From My Unknown Friend

by Carl Dennis

If you want to close the canyon between your notion
Of your accomplishments and notions more objective,
You’ll want to read this letter slowly, with an open mind,
Sent as it is by an unknown friend, whose name isn’t important,
Just my concern prompting me to step forward
When it would be far easier to keep silent
And watch with others in the audience while you,
Playing the role of fool, dig your own grave.

I hope you don’t attribute to me ungenerous motives
When I say it grieved me to glimpse you last week
Emerging from Kaufmann’s Department Store in a coat
Suitable for a potentate, smiling in your confidence
It was made for you, a symbol of your achievements.
So much for your bad debuts and broken promises.
For you they’re gossip only, the buzz of the rabble
Who couldn’t recognize true greatness of spirit
If they came upon it, true wisdom and generosity.

For a minute there on the street I assumed
You were merely bluffing, pretending to self-satisfaction
In order to hide from the world an underlying self-doubt.
But your swagger seemed too casual to be studied
Before a mirror, too free and easy.
Self-love is a virtue, I don’t deny it,
But are you committed to wasting your love on a self
No more worth of love than yours? If not,
Isn’t it time to get serious about self-amendment?

Perhaps you suspect this letter is part of a plot,
To afflict you with bad conscience and bad digestion,
The work of someone unhappy by nature
Who demands that everyone else suffer like him.
Perhaps if you knew my name you’d pin my opinion
On the bias of class or race, gender or nation,
Or on the usual spite of a failed competitor,
Some envious poetaster who specializes in screeds,
Too proud to admit to himself his admiration
For verses as grand as yours in diction and theme.

That’s why this letter’s not signed, to keep you guessing,
Through uneasiness you might move to doubt,

From doubt to confusion, from confusion to reassessment.
In any case, I know you’ll begin far from the gratitude
That you ought to feel for my taking the trouble
To pen a letter addressed not to the world
But to you alone, to your thick-walled fortress
That you’re convinced is a garden
Isn’t it time to ask why nobody
Rambles the paths beside you
In the cool of the evening
And pauses with you to sniff the flowers?

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