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About this poet

On February 19, 1941, Stephen Dobyns was born in Orange, New Jersey. He graduated from Wayne State University and has an MFA from the University of Iowa. Dobyns has published ten books of poetry and twenty novels.

His books of poetry include Winter's Journey (Copper Canyon Press, 2010); Mystery, So Long (2005); The Porcupine's Kisses (2002); Do They Have a Reason? (2000)Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides (Penguin, 1999); Common Carnage (1996); Velocities: New and Selected Poems, 1966-1992 (1994); Cemetery Nights (1987), which won a Melville Cane Award; Black Dog, Red Dog (1984), which was a winner in the National Poetry Series; Heat Death (1980); and Concurring Beasts (1972), which was the 1972 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets.

His novels include Boy in the Water (Holt/Metropolitan, 1999), The Church of Dead Girls (1997), Saratoga Fleshpot (1995), The Wrestler's Cruel Study (1993), and Saratoga Haunting (1993). His novels have been translated into more than ten languages. Dobyns is also the author of a collection of short stories, Eating Naked (2000) and a book of essays, Best Words, Best Order (1996).

Among his many honors and awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including the University of Iowa and Boston University. Stephen Dobyns lives in Boston with his wife and three children.

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Yellow Beak

Stephen Dobyns, 1941
A man owns a green parrot with a yellow beak
that he carries on his shoulder each day to work.
He runs a pet shop and the parrot is his trademark.

Each morning the man winds his way from his bus
through the square, four or five blocks. There goes
the parrot, people say. Then at night, he comes back.

The man himself is nondescript—a little overweight,
thinning hair of no color at all. It's like the parrot owns
the man, not the reverse. Then one day the man dies.

He was old. It was bound to happen. At first people
feel mildly upset. The butcher thinks he has forgotten
a customer who owes him money. The baker thinks

he's catching a cold. Soon they get it right—the parrot
is gone. Time seems out of sorts, but sets itself straight
as people forget. Then years later the fellow who ran

the diner wakes from a dream where he saw the parrot
flying along all by itself, flapping by in the morning
and cruising back home at night. Those were the years

of the man's marriage, the start of his family, the years
when the muddle of his life began to work itself out;
and it's as if the parrot were at the root of it all, linking

the days like pearls on a string. Foolish of course, but
do you see how it might happen? We wake at night
and recall an event that seems to define a fixed period

of time, perhaps the memory of a beat-up bike we had
as a kid, or a particular chair where we sat and laughed
with friends; a house, a book, a piece of music, even

a green parrot winding its way through city streets.
And do you see that bubble of air balanced at the tip
of its yellow beak? That's the time in which we lived.

Reprinted with permission of Penguin Books, a division of The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Reprinted with permission of Penguin Books, a division of The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Stephen Dobyns

Stephen Dobyns

The author of numerous collections of poetry and novels, Stephen Dobyns was the recipient of the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1972

by this poet

poem
A cry was heard among the trees,
not a man's, something deeper.
The forest extended up one side
the mountain and down the other. 
None wanted to ask what had made
the cry. A bird, one wanted to say,
although he knew it wasn't a bird.
The sun climbed to the mountaintop,  
and slid back down the other side.
The