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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Celebrating Charles Wright

Charles Wright, recently named poet laureate of the United States, has long been one of my most favorite poets, if not the favorite. Here are some of his poems that have meant a lot to me:

High Country Canticle                      Charles Wright
The shroud has no pockets, the northern Italians say.
Let go, live your life,
the grave has no sunny corners —
Deadfall and windfall, the aphoristic undertow
Of high water, deep snow in the hills,
Everything's benediction, bright wingrush of grace.

Spring moves through the late May heat
as though someone were poling it.


China Traces                                                               Charles Wright
Nature contains no negatives.
                                                  Nothing is lost there,
The word is. Except the word.
In spring there is autumn in my heart,
My spirit, outside of nature, like slow mist in the trees,
Looking for somewhere to dissipate.
I write out my charms and spells
Against the passage of light
                                              and gathering evil
Each morning. Each evening hands them back.
Out of the nothing nothing comes.
                                                        The rain keeps falling,
As we expected, the bitter and boundaryless rain.
The grass leaves no footprints,
the creek keeps on eating its one word.
In the night, the light assembles the stars
                                            and tightens their sash.


"There's so little to say, and so much time in which to say it."  Charles Wright


Future Tense                                  Charles Wright

All things in the end are bittersweet—
An empty gaze, a little way-station just beyond silence.
If you can’t delight in the everyday,
                                                         you have no future here.
And if you can, no future either.

And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
                                                            and lick your lean cheeks,
And lie down beside you—warm, real close—and will not move.


Body and Soul II

(for Coleman Hawkins)

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
                            seamless, invisible.
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.
Nothing like that in language,
However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms
Blown by the wind.
                 April, and anything's possible.
  Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.
A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India
And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on 
Ten thousand miles it took him, from 29 to 645, 
Mountains and deserts, 
In search of the Truth,
                    the heart of the heart of Reality,
The Law that would help him escape it,
And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.
                                               And he found it.
  These days, I look at things, not through them,
And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.
The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,
The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.
Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.
This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,
                            when everything starts to shine out,
And aphorisms skulk in the trees,
Their wings folded, their heads bowed.
  Every true poem is a spark,
              and aspires to the condition of the original fire
Arising out of the emptiness.
It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.
It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.
Shooting stars.
April's identical,
             celestial, wordless, burning down.
Its light is the light we commune by.
Its destination's our own, its hope is the hope we live with.
Wang Wei, on the other hand, 
Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River 
Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,
                                                     and lived there,
Off and on, for the rest of his life.
He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,
A part of nature himself, he thought.
And who would say no
To someone so bound up in solitude,
                           in failure, he thought, and suffering.
Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small 
Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.
Getting too old and lazy to write poems,
                                      I watch the snowfall
From the apple trees.
Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.


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