At the Dinner Party

By Stephen Dunn

Featured Image: A Family Meal by Evert Pieters

As usual, we were trying to please each other,

so Ryan told a story about a water buffalo,

a lion, and a crocodile, which reminded

Julie about a coyote and a groundhog, and

I could not help but offer my favorite of

this kind—involving the tarantula

and its natural enemy the digger wasp. The

problem was that each story was true,

therefore that much more difficult to tell,

and each had in it an element of the fabulous,

and therefore the promise of a moral.

Linda, the contrarian, asked us if we had heard

the one about the priest and the rabbi,

but was booed, and kept quiet for a while.

In each story an animal was in danger, one

always slightly more sympathetic

than another. The water buffalo rescued

her injured calf from first the crocodile

then the lion, the coyote got bored

with the groundhog and returned to the woods,

and the tarantula just stood there, frozen,  while

the digger wasp dug its grave.

Ryan and Julie selected their details well,

paced and arranged them, as I hope I did,

and it wasn’t that our intent was to avoid

a moral, but that there was none to be had,

this being nature we were talking about

with its choiceless whims and atrocities.

Linda, of course, said she forgave none of it.

Stephen Dunn is the author of a new book, Pagan Virtues (poetry, Norton), and Degrees of Fidelity: Essays (Tiger Bark Press). You can find him online at

Originally appeared in NOR 4

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