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
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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
By Charles Wright
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1988 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
— Mist in the trees, and soiled water and grass cuttings splotch
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,
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,
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,
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
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,
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,
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,
jade on the slate slip of the river,
Tug-ducks moored at the mudbanks,
Southbank light-string reflections stretched like struck and vibrat
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,
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,
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,
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.
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Table of Contents
A Journal of English Days,
A Journal of True Confession,
A Journal of the Year of the Ox,
A Journal of One Significant Landscape,