“A Small Part” by Stephen Dunn.

The summer I discovered my heart
is at best an instrument of approximation
and the mind is asked to ratify
every blood rush sent its way

was the same summer I stared
at the slate gray sea well beyond dusk,
learning how exquisitely
I could feel sorry for myself.

It was personal–the receding tide,
the absent, arbitrary wind.
I had a small part in the great comedy,
and hardly knew it. No excuse,

but I was so young I believed
Ayn Rand had a handle on truth–
secular, heroically severe. Be a man
of unwavering principle, I told others,

and what happens to the poor
is entirely their fault. No wonder
that girl left me in August, a stillness
in the air. I was one of those lunatics

of a single idea, or maybe even worse–
I kissed wrong, or wasn’t brave enough
to admit I was confused.
Many summers later I’d learn to love

the shadows illumination creates.
But experience always occurs too late
to undo what’s been done. The hint
of moon above an unperturbable sea,

and that young man, that poor me,
staring ahead–everything is as it was.
And of course has been changed.
I got over it. I’ve never been the same.


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