their

eagerness had erased all other concerns—the baker

who went bankrupt, the wife of the town drunk—

their faces empty of all but anticipation, like

blank paper waiting to be used, or new clothing,

anything ready to be taken up for the first time.

Past the high school and park, brushing the swings

that flop back and forth on their chains. It’s

coming! They shout—a huge crowd and all on foot.


It’s the oldsters who stop first, halting

to catch their breath; then the kids for whom

it’s half a joke, then others, in twos and threes,

they come to a stop, sometimes far in the country

as dogs run barking along the side of the road.

Those in good shape can keep it up for miles

but then they too are forced to halt until there’s

just one, the town cop or high school track star,

sprinting ahead with arms outstretched. It’s coming

he shouts. But soon he also stops, and almost

with embarrassment he begins to make his way back.

Just as they all come back, not looking at each other

or talking. By now it’s getting late. Going

into their houses, they pull down their shades,

turn out the lights so you’d think that nobody

was at home, though you know that all are still

hopeful and stand listening in darkened rooms,

waiting for they next time when someone bursts

from his house shouting, Let’s go! Which makes me

curious about other places, other lives. We must

get to the bottom of these mysteries, discover

what people require to be happy. Otherwise

we proceed in chaos and confusion, like someone

throwing a bunch of confetti into the air: some

blows north, some south and some we never know.


Copyright 1987 Stephen Dobyns

Originally published in Cemetery Nights. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

One comment on “Stephen Dobyns: My Town

  1. Saleh Razzouk
    May 16, 2018

    Nice and very clean poem. It has the fingerprint of country music in fact. Some thing with nostalgic effects.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 16, 2018 by in Humor and Satire, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , .

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