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Charles Wright--Online Poems


After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard 

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
                                                            looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
                                    I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                            Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                                             up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

From Chickamauga, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright 1995 by Charles Wright. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Online Source


APOLOGIA PRO VITA SUA

I
How soon we come to road's end--
Failure, our two-dimensional side-kick, flat dream-light,
Won't jump-start or burn us in,

Dogwood insidious in its constellations of part-charred cross 
    points, 
Spring's via Dolorosa
                                   flashed out in a dread profusion,
Nowhere to go but up, nowhere to turn, dead world-weight,

They've gone and done it again,
                                                dogwood, 
Spring's sap-crippled, arthritic, winter-weathered, myth limb,
Whose roots are my mother's hair.

                                                    ------

Landscape's a lever of transcendence--
                                                            jack-wedge it here,
Or here, and step back,
Heave, and a light, a little light, will nimbus your going forth:

The dew bead, terminal bead, opens out
                                                              onto a great radiance,
Sun's square on magnolia leaf
Offers us entrance--
                                who among us will step forward,
Camellia brown boutonnieres
Under his feet, plum branches under his feet, white sky, white
    noon,
Church bells like monk's mouths tonguing the hymn?

                                                    ------

Journal and landscape
--Discredited form, discredited subject matter--
I tried to resuscitate both, breath and blood,
                                                                    making them whole again

Through language, strict attention--
Verona mi fe', disfecemi Verona, the song goes.
I've hummed it, I've bridged the break

To no avail.
                  April. The year begins beyond words, 
Beyond myself and the image of myself, beyond 
Moon's ice and summer's thunder. All that.

                                                      ------

The meat of the sacrament is invisible meat and a ghostly 
        substance.
I'll say.
            Like any visible thing,
I'm always attracted downward, and soon to be killed and
        assimilated.

Vessel of life, it's said, vessel of life, brought to naught,
Then gathered back to what's visible.
That's it, fragrance of spring like lust in the blossom-starred orchard,

The shapeless shape of darkness starting to seep through and 
        emerge,
The seen world starting to tilt,
Where I sit the still, unwavering point
                                                        under that world's waves.

                                                        ------

How like the past the clouds are,
Building and disappearing along the horizon,
Inflecting the mountains,
                                    laying their shadows under our feet

For us to cross over on.
Out of their insides fire falls, ice falls, 
What we remember that still remembers us, earth and air fall.

Neither, however, can resurrect or redeem us,
Moving, as both must, ever away toward opposite corners.
Neither has been where we're going,
                                                        bereft of an attitude.

                                                        ------

Amethyst, crystal transparency,
                                                Maya and Pharaoh ring,
Malocchio, set against witchcraft,
Lightning and hailstorm, birthstone, savior from drunkenness.

Purple, color of insight, clear sight,
Color of memory-- 
                               violet, that's for remembering,
Star-crystals scattered across the penumbra, hard stars.

Who can distinguish darkness from the dark, light from light,
Subject matter from story line,
                                               the part from the whole
When whole is part of the part and part is all of it?

                                                        ------

Lonesomeness. Morandi, Cezanne, it's all about lonesomeness. 
And Rothko. Especially Rothko.
Separation from what heals us 
                                                beyond painting, beyond art.

Words and paint, black notes, white notes.
Music and landscape; music, landscape and sentences. 
Gestures for which there is no balm, no intercession.

Two tone fields, horizon a line between abysses,
Generally white, always speechless.
Rothko could choose either one to disappear into. And did.

                                                        ------

Perch'io no spero di tornar giammai, ballatetta, in Toscana, 
Not as we were the first time,
                                              not as we'll ever be again.
Such snowflakes of memory, they fall nowhere but there.

Absorbed in remembering, we cannot remember--
Exile's anthem, O stiff heart,
Thingless we came into the world and thingless we leave,

Every important act is wordless--
                                                    to slip from the right way,
To fail, still accomplishes something.
Even a good thing remembered, however, is not as good as not
        remembering at all.

                                                        ------

Time is the source of all good,
                                              time the engenderer
Of entropy and decay,
Time the destroyer, our only-begetter and advocate.

For instance, my fingernail,
                                         so pink, so amplified.
In the half-clerk, for instance,
These force-fed dogwood blossoms, green-leafed, defused,
                                                         limp on their long branches.

St. Stone, say a little prayer for me,
                                          grackles and jay in the black gum,
Drowse of the poetry head,
Dandelion globes luminous in the last light, more work to be
        done...

                                                        II 

Something will get you, the doctor said,
                                                           don't worry about that.
Melancholia's got me,
Pains in the abdomen, pains down the left leg and crotch.

Slurry of coal dust behind the eyes,
Massive weight in the musculature, dark blood, dark blood.
I'm sick and tired of my own complaints,

This quick flick like a compass foot through the testicle, 
Deep drag and hurt through the groin--
Melancholia, black dog,
                                        everyone's had enough.

                                                            ------

Dew-dangled, fresh-cut lawn grass will always smell like a golf 
    course
Fairway to me, Saturday morning, Chuck Ross and I
Already fudging our scores down,
                                          happy as mockingbirds in deep weeds,

The South Fork of the Holston River
Slick as a nickel before its confluence behind our backs
At Rotherwood with the North Fork's distant, blurred thunder,

Our rounds in the seventies always including mulligans,
Nudged lies, "found" lost balls, some extraordinary shots
And that never-again-to-be-repeated
                                          teen-age false sense of attainment.

                                                        ------

One summer, aged 16, I watched--each night, it seemed--my
        roommate,
A college guy, gather his blanket up, and flashlight,
And leave for his rendezvous with the camp cook--
                                                he never came back before dawn

Some 40 years later I saw him again for the first time
Since then, in a grocery store, in the checkout line, 
A cleric from Lexington, shrunken and small. Bearded even.

And all these years I'd thought of him, if at all, as huge
And encompassing,
Not rabbit-eyed, not fumbling a half-filled brown sack,
                                                                dry-lipped, apologetic.

                                                        ------

In 1990 we dragged Paris
                                        --back on the gut again after 26 years--
The Boulevard Montparnasse
La Coupole, the Select, you know, the Dome, the Closerie de Lilas,

Up and down and back and forth.
Each night a Japanese girl would take a bath at 4 a.m.
In the room above ours,
                                    each night someone beat his wife

In a room above the garage outside our window.
It rained all day for ten days.
Sleeplessness, hallucination, O City of Light ...

                                                        ------

What sane, impossible reason could Percy Heath have made up
To talk to me, drunk, white and awe-struck,
--And tone-deaf to boot--
                                            that night at the Carmel Mission?

But talk he did, uncondescending, feigning interest,
As Milt Jackson walked by and John Lewis walked by,
                                                                                    Gerry Mulligan
Slouched in one corner, Paul Desmond cool in an opposite one.

October, 1958, Monterey Jazz Festival,
First advisors starting to leave the Army Language School for
        South Vietnam,
The Pacific's dark eyelid
                        beginning to stir, ready to rise and roll back ...

                                                            ------

During World War II, we lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee,
Badges and gates, checkpoints, government housing, government 
    rules.
One house we lived in was next door to a two-star admiral.

I learned a couple of things in the three-plus years we lived in 
    Oak Ridge,
One from my first (and only) paper route, the second
After my first (and only) breaking-and-entering.

One thing I learned, however, I didn't know what to do with:
Death is into the water, life is the coming out.
I still don't, though nothing else matters but that, it seems,
                                                        nothing even comes close.

                                                            ------

Elm Grove, Pine Valley and Cedar Hill,
                                                    what detritus one remembers--
The one-armed soldier we spied on making out in the sedge grass
With his red-haired girl friend behind the Elm Grove playground,

For instance, in 1944 ... I was nine, the fourth grade ...
I remember telling Brooklyn, my best friend,
                                                         my dick was stiff all night.

Nine years old! My dick! All night!

We talked about it for days,
                                          Oak Ridge abstracted and elswhere, 
--D-Day and Normandy come and gone--
All eyes on the new world's sun king,
                                                        its rising up and its going down.

                                                        ------

It's Wednesday afternoon, and Carter and I are on the road 
For the Sullivan County National Bank Loan Department, 
1957, Gate City and Southwest Virginia.

We're after deadbeats, delinquent note payers, in Carter's words. 
Cemetery plots--ten dollars a month until you die or pay up. 
In four months I'll enter the Army, right now I'm Dr. Death,

Riding shotgun for Carter, bringing more misery to the miserable. 
Up-hollow and down-creek, shack after unelectrified shack--
The worst job in the world, and we're the two worst people in it.

                                                            ------

Overeast afternoon, then weak sun, then overeast again,
A little wind
                    whiffles across the back yard like a squall line
In miniature, thumping the clover heads, startling the grass.

My parents' 60th wedding anniversary
Were they still alive,
                              5th of June, 1994.
It's hard to imagine, I think, your own children grown older than
        you ever were, I can't.

I sit in one of the knock-off Brown-Jordan deck chairs we
        brought from California.
Next to the bearded grandson my mother never saw.
Some afternoon, or noon, it will all be over. Not this one.

(C) 1997 Charles Wright All rights reserved.  Online Source


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