Sunday, September 16, 2012

toward the moment

Letter to James Wright from the Rocks above Bass Pond at the End of Summer

I bang fist-sized stones together. Once.
Stones cool with the smell of dirt
from lying in the ferns.
My palms love their gritty sides.

The hollow tonk plucks at air
like a first raindrop hitting a spider’s web,
the attentiveness of a word
and no content.

The solemn turkey buzzard shrugs higher.
Grey moss cracks underfoot.
Juniper and blueberry clench small.
Here wind and weak sun --

below, the fur of trees ruffles,
the pond glints,
losing track of my failures.

I will lie and wither like the moss
and rise in a year, language as hard
and unused as a scatter of pebbles,
to find my own crossed thighbones here,

stripped sticks
to knock together for prayer.


  1. This poem has washed over me for a couple of days. Its smells, sounds, feelings (the vibration of that tonk!), the profound descriptions, the return of the sound of hard matter knocked together. It is brilliant. Failures are lost (yes!), we will return to stone in the end, and all those unused words will only be heard by the wind.

    Just tremendously satisfying and complete, James.

  2. Ruth: that we will return to stone one day, and all the unused words go to the wind, seems a comfort to me, most days. there is this real world, of stone and wind and tough little plants and animals, underpinning everything that we think of as our world -- it is always there, getting on quietly with the work of being, and will be there for us in the end, catching us as we fall ...

    i have, these past couple of days, been in love with this jorie graham poem, which i think ends up in a similar place (though i could never come near the gorgeousness of her language and delivery :-)

    thank you for being here (i mean both your being here and your being here :-))


    1. James, I have listened to Jorie Graham's poem. Twice now. (After having technical difficulties.) It envelopes me, and I don't know how to respond, except with a yes rising up from every inch of my flesh and bone and spirit. I will try to put something into words to you or Erin about it (as you have both shared it with me). But I think that will only be after I have taken ablutions in it another twenty times at least. :-)

  3. this poem lives as matter, _is_ flesh and bone, already has that hardness you seek - and when listening to your voice, it becomes so even more, because the voice is not an embodied ghost, here it is not (only) breath, but it is the whole body - yours, and the world's.

    it is overwhelming

  4. Roxana: mostly, i can only lower my eyes and be grateful at this :-))

    ... but there is this hardness in structure, underlying all ... there are days i spend with the surfaces of things, stones, wood, shells (shells! delicate ridges on the sides, like fine lace, tinest crimping at the edges -- and yet stone, poem, matter :-) ... and yet, these solid objects disappear, too, if we look at them for long and long ...


  5. "hollow tonk" oh I love the sound of this! beautiful poem. I googled James Wright, I hadn't heard of the poet (if that's who you mean)but going by the wiki page it sounds like I would like his stuff. what an intriguing, unsettling ending. I really like the terse language and such clear imagery!

  6. i sit this morning and wonder where it is that i might find the prayer i seek, the reduction i am after in this early morning as the searing light rises through the tree outside and finds me in my chair. i consider the translations of james wright. i consider rilke. i wonder about the spanish poet i have ordered and that has not arrived yet. might his words hold for the cleansing hands? i consider laying out on the canadian shield and waiting for either the sun or the cold to find me. instead i come here))))

    this i mean to tell you.

    i do not hear your voice. instead i am stretched out and naked on the rock almost unable to distinguish between the coming of the sun's warmth and the cold.



  7. Your poem has become part of my morning today. It is brilliant.