At the weekend I receiving this wonderful book of poems by Charles Wright. I only rarely find a new writer who I think I could have a long and meaningful relationship with, and I think Wright might be one of them.
I first discovered him through his poem ‘After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard’, which has been up on my wall all year.
It reminded me very much of a poem that helped me fall in love with another Wright many years ago – James Wright’s ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota’. I can remember reading the last line and thinking ‘wow!’.
Last night I was wondering, what is it I love so much about these sad poems? Strangely, the melancholy in both poems has the effect of uplifting me. Why would that be?
I respond powerfully to writers telling the truth – which is why I love Anne Lamott, and Raymond Carver, and Lorrie Moore. These poets aren’t sugar-coating it. Life is full of disappointment, and then we die.
The observations in the poems are exquisite. Alongside their melancholy, surely these poets must have also loved their lives to have noticed these things and to have written them down?
I think the whole thing combines into a kind of joy laced with grief – the beauty of Autumn leaves falling, or finding a flower more beautiful because we remember that it will fade. Maybe it’s not helpful to examine my responses anyway. I respond, or I don’t. Do you?
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.
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 the 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.