Zone Journals

Zone Journals

by Charles Wright

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Charles Wright called his seventh collection Zone Journals to emphasize how the poems draw on time and place as their starting point. But despite the air of immediacy and informality, they are artfully composed, informed as always by Wright's profound sense of subliminal order.

"Called one of our best middle-generation poets, Wright offers as his seventh collection a series of meditations emphasizing time and place. He draws upon history (especially Renaissance Italy), his own travels, and nature (especially rivers, as "There's something about a river/ No ocean can answer to"); he savors anniversaries (noting on a given day that Cezanne died 77 years ago)...But always perceptible is the poet's fascination with the disappearance of the present into the past." - Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429933568
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/01/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 112
File size: 109 KB

About the Author

Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, and the Griffin Poetry Prize, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Charles Wright is the United States Poet Laureate. His poetry collections include Country Music, Black Zodiac, Chickamauga, Bye-and-Bye: Selected Later Poems, Sestets, and Caribou. He is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, the Griffin Poetry Prize, and the 2013 Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee in 1935, he currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt

Zone Journals

By Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1988 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3356-8


    Yard Journal

    — Mist in the trees, and soiled water and grass cuttings splotch
    The driveway,
    afternoon starting to bulk up in the west
    A couple of hours down the road:
    Strange how the light hubs out and wheels
    concentrically back and forth
    After a rain, as though the seen world
    Quavered inside a water bead
    swung from a grass blade:
    The past is never the past:
    it lies like a long tongue
    We walk down into the moist mouth of the future, where new
    Nod like new stars around us,
    And winds that itch us, and plague our ears,
    sound curiously like the old songs.

    — Deep dusk and lightning bugs
    alphabetize on the east wall,
    The carapace of the sky blue-ribbed and buzzing
    Somehow outside it all,
    Trees dissolving against the night's job,
    houses melting in air:
    Somewhere out there an image is biding its time,
    Burning like Abraham in the cold, swept
    expanses of heaven,
    Waiting to take me in and complete my equation:
    What matters is abstract, and is what love is,
    Candescent inside the memory,
    And unexpungable, as love is ...

    — Blue jay's bound like a kangaroo's in the lawn's high grass,
    Then up in a brushstroke
    and over the hedge in one arc.
    Light weights down the azalea plants,
    Yesterday's cloud banks enfrescoed still
    just under the sky's cornice,
    Cardinal quick transfusion into the green arm of the afternoon.
    Wax-like flowers of sunlight drift
    through the dwarf orchard and float
    Under the pygmied peaches and pears
    All over America,
    and here, too, the blossoms
    Continuing down from nowhere, out of the blue.
    The mockingbird's shadow is burned in the red clay below him.

    — Exclusion's the secret: what's missing is what appears
    Most visible to the eye:
    the more luminous anything is,
    The more it subtracts what's around it,
    Peeling away the burned skin of the world
    making the unseen seen:
    Body by new body they all rise into the light
    Tactile and still damp,
    That rhododendron and dogwood tree, that spruce,
    An architecture of absence,
    a landscape whose words
    Are imprints, dissolving images after the eyelids close:
    I take them away to keep them there —
    that hedgehom, for instance, that stalk ...

    — A bumblebee the size of my thumb
    rises like Geryon
    From the hard Dantescan gloom
    Under my window sash to lip the rain gutter's tin bolgia,
    Then backs out like a hummingbird
    spiraling languidly out of sight,
    Shoulders I've wanted to sit on, a ride I've wanted to take,
    Deposited into the underlight
    of cities thronged in the grass,
    Fitful illuminations, iron-colored plain that lies
    Littered with music and low fires,
    stone edge of the pit
    At the end of every road,
    First faces starting to swim up:
    Bico, my man, are you here?


    A Journal of English Days


    — Kensington Church Walk, St. Mary Abbots
    Gray stone and dun through the mustard edges of chestnut leaves.
    Inside, a funeral's going on and I back off
    To sit on a wooden bench
    Against a brick wall
    in the slick, unseasonable sunshine,
    Trying to piece together
    The way it must have been for someone in 1908
    Fresh up from Italy,
    A couple of books of his own poems in one hand
    and a dead galaxy
    Set to go off in crystal inside his head.
    Over the stained-glass windows in front of me,
    In Kensington black and white,
    Ancient Lights
    Is nailed to the churchside stone,
    The children trailing out of the false penumbra
    into the sun-screed in Indian file
    Then in again, shrilling, in cadence, their little song.

    — I'm back for a second look,
    but someone is meditating on last week's bench
    In a full lotus. Now he touches his nose
    With his right forefinger, and now
    With his left.
    His black shoes puddle beneath him
    Like backs of mirrors he'll walk on tenderly
    Over the flat-laid churchyard gravestones when he leaves.
    But now he's back in position,
    hands cupped
    In his lap, thumb end touching thumb end, his eyes closed —
    One of those weightless, effortless late September days
    As sycamore leaves
    tack down the unresisting air
    Onto the fire-knots of late roses
    Still pumping their petals of flame
    up from the English loam,
    And I suddenly recognize
    The difference between the spirit and flesh
    is finite, and slowly transgressable ...


    — October everywhere out of the sunlight
    Onto the China jade of the blowing fields
    Of Kensington Gardens —
    or else come down like wet lint
    Over the Avon, soaking the glass.
    It swivels my eyes that work me for grief and affliction
    And pink my spirit, it guides my hand.
    Fulke Greville lies in his stone boat in the church of St. Mary
    In Warwickshire, not rippling the cold
    Which clings like water drops to what was his face
    On the other side of the light.

    His kinsmen, Lords of the Bear and the Ragged Staff,
    lie scattered around him,
    Hermetically sealed in stone,
    Who was friend to Elizabeth R and Sir Philip Sidney, ghost
    In his own room now,
    all passions heeled.

    This afternoon I came up
    Out of his Warwick dungeon
    into the slow swish of the English rain,
    Its bead curtain and lengths of chain
    Strangely consoling after the iron artifacts
    Hanging below like rib cages
    and lungs in the torturous gloom.

    The castle seemed to encircle me with its stone wings
    And all of it lift
    slightly at once, then settle back
    As though the wind had died
    That blows continuously under our feet
    Holding up everything, then started again,
    and what had sunk was risen,
    I don't know, at least to where it began ...

    — October's a kind time,
    The rain lying like loose bandages over the ground,
    The white bounty of mushrooms thrusting their flesh up,
    The comforting slide of darkness
    edging like deep water
    Back through the afternoon.
    The sycamore trees in Lennox Gardens crisp and spray
    In the wind, our discontent,
    like Orpheus, singing elsewhere,
    Charon, in slow motion, poling his empty boat
    Cross-current, over the dark water
    Into the different music of London traffic,
    the coin still clenched in his teeth
    The other side of the Thames ...

    Back in the Gardens, it's tag end of a skitterish day,
    October 17, Sir Philip dead
    397 years today,
    I watch the stiff papers scudding across the lawn,
    Leaves heaped to vindicate speedily
    The offices of the end,
    dogs nosing the moist-eared edges of things,
    Noticing gradually
    A larger darkness inching up through the dark
    Like grass, that means to cover us all.
    Across the way, the yellow moths of the window lights
    Break from their blue cocoons.

    — The trees stay green longer here, lacking
    The clubbing frost that stuns them to glory.
    Their leaves lie in limes and tans
    Flocking the grass, vaguely pre-Cubist to me,
    And blurred, without my glasses, arranged
    In an almost-pattern of colors across the yard,
    The same colors Cézanne once used in the same way
    So often down in Provence.
    He died there today
    Seventy-seven years ago, October 22, the fields and houses and trees
    Still these colors and pure arrangements
    Oozing out of the earth, dropping out of the sky
    in memory of him each year
    Everywhere, north and south ...
    He never painted the moon.
    Never romantic enough,
    he saw what he saw in a white light.
    Still, I remember it there, hanging like a doubloon
    Over Puyricard, outside Aix, some fifteen years ago,
    Godfrey and I in our yellow suits
    vamping the landscape
    Along the canal, first in its half, then two weeks later its full dress.
    It's here now, powdering through the trees
    as cars go by, and drunks sing in the street.
    The blue light from a TV swarms at the windowpanes
    In one of the Dutch Georgians across the way.
    He made us see differently, where the hooks fit, and the eyes go ...
    Nothing is ever finished.

    — Up from the basement flat at 43A,
    up past the Greek college,
    Across Walton to Ovington Gardens
    Then over to Brompton Road
    And across,
    left to the Oratory and right
    Up under the chestnut trees to Ennismore Mews,
    Up past the gardens and Prince's Gate
    Across the main road and Rotten Row,
    bicycle track
    And long grass down to the Serpentine,
    Ducks on the water, geese on the water, the paired swans
    Imperious and the gulls
    neat on the slick edges,
    Then backtrack and a right turn
    To the west, across the road and into Kensington Gardens
    And out to the chestnut and beech grove
    As the dogs go by
    and the Punks noodle along
    In their chrome stud belts and Technicolor hair.

    What breeze-bristled cities the trees are,
    Their lights snatched off and on,
    streets cluttered with leaves.
    The sky is scrubbed to a delft blue
    in the present tense,
    Segueing into gray and a future pearl.

    I'm stuck here, unwilling to trace my steps back,
    The month running down like a love affair
    inexorably to its close,
    Sunday, October 30, Pound's birthday ninety-eight years ago,
    Everything lidded with gray, unporridgy clouds now,
    Smooth as a slice of tin
    or a flat rock in the street.
    Like a bouffant hairdo of steel wool,
    The limbs of a leafless chestnut tree are back-combed by the wind.
    The English mind, he said, the cold soup of the English mind.
    At Pisa it all came back
    in a different light
    In the wind-sear and sun-sear of the death cages,
    Remembering Christmases in the country, the names
    Of dead friends in the Tuscan twilight
    building and disappearing across the sky.
    Cold soup, cold soup,
    Longwater color of pewter,
    late grass green neon.

    — Short Riff for John Keats on His 188th Birthday

    Hopkins thought your verse abandoned itself
    To an enervating luxury,
    a life of impressions
    In fairyland, life of a dreamer,
    And lacking the manly virtues of active thought.

    Born on All Hallows' Eve, what other early interest
    Can one assume,
    that single, arterial drop of blood
    On the clean sheet dispelling for good
    a subsequent second,
    Little black light magnet, imagination's Buddha ...


    — A Traveler between life and death ...

    Where is that line between sleep and sleep,
    That line like a wind over water
    Rippling toward shore,
    appearing and disappearing
    In wind-rise and wind-falter —
    That line between rain and sleet,
    between leaf-bronze and leaf-drop-

    That line where the river stops and the lake begins,
    Where the black blackens
    and light comes out of the light ...

    Stone circle at Castlerigg,
    Cumbrian, Paleolithic chancel
    Against the November mist and vault,
    Mouth-mark of the invisible, air become breath
    And ecclesiastical smoke

    Crows, like strings of black Christmas-tree lights, burn in the bare
    And silver Y moths — though soon to die — appear at dusk,

    The night coming down, a dark snow
    Piecemeal and hard across the moors
    like the ashes of Paradise
    3500 years ago,
    Helvellyn and Thirlmere
    Sluicing to charcoal down-valley, water and earth

    And air all bleared to the same color, an indiscriminate estuary
    Shoaling into the landscape, nobody here but me
    Unspooling to nothingness,
    line after line after latched, untraceable line

    — November pares us like green apples,
    circling under our skins
    In long, unbroken spirals until
    We are sweet flesh for the elements
    surprised by the wind's shear
    Curling down from the north of Wales
    Like Occam's edge to Steeple Aston and Oxfordshire.

    "Worst time of the year," he said,
    "leaves everywhere
    And fresh cold to shiver your very seeds.
    I've burned two piles already, Saturday morning yet" —
    This in the Norman churchyard,
    Gray flake and flame in a hushed mound on Delia Johnson,
    God Knows His Own,

    Lead lines in the arteries for the first time, magpies
    Hustling their double notes
    steadily, like oars in an oarlock,
    Beechwoods and whitehorns, hawthorn and mountain ash
    All burning down to bare ricks
    Against the dropdraft of cold as winter circles and moves in ...

    — Chelsea Embankment, 5 p.m.: Whistler pastels squished
    Down the fluted water, orange,
    Tamarind, apricot
    jade on the slate slip of the river,
    Tug-ducks moored at the mudbanks,
    Southbank light-string reflections stretched like struck and vibrat
    ing pipes,
    The Thames rung softly
    cross-river, and always a different note
    Under the Albert Bridge, the Chelsea and out through town —
    Or star-colored steps that sink
    Beneath the sharkskin of the current
    down to the corridors
    And bone-bossed gallery gates of the end.

    — I keep coming back, like a tongue to a broken tooth,
    Kensington Church Walk,
    late afternoon,
    Pigeons in bas-relief and frieze on the building's edge —
    There is no sickness of spirit like homesickness
    When what you are sick for
    has never been seen or heard
    In this world, or even remembered
    except as a smear of bleached light
    Opening, closing beyond any alphabet's
    Recall to witness and isolate ...

    November's my favorite month,
    the downside of autumn
    And winter in first array, the sky
    Constabled now and again
    Over Kensington Gardens:
    north of the Serpentine,
    A pale light on the bright side of the dark,
    Everything starting to glide and refract,
    moving just under water ...

    — Today is fire and solution, rack
    of veins in the ruined trees,
    A warm wind from the south and crows like mistletoe in the twist
    And tuck of diluvial branches-

    Stay out of the way and be conspicuous,
    Step back and let your story, like water, go where it will,
    Cut down your desires,
    alone, as you are, on the white heart of the earth.

    — The sadness of Sunday train rides in the rain,
    Little gardens and back yards
    Bellied up to the buffed tracks,
    Their wet laundry and broken toys beside TO LET signs,
    Crushed Styrofoam cups
    small pockets of old ice turned out,
    The joyless twitter of wheels
    and couplings turning and changing,
    Whole centers of villages
    Scooped out and fenced in for a high-rise or a car park,
    Anguish of bitten trees, slow
    Bull's-eyes of raindrops in flat, colorless water pools,

    And all the south of England
    Under the sponge,
    no one in sight but the yellow-slickered rail workers
    Standing like patient, exotic birds
    On the outskirts of Redhill, or upline from Hayward's Heath,
    One on one leg, as though poised for frogs,

    The desolate, wax faces
    Of young mothers gripping their children from side to side
    In the fleshed, electric light,
    stunned by
    Something they never asked for,
    Something like somebody else's life, that they've been given,

    Sadness of platforms, black umbrellas
    Doleful on benches, half-opened, damp,
    Tedious sense
    Of expectation, the clouds
    Continuing on for days past our destinations ...


    — Noon like cicada wings,
    translucence remembered, half-sheets
    Of light over light on the black stones
    Of the crescent walk and bodices of the rhododendron,
    Red eye of the whirring sun —
    December comes out of the ground
    Shedding its skin on the bare trees,
    And hovers above the northern sky
    Wings like new glass,
    wings like a thousand miles of new glass —

    How sweet to think that Nature is solvency,
    that something empirically true
    Lies just under the dead leaves
    That will make us anchorites in the dark
    Chambers of some celestial perpetuity-
    nice to think that,
    Given the bleak alternative,
    Though it hasn't proved so before,
    and won't now
    No matter what things we scrape aside —
    God is an abstract noun.

    — Flashback: a late September Sunday,
    the V & A courtyard,
    Holly and I at one end,
    Bronze Buddha under some falling leaves at the other:
    Weightlessness of the world's skin
    undulating like a balloon
    Losing its air around us, down drifting down
    Through the faint hiss of eternity
    Emptying somewhere else
    O emptying elsewhere
    This afternoon, skin
    That recovers me and slides me in like a hand
    As I unclench and spread
    finger by finger inside the Buddha's eye ...

    — London 1983


Excerpted from Zone Journals by Charles Wright. Copyright © 1988 Charles Wright. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Yard Journal,
A Journal of English Days,
March Journal,
A Journal of True Confession,
Night Journal,
A Journal of the Year of the Ox,
Light Journal,
A Journal of One Significant Landscape,
Chinese Journal,
Night Journal,
Copyright Page,

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