Checklist by Stephen Dunn

The housework, the factory work, the work
that takes from the body
and does not put back.
The white-collar work and the dirt
of its profits, the terrible politeness
of the office worker, the work that robs
the viscera to pay the cool
surfaces of the brain. All the work
that makes love difficult, brings on
sleep, drops the body off
at the liquor cabinet. All the work
that reaches the intestines and sprawls.
And the compulsive work after the work
is done, those unfillable spaces
of the Calvinist, or certain marriage beds.


I am a writer. Well, at least that’s part of who I am. I can’t help but think that I might not live to see any sort of success at this craft I’ve grown to love. Perhaps I will die with all these poems and songs and words inside my head.

That thought poses more questions than answers I’m afraid. What is success? How do you measure it? Is it anything like trying to measure intelligence?

I once wrote that all a writer can do is hope to change one brilliant mind who will in turn, change the world.

I am a writer. At least that’s most of who I am.


They’re tugging at the very fabric of me.
Stretching and distorting.
Pulling, tearing, pushing.
But I like it.

What it does to me.
Warping my wings so when
I try to fly up, I fly down instead.
But I like it.

Because it leads me to wonder.
Because it leads me to why.

They say it starts there, but we all
know better … that’s only a small
part. A fraction of what it really

My brain itches and I try to scratch it
with big questions from lecture halls,
but it never quite resolves.
And I like it.

Dare me?

I want to do it.
Do you dare me?
I’ve put myself there.
In good position.
I’ve stared down the barrel so to speak.
I’ve cracked it open.
I’ve fit the noose.
I’m no longer speaking In metaphors.

I drank too much again.
Finished the bottle.
There was no secret fortune at the bottom.
Guess that’s only in cookies.

It’s spinning mania. It’s thick with red wine and cheap beer. I’m quoting myself again. Narcissism.

Thinking too much of myself. I’ve heard selfish a few too many times. Be careful what you say to someone on the edge. Call them selfish again. See what happens.

Step back into oblivion. Step back in time. One two step around the issue. Keep your head down. Don’t make eye contact.

There are two knives in my room. One was made in Germany. The other is my grandfather’s who was German.

I hold the first to my arm. “sometimes i wish I could slash my wrists and end this bull shit put the magnum to my head and threaten to push it until the beds completely red.”

Biggie knew.
Do you?

The other says, “Serve God” on the handle.
Maybe I should give the advice a try. Maybe I already have.

I can’t do it with this one. I can’t dishonor my grandfather like that. Fuck honor. I can’t do it with this knife cause I love my grandpa. No need to bring hot buttons like honor into it.

Life is beautiful and is meant to be wrestled with. I’ve come to learn there’s so much beauty in pain. Can’t you see it?

I put down both knives, thinking of my mother’s eyes.

It’s those eyes the ones you can’t forget. It’s the walls speaking with regret. You want to die? Now’s not the time.

Porch lights on and it’s aglow saying things you’ll never know. It’s thick and swirls round your mind.

That songs about a girl who followed through. I should know. I wrote it.

Contemplating is not the same as pulling the trigger. But make sure you leave the safety on.


You people have more money than you know what to do with. More money than God, more than you know how to spend. And you spend your days coming up with new ways to spend it. New inventions on extending consumer culture. New products wrapped in new packages and sometimes I buy this shit and tell myself I need it. I unwrap it and sit in my room and look at it and worship it for an hour, a day, a week, a year. But then it always fades and looks like the shit it really is.

Everything is from the earth.

Everything we’ve ever made and that should be beautiful but it’s not because you ruined it with a price tag. As a writer I’m often no better when I put my name next to some words like they’re mine. They’re ours. It’s all ours.