Some fish for words from shore while others, lacking in such contemplative tact, like to go wading in up to their chins through a torrent of bone-freezing diamond, knife raised, to freeze-frame incarnadine and then bid it as with hermetic wand flow on again, ferociously, transparently, name writ in river.
By Franz Wright
by Franz Wright
You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,
the sole passenger
with an overhead light on.
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,
the little lights off in the distance
(in one of those rooms we are
living) and I am the rain
and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,
and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin
to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:
everything’s going to be fine
I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.
I have an affinity for James Wright’s poetry in part because of his connection to Minnesota and the landscapes and sentiments expressed of the Midwest. James and Franz Wright are the only father and son to win a Pulitzer Prize in the same category. It is hard for sons to follow in the footsteps of their fathers, particularly fathers that are celebrated for their achievements.
Poetry is a unique terror to impart as a hereditary legacy to one’s child, poetry rooted in desperation that connects the Wright’s poetic accomplishments. A criticism of their work is there’s a thread of self pity that runs through it, a contrition that lacks discipline. I don’t see it that way. I see their starkest poetry as the courage to write what they feel. The question is whether readers have the courage to feel those same things along side them.
James died of lung cancer from smoking. Franz died of tongue cancer, also smoking related. Self destruction is an art form all of our own creation and as individual as the individual. Is poetry the instruction manual left behind for the puzzle keepers to reassemble the poet as flesh and blood, even if only for a second in our own minds?
In Response to a Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned
by James Wright
I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream from the sewer main,
I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.
I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?
For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.
And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death