Collected Poems

Collected Poems

by C. K. Williams

Paperback(First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


All the work of this major poet who has "set a new standard for American poetry."*

Collected Poems brings together in one volume C. K. Williams's work of nearly forty years, enabling readers to follow the career of this great poet through its many phases and reinventions.

Here are his confrontational early poems, which bristle with a young idealist's righteous anger. Here are the roomy, rangy poems of Tar and With Ignorance, in which Williams married the long line of Whitman to a modern's psychological self-scrutiny; the compact sonnets of Flesh and Blood; and the inward investigations of A Dream of Mind. Here are the incomparable poems from the prize winning books Repair and The Singing. Here, too, are new poems, in which Williams's moral vigilance is brought to bear, again, on life during wartime. Collected Poems is the life's work of a modern master—fiercely intelligent, arresting in its beauty, unforgettable in its echoes and reverberations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374530990
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 11/13/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 704
Sales rank: 571,535
Product dimensions: 5.57(w) x 8.16(h) x 1.74(d)

About the Author

C. K. Williams (1936–2015) published twenty-two books of poetry including, Flesh and Blood, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Repair, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and The Singing, winner of the National Book Award. Williams was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2005. He wrote a critical study, On Whitman; a memoir, Misgivings; and two books of essays, Poetry and Consciousness and In Time: Poets, Poems, and the Rest.

Read an Excerpt


By C. K. Williams

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 C. K. Williams
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-12652-6

Chapter One



A Day for Anne Frank God hates you! -St. John Chrysostom 1. I look onto air alley here where, though tough weeds and flowers thrust up through cracks and strain toward the dulled sunlight, there is the usual filth spilling from cans, the heavy soot shifting in the gutters. People come by mostly to walk their dogs or take the shortcut between the roaring main streets, or just to walk and stare up at the smoky windows, but this morning when I looked out children were there running back and forth between the houses toward me. They were playing with turtles- skimming them down the street like pennies or flat stones, and bolting, shouting, after the broken corpses. One had a harmonica, and as he ran, his cheeks bloating and collapsing like a heart, I could hear its bleat, and then the girls' screams suspended behind them with their hair, and all of them: their hard, young breath, their feet pounding wildly on the pavement to the corner.

2. I thought of you at that age. Little Sister, I thought of you, thin as a door, and of how your thighs would have swelled and softened like cake, your breasts have bleached and the new hair growing on you like song would have stiffened and gone dark. There was rain for a while, and then not. Because no one came, Islept again, and dreamed that you were here with me, snarled on me like wire, tangled so closely to me that we were vines or underbrush together, or hands clenched.

3. They are cutting babies in half on bets. The beautiful sergeant has enough money to drink for a week. The beautiful lieutenant can't stop betting. The little boy whimpers he'll be good. The beautiful cook is gathering up meat for the dogs. The beautiful dogs love it all. Their flanks glisten. They curl up in their warm kennels and breathe. They breathe.

4. Little Sister, you are a clot in the snow, blackened, a chunk of phlegm or puke and there are men with faces leaning over you with watercans watering you! in the snow, as though flowers would sprout from your armpits and genitals. Little Sister, I am afraid of the flowers sprouting from you I am afraid of the silver petals that crackle of the stems darting in the wind of the roots

5. The twilight rots. Over the greasy bridges and factories, it dissolves and the clouds swamp in its rose to nothing. I think sometimes the slag heaps by the river should be bodies and that the pods of moral terror men make of their flesh should split and foam their cold, sterile seeds into the tides like snow or ash.

6. Stacks of hair were there little mountains the gestapo children must have played in and made love in and loved the way children love haystacks or mountains O God the stink of hair oil and dandruff their mothers must have thrown them into their tubs like puppies and sent them to bed coming home so filthy stinking of jew's hair of gold fillings, of eyelids

7. Under me on a roof a sparrow little by little is being blown away. A cage of bone is left, part of its wings, a stain.

8. And in Germany the streetcar conductors go to work in their stiff hats, depositing workers and housewives where they belong, pulling the bell chains, moving drive levers forward or back.


I am saying goodbye to you before our death. Dear Father: I am saying goodbye to you before my death. We are so anxious to live, but all is lost-we are not allowed! I am so afraid of this death, because little children are thrown into graves alive. Goodbye forever. I kiss you.

10. Come with me, Anne. Come, it is awful not to be anywhere at all, to have no one like an old whore, a general. Come sit with me here kiss me; my heart too is wounded with forgiveness. There is an end now. Stay. Your foot hooked through mine your hand against my hand your hip touching me lightly it will end now it will not begin again Stay they will pass and not know us the cold brute earth is asleep there is no danger

there is nothing


there is nothing

Even If I Could Except for the little girl making faces behind me, and the rainbow behind her, and the school and the truck, the only thing between you and infinity is me. Which is why you cover your ears when I speak and why you're always oozing around the edges, clinging, trying to go by me. And except for my eyes and the back of my skull, and then my hair, the wall, the concrete and the fire-cloud, except for them you would see God. And that's why rage howls in your arms like a baby and why I can't move- because of the thunder and the shadows merging like oil and the smile gleaming through the petals. Let me tell you how sick with loneliness I am. What can I do while the distance throbs on my back like a hump, or say, with stars stinging me through the wheel? You are before me, behind me things rattle their deaths out like paper. The angels ride in their soft saddles: except for them, I would come closer and go.

Saint Sex

there are people whose sex keeps growing even when they're old whose genitals swell like tumors endlessly until they are all sex and nothing else nothing that moves or thinks nothing but great inward and outward handfuls of gristle think of them men who ooze their penises out like snail feet whose testicles clang in their scrotums women are like anvils to them the world an anvil they want to take whole buildings in their arms they want to come in the windows to run antennas through their ducts like ramrods and women these poor women who dream and dream of the flower they can't sniff it sends buds into their brain they feel their neural river clot with moist fingers the ganglia hardening like ant eggs the ends burning off pity them these people there are no wars for them there is no news no summer no reason they are so humble they want nothing they have no hands or faces pity them at night whispering I love you to themselves and during the day how they walk along smiling and suffering pity; them love them they are angels

The Long Naked Walk of the Dead for Arthur Atkins As long as they trample the sad smiles of guitars the world won't burn. The mother speaks to her daughter and explains: it is the breath of money in the trees that drives angels; it is the stillness from morning to morning when the horses of life have fallen under their traces in the street and shudder and vanish.

It is the man who meets no one who will touch us with sharp hands that shake over the concrete like branches. Or the songs muttering on the paths crisscrossing the grasses. A bench leaning back. The sweet arms of gardeners. An enemy passing with sons and grandsons, all just soldiers. In flesh that only moves and speaks, the players slide out like empty trailers to the temple country. Six hundred thousand on the mountain when it opened. Every word of the scream, six hundred thousand faces. The dark metal man gleaming in the talons of silence. Halfway down in the house of suffering, it is starting.

In There Here I am, walking along your eyelid again toward your tear duct. Here are your eyelashes like elephant grass and one tear blocking the way like a boulder. It probably takes me a long time to figure it out, chatting with neighbors, trying penicillin, steam baths, meditation on the Shekinah and sonnet cycles and then six more months blasting with my jackhammer before I get in there and can wander through your face, meeting you on the sly, kissing you from this side. I am your own personal verb now. Here I come, "dancing," "loving," "making poems." I find a telescope and an old astronomer to study my own face with, and then, well, I am dreaming behind your cheekbone about Bolivia and tangerines and the country and here I come again, along your eyelid, walking.

Loss In this day and age Lord you are like one of those poor farmers who burns the forests off and murders his land and then can't leave and goes sullen and lean among the rusting yard junk, the scrub and the famished stock. Lord I have felt myself raked into the earth like manure, harrowed and plowed under, but I am still enough like you to stand on the porch chewing a stalk or drinking while tall weeds come up dead and the house dogs, snapping their chains like moths, howl and point towards the withering meadows at nothing. The Hard Part Do you remember when we dreamed about the owl and the skeleton, and the shoe opened and there was the angel with his finger in the book, his smile like chocolate? And remember? Everything that had been crushed or burned, we changed back. We turned the heart around in the beginning, we closed the blossom, we let the drum go. But you're missing now. Every night I feel us crying together, but it's late- the white bear and the lawyer are locking the house up and where are you? The wind walking, the rock turning over with worms stuck to its haunches- how will I know what loves me now and what doesn't? How will I forgive you?

The World's Greatest Tricycle-Rider The world's greatest tricycle-rider is in my heart, riding like a wildman, no hands, almost upside down along the walls and over the high curbs and stoops, his bell rapid firing, the sun spinning in his spokes like a flame.

But he is growing older. His feet overshoot the pedals. His teeth set too hard against the jolts, and I am afraid that what I've kept from him is what tightens his fingers on the rubber grips and drives him again and again on the same block.

The Sorrow

with huge jowls that wobble with sad o horribly sad eyes with bristles with clothes torn tie a rag hands trembling this burnt man in my arms won't listen he struggles pulls loose and is going and I am crying again Poppa Poppa it's me Poppa but it's not it's not me I am not someone who with these long years will so easily retreat I am not someone after these torments who simply cries so I am not so unquestionably a son or even daughter or have I face or voice bear with me perhaps it was me who went away perhaps I did dream it and give birth again it doesn't matter now I stay in my truck now I am loaded with fruit with cold bottles with documents of arrest and execution Father do you remember me? how I hid and cried to you? how my lovely genitals were bound up? I am too small again my voice thins my small wrists won't hold the weight again what is forgiven? am I forgiven again?

The Man Who Owns Sleep

The man who owns sleep is watching the prisoners being beaten behind the fence. His eye pressed to the knothole, he sees the leather curling into smiles and snapping, he sees the intricate geography of ruined backs, the faces propped open like suitcases in the sunlight. Who is this man who's cornered the market on sleeping? He's not quite finished. He bends over with a hand on his knee to balance him and from the other side they see that clear eye in the wall watching unblinking. They see it has slept, prisoners and guards: it drives them to frenzies. The whips hiccup and shriek. Those dead already roll over and rub their retinas into the pebbles. The man who owns sleep has had it. He's tired. Taking an ice-cream cone from the little wagon he yawns and licks it. Walking away, he yawns, licking it. Before This we got rid of the big people finally we took grandpa and put half on the mack truck and half on the bottom grandma we locked in with her watches mommy and daddy had to be cut apart but they are in separate icebergs you can't see them under the red lid one place or another they are all gone and it's hard to remember cars? furcoats? the office? now all there are are roomfuls of children sleeping as far as you can see little mattresses and between them socks balled up and underwear and scuffed shoes with their months open. but how am I here? I feel my lips move I count breaths I hear somebody cry out MOTHER HELP ME somebody's hand touches me peacefully across boundaries kiss? hit? die? the blankets harden with urine the fuzz thins holes come HOW AM I HERE? MOTHER HOW AM I HERE?

Dimensions There is a world somewhere else that is unendurable. Those who live in it are helpless in the hands of elements, they are like branches in the deep woods in wind that whip their leaves off and slice the heart of the night and sob. They are like boats bleating wearily in fog.

But here, no matter what, we know where we stand. We know more or less what comes next. We hold out. Sometimes a dream will shake us like little dogs, a fever hang on so we're not ourselves or love wring us out, but we prevail, we certify and make sure, we go on.

There is a world that uses its soldiers and widows for flour, its orphans for building stone, its legs for pens. In that place, eves are softened and harmless like God's and all blend in the traffic of their tragedy and pass by like people. And sometimes one of us, losing the way, will drift over the border and see them there, dying, laughing, being revived. When we come home, we are half way. Our screams heal the torn silence. We are the scars. To Market suppose I move a factory in here in my head in my breast in my left hand I'm moving dark machines in with gear boxes and floaters and steel cams that turn over and start things I'm moving in fibers through my left nostril and trucks under my nipples and the union has its bathroom where I think and the stockbroker his desk where I love and then if I started turning out goods and opening shops with glass counters and rugs what if I said to you this is how men live and I want to would you believe me and love me I have my little lunch box and my thermos and I walk along like one leg on the way to work swearing I love you and we have lunch behind the boiler and I promise I love you and meanwhile the oil flowing switches steam wrenches metal I love you and things finish get shined up packed in streamers mailed and I love you meanwhile all this while I love you and I'm being bought pieces of me at five dollars and parts at ten cents and here I am still saying I love you under the stacks under the windows with wires the smoke going up I love you I love you

What Is and Is Not I'm a long way from that place, but I can still hear the impatient stamp of its hoof near the fire, and the green clicking of its voices and its body flowing. At my window, the usual spirits, the same silence. A child would see it as my clothes hanging like killers on the door, but I don't, and it doesn't creak in the hallway for me. It's not death. In your face I glimpse it. You are reaching a hand out comfortingly though it snarls, plunges, and you know that the baby won't look up from its game of beauty. It isn't love or hate or passion. It doesn't touch us, dream us, speak, sing or come closer, yet we consume it.

Hood Remember me? I was the one in high school you were always afraid of. I kept cigarettes in my sleeve, wore engineer's boots, long hair, my collar up in back and there were always girls with me in the hallways. You were nothing. I had it in for you- when I peeled rubber at the lights you cringed like a teacher. And when I crashed and broke both lungs on the wheel, you were so relieved that you stroked the hard Ford paint like a breast and your hands shook.


Excerpted from COLLECTED POEMS by C. K. Williams Copyright © 2006 by C. K. Williams. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews