Scar Tissue

Poems

Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1

Appalachian Farewell

Sunset in Appalachia, bituminous bulwark

Against the western skydrop.

An Advent of gold and green, an Easter of ashes.

If night is our last address,

This is the place we moved from,

Backs on fire, our futures hard-edged and sure to arrive.

These are the towns our lives abandoned,

Wind in our faces,

The idea of incident like a box beside us on the Trailways seat.

And where were we headed for? The country of Narrative, that dark territory

Which spells out our stories in sentences, which gives them an end

and beginning . . .

Goddess of Bad Roads and Inclement Weather, take down

Our names, remember us in the drip

And thaw of the wintry mix, remember us when the light cools.

Help us never to get above our raising, help us

To hold hard to what was there,

Orebank and Reedy Creek, Surgoinsville down the line.

Last Supper

I seem to have come to the end of something, but don’t know what, Full moon blood orange just over the top of the redbud tree. Maudy Thursday tomorrow,

Then Good Friday, then Easter in full drag, Dogwood blossoms like little crosses All down the street,

lilies and jonquils bowing their mitred heads.

Perhaps it’s a sentimentality about such fey things, But I don’t think so. One knows There is no end to the other world,

no matter where it is. In the event, a reliquary evening for sure, The bones in their tiny boxes, rosettes under glass.

Or maybe it’s just the way the snow fell

a couple of days ago, So white on the white snowdrops. As our fathers were bold to tell us,

it’s either eat or be eaten. Spring in its starched bib, Winter’s cutlery in its hands. Cold grace. Slice and fork.

Inland Sea

Little windows of gold paste,

Long arm of the Archer high above.

Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.

Bitter the waters of memory,

Bitter their teeth and cold lips.

Better to stuff your heart with dead moss,

Better to empty your mouth of air

Remembering Babylon

Than to watch those waters rise

And fall, and to hear their suck and sigh.

Nostalgia arrives like a spring storm, Looming and large with fine flash, Dissolving like a disease then

into the furred horizon, Whose waters have many doors, Whose sky has a thousand panes of glass.

Nighttime still dogs and woos us With tiny hiccups and tiny steps, The constellations ignore our moans, The tulip flames

snuffed in their dark cups, No cries of holy, holy, holy.

Little windows of gold paste,

Long arm of the Archer high above.

Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.

Bitter the waters of memory,

Bitter their teeth and cold lips.

The Silent Generation II

We’ve told our story. We told it twice and took our lumps. You’ll find us here, of course, at the end of the last page, Our signatures scratched in smoke.

Thunderstorms light us and roll on by.

Branches bend in the May wind,

But don’t snap, the flowers bend and do snap, the grass gorps.

And then the unaltered grey,

Uncymbaled, undrumrolled, no notes to set the feet to music.

Still, we pull it up to our chins; it becomes our lives.

Garrulous, word-haunted, senescent,

Who knew we had so much to say, or tongue to say it?

The wind, I guess, who’s heard it before, and crumples our pages.

And so we keep on, stiff lip, slack lip,

Hoping for words that are not impermanent—small words,

Out of the wind and the weather—that will not belie our names.

High Country Canticle

The shroud has no pockets, the northern Italians say. Let go, live your life,

the grave has no sunny corners— Deadfall and windfall, the aphoristic undertow Of high water, deep snow in the hills, Everything’s benediction, bright wingrush of grace.

Spring moves through the late May heat

as though someone were poling it.

The Wrong End of the Rainbow

It must have been Ischia, Forio d’Ischia.

Or Rome. The Pensione Margutta. Or Naples

Somewhere, on some dark side street in 1959

With What’s-Her-Name, dear golden-haired What’s-Her-Name.

Or Yes-Of-Course In Florence, in back of S. Maria Novella, And later wherever the Carabinieri let us lurk.

Milano, with That’s-The-One, two streets from the Bar Giamaica. Venice and Come-On-Back,

three flights up, Canal as black as an onyx, and twice as ground down.

Look, we were young then, and the world would sway to our sway.

We were riverrun, we were hawk’s breath.

Heart’s lid, we were center’s heat at the center of things.

Remember us as we were, amigo,

And not as we are, stretched out at the wrong end of the rainbow,

Our feet in the clouds,

our heads in the small, still pulse-pause of age,

Gazing out of some window, still taking it all in,

Our arms around Memory,

Her full lips telling us just those things

she thinks we want to hear.

A Field Guide to the Birds of the Upper Yaak

A misty rain, no wind from the west, Clouds close as smoke to the ground,

spring’s fire, like a first love, now gone to ash, The lives of angels beginning to end like porch lights turned off From time zone to time zone,

our pictures still crooked on the walls, Our prayer, like a Chinese emperor, always two lips away, Our pockets gone dry and soft with lint. Montana morning, a cold front ready to lay its ears back.

If I were a T’ang poet, someone would bid farewell At this point, or pluck a lute string,

or knock on a hermit’s door. I’m not, and there’s no one here. The iconostasis of evergreens across the two creeks Stands dark, unkissed and ungazed upon.

Tonight, it’s true, the River of Heaven will cast its net of strung stars, But that’s just the usual stuff.

As I say, there’s no one here.

In fact, there’s almost never another soul around. There are no secret lives up here,

it turns out, everything goes Its own way, its only way, Out in the open, unexamined, unput upon. The great blue heron unfolds like a pterodactyl Over the upper pond,

two robins roust a magpie, Snipe snipe, the swallows wheel, and nobody gives a damn.

Excerpted from Scar Tissue by Charles Wright.
Copyright 2006 by Charles Wright.
Published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.