The Sacred

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Sacred” by Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he’d chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

in Songs for the Open Road. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1999, p. 12.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Dunn once said he was an unlikely poet. The first in his family to earn a college degree, he attended school on a basketball scholarship, worked writing copy for Nabisco, and quit it all to travel to Spain and pen a failed novel. He found his calling as a writer when his purpose shifted from prose to poetry. The author of twenty-one collections of poetry, Dunn was hailed for his ability to explore the complexity of life by attending to the mundane. Rita Dove once wrote that Dunn was “a poet who time and again achieves that most difficult magic of the ordinary. He can take you by the hand and lead you along a street you may have passed through every day without much notice, and suddenly, at this new angle, the ordinary reveals in itself all the splendor and terror of existence.” He served as a distinguished professor of creative writing at Richard Stockton College before his death in 2021.

Photo by Tobi on

2 thoughts on “The Sacred

  1. Thank You… great piece,

    Hm… “Sacred… “, or maybe, ‘secret’ as in our daughter, Gail’s “secret spot” in the corner behind the dining room table where the base-board heating made things cozy and the lighting was good for doing homework.

    She was a gifted child with a solid faith. Never had a day-job until she was 38… being Summa Cum Laude, MD, Professor Ob/Gyn, with a parallel PhD in Philosophy-Religion, emphasis bioethics, and a small host of specialty papers on her office walls, like surgery in the female plumbing area.

    One night about 2AM I heard a slight noise from the kitchen/dining area of the house while in bed with my wife in the back bedroom. She nudged me whispering, “There’s someone in the house…”

    We eased out of bed. I grabbed the light from the bureau’s top and we snuck down the long hallway. Irene whispered ever so softly, “I think its Gail, she’s the only one with a key…”

    We got to the kitchen… No sign of anyone. Irene whispered again, “I think she is in her secret spot. We eased into the dining room and sure enough there, behind the table was a dark shape huddled in the corner.

    I shone the light and Irene quickly knelt down and hugged her asking with maximum mother-love, “Honey, what’s wrong?, What’s wrong…???”

    Gail immediately sat up suddenly and stared directly at me and with a growl, snarled, “I want to be a lawyer…!!!”

    Irene, again spoke urgently, What’s wrong…??? !! ???

    Gail in full fury and hate responded, “I just put an 18-month-old back together again… !

    I silently laid hold of God, “Dear God, How we (all involved, from 1st responders to the ER surgical team, the perpetrator and our family and culture) need you…”

    Irene (meaning ‘peace’ in Greek) did her thing as a mom… and Gail left for her own home and family after a half hour or so..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sacred . . .secret. Thank you for sharing this powerful story, Russell, about your remarkable daughter and your good parenting. We all need those places of refuge where we can rest in the holy love (and the everyday love) that heals all wounds. So glad that Gail had her sacred/secret place with you.


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