Beautiful Women

Stephen Dunn

More things come to them,
and they have more to hide.
All around them: mirror, eyes.
In any case
they are different from other women
and like great athletes have trouble
making friends, and trusting a world
quick to praise.

I admit without shame
I’m talking about superficial beauty,
the beauty unmistakable
to the honest eye, which causes
some of us to pivot and to dream,
to tremble before we dial.

Intelligence warmed by generosity
is inner beauty, and what’s worse
some physically beautiful woman have it,
and we have to be strapped and handcuffed
to the mast, or be ruined.

But I don’t want to talk of inner beauty,
it’s the correct way to talk
and I’d feel too good
about myself, like a parishioner.
Now, in fact,
I feel like I’m talking
to a strange beautiful woman at a bar, I’m
animated, I’m wearing that little fixed
smile, I might say anything at all.

Still, it’s better to treat a beautiful woman
as if she were normal, one of many.
She’ll be impressed that you’re unimpressed,
might start to lean your way.
This is especially true if she has aged
into beauty, for she will have learned
the sweet gestures one learns
in a lifetime of seeking love.
Lucky is the lover of such a woman
and lucky the woman herself.

Beautiful woman who’ve been beautiful girls
are often in some tower of themselves
waiting for us to make the long climb.

But let us have sympathy for the loneliness
of beautiful women.
Let us have no contempt for their
immense privilege, or for the fact
that they never can be wholly ours.

It is not astonishing
when the scared little girl in all of them
says here I am, or when they weep.
But we are always astonished by what
beautiful women do.

“Boxers punch harder when women are around,”
Kenneth Patchen said. Think what happens
when beautiful women are around.
We do not question
that a thousand ships were launched.

In the eye of the beholder? A platitude.
A beautiful woman enters a room,
and everyone beholds. Geography changes.
We watch her everywhere she goes.

Stephen Dunn is the author of 13 collections of poetry, most recently Local Visitations (Norton, 2003), Different Hours (Norton, 2002, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Insistence of Beauty (Norton, 2004)