Saturday Poet: James Wright
Even if I press "delete" I never erase completely certain things from my own internal memory. I remember my first boyfriend giving me a collection of James Wright's poetry. Not because I particularly liked James Wright at the time, nor because he himself loved the poetry. No, it was because I was the girl he left behind--the girl who remained in our hometown (I went to the local state university) after he had gone off to a Midwestern liberal arts college. "You like poetry," he said. "And this is poetry from Kenyon, so it's a little bit of where I'm from too." It took me a few years to appreciate that sentiment. At the time, all I was thinking was "do you even know me?!" (I was in a Victorian persuasion then, and not into bleak Midwestern New Critics modernism.) It took me a few years to appreciate the beauty of James Wright as well. But now I do.
Lessons learned and filed away, even if the love letters are long gone--and the inscription in the book X-acto'd out.
And what remains is the beauty, the sentiment, the longing. Inexorably, they persist in memory.
The moon drops one or two feathers into the fields.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the moon's young, trying
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
Depressed by a Book of Bad Poetry, I Walk Toward an Unused Pasture and Invite the Insects to Join Me
Relieved, I let the book fall behind a stone.
I climb a slight rise of grass.
I do not want to disturb the ants
Who are walking single file up the fence post,
Carrying small white petals,
Casting shadows so frail that I can see through them.
I close my eyes for a moment and listen.
The old grasshoppers
Are tired, they leap heavily now,
Their thighs are burdened.
I want to hear them, they have clear sounds to make.
Then lovely, far off, a dark cricket begins
In the maple trees.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
To the Muse
It is all right. All they do
Is go in by dividing
One rib from another. I wouldn't
Lie to you. It hurts
Like nothing I know. All they do
Is burn their way in with a wire.
It forks in and out a little like the tongue
Of that frightened garter snake we caught
At Cloverfield, you and me, Jenny
So long ago.
I would lie to you
If I could.
But the only way I can get you to come up
Out of the suckhole, the south face
Of the Powhatan pit, is to tell you
What you know:
You come up after dark, you poise alone
With me on the shore.
I lead you back to this world.
Three lady doctors in Wheeling open
Their offices at night.
I don't have to call them, they are always there.
But they only have to put the knife once
Under your breast.
Then they hang their contraption.
And you bear it.
It's awkward a while. Still it lets you
Walk about on tiptoe if you don't
Jiggle the needle.
It might stab your heart, you see.
The blade hangs in your lung and the tube
Keeps it draining.That way they only have to stab you
Once. Oh Jenny.
I wish to God I had made this world, this scurvy
And disastrous place. I
Didn't, I can't bear it
Either, I don't blame you, sleeping down there
Face down in the unbelievable silk of spring,
Muse of the black sand,
I don't blame you, I know
The place where you lie.
I admit everything.
But look at me.
How can I live without you?
Come up to me, love,
Out of the river, or I will
Come down to you.