There’s a wonderful honesty in Stephen Dunn’s “Each from Different Heights,” a willingness to push against what we might assume to be true or what we might want to be true. In this case, Dunn asks us to examine the distinction that we want to draw between those times we claim to have been truly in love and those times it turned out not to have been love, and to ask to what extent that distinction is real. How big is it, really? Does it exist at all? Or do we just assume that it should, or wish that it did? How different is that time “I thought I was in love” from the time “I was truly in love”? If I can speak of my love calmly, does that mean that the love is not real? If I sleep poorly and find myself speaking to the wall, does that mean that my love is true?
The distinctions get flattened.
And the hurt that we carry from the loss of love and the falls we take, the pain that seems so overwhelming when love is lost, when a relationship ends, when someone hurts us – that, too, might be subject to this same flattening. Perhaps the “longer fall” leaves a bigger bruise, a darker bruise, a deeper bruise, but it, just like a small one, just like a mild one, fades. Fades to perfect whiteness.
Now, clearly, you don’t want to take that flattening too far. To claim that all hurts are, in essence, equal because all bruises fade is to deny, I think, at least some fundamental emotional truth. But I don’t think Dunn takes it that far. The poem remains grounded, wonderfully grounded, especially in moments like this: “Sometimes even the false is tender.”
And that’s true. Hard, but true.
I appreciate that honesty, but, really, what I respond to most in the poem is the speaker, truly in love, discovering “the hidden genius of [his] hands.” Is there any greater spur to creativity, to expression, to getting up and getting out and Getting Shit Done, than love? Have you ever been as inspired as when you decide that you’re “truly in love”? Have you ever felt more like a genius? More like someone capable of creation? More like someone capable of expression? More like someone who should create?