Charles Wright, the newly appointed U.S Poet Laureate, has won the National Book Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Griffin Prize, the American Book Award in Poetry, The Los Angeles Times Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. He was born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, and grew up in Oak Ridge and Kingsport. To read more about the new Poet Laureate, click here.
Afternoon overcast the color of water
smoothed by clouds
That whiten where they enter the near end of the sky.
First day of my fifty-fifth year,
Last week of August limp as a frayed rope in the trees,
Yesterday’s noise a yellow dust in my shirt pocket
Beneath the toothpick,
the .22 bullet and Amitone.
Sounds drift through the haze,
The shadowless orchard, peach leaves dull in the tall grass,
No wind, no bird shudder.
Green boat on the red Rivanna.
Rabbit suddenly in place
By the plum tree, then gone in three bounds.
Downshift of truck gears.
In 1958, in Monterey, California,
I wrote a journal of over one hundred pages
About the Tennessee line,
About my imagined unhappiness,
and how the sun set like a coffin
Into the gray Pacific.
How common it all was.
How uncommon I pictured myself.
Memento scrivi, skull-like and word-drunk,
one hundred fourteen pages
Of inarticulate self-pity
Looking at landscape and my moral place within it,
The slurry of words inexorable and dark,
The ethical high ground inexorable and dark
I droned from
hoping for prescience and a shibboleth . . .
I remember the word and forget the word
although the word
Hovers in flame around me.
Summer hovers in flame around me.
The overcast breaks like a bone above the Blue Ridge.
A loneliness west of solitude
Splinters into the landscape
uncomforting as Braille.
We are our final vocabulary,
and how we use it.
There is no secret contingency.
There’s only the rearrangement, the redescription
Of little and mortal things.
There’s only this single body, this tiny garment
Gathering the past against itself,
making it otherwise.
“Tennessee Line” from Chickamauga by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2014 by Charles Wright and reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.