Two for Tuesday: James Wright
Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and cool, 71 degrees.
It’s starting to feel like fall, which is a bit unnerving. It seems that the seasons change rather quickly here on the ridge. I mentioned this a few months ago when Corey and I were wondering why we weren’t seeing all of the green of spring, and then less than a week later, we were surrounded by green: the trees were covered in leaves, and buds were blooming everywhere you looked. Now, we’re already seeing the leaves turn on certain trees, the birches, I think.
Once again, I wish that I had some extra cash so that I could work on refinishing cabinets and furniture, but of course, there is none of that, at least not yet. I wish that my other mother were still around as I desperately need to cover the couch in a fabric that is dog and goat proof, if such a thing exists. She was so good at that.
I had one of those dreams last night in which I was back at the middle school. I don’t know why I continue to dream about that place and the people in it. The kids I taught would all be grown with their own kids, or in jail, or dead. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to opine, but truly, I have no doubts that some of those kids are in jail, one in particular who scared the crap out of me, and he was only 12.
Anyway, I was back there looking for a book that I had donated by mistake. Weird, huh?
Today’s Two for Tuesday features works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet James Wright (December 13, 1927–March 25, 1980), who was phenomenal; he could say so much about loneliness and isolation in very few words, and he was masterful in closing a poem. Wright, who was born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, suffered from alcoholism and manic depression; he died as a result of tongue cancer.
Mari introduced me to Wright years ago, and “Lying in a Hammock” (below) remains one of my favorites and is surpassed in my mind only by “A Blessing.” I can relate deeply to the last line of “Hammock.” His posthumous book of collected works, Above the River (1992) is a prized possession that, thankfully, never made it into storage but always had a reserved spot on my desk. I remember exactly where I bought it: in a bookstore in Charlottesville, VA after having lunch; Corey, the boys, and I were in the mountains for a fall hike. When I finally find the box in which it was packed, it will be like Christmas all over again.
To see a good biography, go here or here. In the summer 1975 issue, he was featured in The Paris Review‘s “Art of Poetry (No. 19), in which Wright declared that “poetry can keep life itself alive.”
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.
Laura Marling, “What He Wrote”