Black Zodiac

By Charles Wright b. 1935 Charles Wright
Darkened by time, the masters, like our memories, mix   
And mismatch,
                             and settle about our lawn furniture, like air   
Without a meaning, like air in its clear nothingness.
What can we say to either of them?
How can they be so dark and so clear at the same time?   
They ruffle our hair,
                                        they ruffle the leaves of the August trees.   
Then stop, abruptly as wind.
The flies come back, and the heat—
                                                                 what can we say to them?   
Nothing is endless but the sky.
The flies come back, and the afternoon
Teeters a bit on its green edges,
                                                           then settles like dead weight   
Next to our memories, and the pale hems of the masters’ gowns.
Those who look for the Lord will cry out in praise of him.
Perhaps. And perhaps not—
                                                     dust and ashes though we are,   
Some will go wordlessly, some
Will listen their way in with their mouths
Where pain puts them, an inch-and-a-half above the floor.   
And some will revile him out of love
                                                                   and deep disdain.
The gates of mercy, like an eclipse, darken our undersides.   
Rows of gravestones stay our steps,
                                                                  August humidity
Bright as auras around our bodies.
And some will utter the words,
                                                         speaking in fear and tongues,   
Hating their garments splotched by the flesh.
These are the lucky ones, the shelved ones, the twice-erased.
Dante and John Chrysostom
Might find this afternoon a sidereal roadmap,   
A pilgrim’s way ...
                                   You might too
Under the prejaundiced outline of the quarter moon,   
Clouds sculling downsky like a narrative for whatever comes,
What hasn’t happened to happen yet
Still lurking behind the stars,
                                                       31 August 1995 ...
The afterlife of insects, space graffiti, white holes   
In the landscape,
                                 such things, such avenues, lead to dust
And handle our hurt with ease.
Sky blue, blue of infinity, blue
                                                         waters above the earth:
Why do the great stories always exist in the past?
The unexamined life’s no different from
                                                                          the examined life—
Unanswerable questions, small talk,
Unprovable theorems, long-abandoned arguments—
You’ve got to write it all down.
Landscape or waterscape, light-length on evergreen, dark sidebar   
Of evening,
                       you’ve got to write it down.
Memory’s handkerchief, death’s dream and automobile,
God’s sleep,
                       you’ve still got to write it down,
Moon half-empty, moon half-full,
Night starless and egoless, night blood-black and prayer-black,   
Spider at work between the hedges,
Last bird call,
                           toad in a damp place, tree frog in a dry ...
We go to our graves with secondary affections,
Second-hand satisfaction, half-souled,
                                                                        star charts demagnetized.
We go in our best suits. The birds are flying. Clouds pass.   
Sure we’re cold and untouchable,
but we harbor no ill will.
No tooth tuned to resentment’s fork,
                                                             we’re out of here, and sweet meat.   
Calligraphers of the disembodied, God’s word-wards,
What letters will we illuminate?
Above us, the atmosphere,
The nothing that’s nowhere, signs on, and waits for our beck and call.
Above us, the great constellations sidle and wince,
The letters undarken and come forth,
Your X and my X.
                                   The letters undarken and they come forth.
Eluders of memory, nocturnal sleep of the greenhouse,   
Spirit of slides and silences,
                                                    Invisible Hand,
Witness and walk on.
Lords of the discontinuous, lords of the little gestures,   
Succor my shift and save me ...
All afternoon the rain has rained down in the mind,   
And in the gardens and dwarf orchard.
                                                                        All afternoon
The lexicon of late summer has turned its pages   
Under the rain,
abstracting the necessary word.   
Autumn’s upon us.
The rain fills our narrow beds.
Description’s an element, like air or water.
                                                                                 That’s the word.

NOTES: Poet's note: "The Ruin of Kasch, Roberto Calasso, translated by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994); The Confessions of St. Augustine, translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin Books, 1961); Poems of Paul Celan, translated by Michael Hamburger (New York: Persea Books, 1989); 'Adagia,' Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957)."

Charles Wright, “Black Zodiac” from Black Zodiac. Copyright © 1997 by Charles Wright. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Black Zodiac (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1997)


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Poet Charles Wright b. 1935

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Religion, Living, Summer, Time & Brevity, Nature, Fall, Christianity, God & the Divine, The Spiritual

Holidays Labor Day

Poetic Terms Free Verse