Desire’s Persistence

By Jay Wright b. 1934 Jay Wright

Yo ave del agua floreciente duro en fiesta.
—“Deseo de persistencia,” Poesía Náhuatl


In the region of rain and cloud,
I live in shade,
under the moss mat of days bruised
                        purple with desire.
My dominion is a song in the wide ring of water.   
There, I run to and fro,
braiding the logical act
            in the birth of an Ear of Corn,   
polychromatic story I will now tell
in the weaving, power's form in motion,
a devotion to the unstressed.
Once, I wreathed around a king,
became a fishing net, a maze
               “a deadly wealth of robe.”
Mothers who have heard me sing take heart;   
I always prick them into power.


Y vengo alzando al viento la roja flor de invierno.   
(I lift the red flower of winter into the wind.)   
       —Poesía Náhuatl


Out of the ninth circle,
a Phoenician boat rocks upward into light
and the warmth of a name—given to heaven—
that arises in the ninth realm.
Earth's realm discloses the Egyptian   
on the point of invention,
               deprived of life and death,   
heart deep in the soul's hawk,
a thymos shadow knapping the tombed body.   
Some one or thing is always heaven bound.   
Some flowered log doubles my bones.   
The spirit of Toltec turtledoves escapes.   
A sharp, metaphorical cry sends me
               into the adorned sepulchre,   
and the thing that decays learns
                  how to speak its name.


Down Hidalgo,
past Alvarado and Basurto,   
I walk a straight line
to the snailed Pasco Los Berros.   
Here, at noon, the sun,
         a silver bead,
veils what the dawn has displayed.
Even so,
         I have taken up the morning's bond again   
         —the lake with its pendulum leg   
         shining in the distance,
         the boy in white
         hauling his bottle of chalky milk home.
I know I sit in the deep of a city
with its brocade of hills,

where a thin rain is an evening's fire.
I have heard the women sing
near their gas lamps,
when the rose end of day lights a hunger
for the garlanded soups and meat they prepare.
Often, I have taken the high ground   
by the pond, over a frog's voice   
                  dampened by lilies,
and been exalted by the soothsayer   
who knows I'm not at home.
I am the arcane body,
raised at the ninth hour,
to be welcomed by the moonlight   
                     of such spirited air.
I am the Dane of degrees
who realizes how the spirit glows   
                     even as it descends.


The heart, catalectic though it be, does glow,   
responds to every midnight bell within you.   
This is a discourse on reading heat,
the flushed char of burned moments one sees   
after the sexton's lamp flows
over the body's dark book.
There is suspicion   
here that violet   
traces of


This marble dust recalls that sunset   
with the best burgundy, and the way,   
after the charm of it, the peacocks   
escaped their cages on the green.   
I would now embellish the flame   
that ornaments you,
even as it once in that moment   
I carry you blossomed,
cream and salt of a high crown.   
You must flare,
          stream forth,
blister and scale me,
even as you structure the enveloping kiss,   
                  sporophore of our highest loss.


Under the evergreens,
the grouse have gone under the snow.   
Women who follow their fall flight   
tell us that, if you listen, you can hear   
their dove's voices ridge the air,   
a singing that follows us to a bourne
                  released from its heat sleep.   
We have come to an imagined line,
that binds us to the burr of a sheltered thing
and rings us with a fire that will not dance,
               in a horn that will not sound.
We have learned, like these birds,
to publish our decline,
when over knotted apples and straw-crisp leaves,   
the slanted sun welcomes us once again
to the arrested music in the earth's divided embrace.


Through winter,
harmattan blacks the air.
My body fat with oil,
I become another star at noon,   
when the vatic insistence
of the dog star's breath clings to me.   
Though I am a woman,
I turn south,
toward the fire,
and hear the spirits in the bush.   
But this is my conceit:
water will come from the west,   
and I will have my trance,
                                        be reborn,
perhaps in a Mediterranean air,   
the Rhone delta's contention   
with the eastern side of rain.   
In all these disguises,
I follow the aroma of power.
So I am charged in my own field,   
to give birth to the solar wind,   
particles spiraling around the line
                            of my body,
moving toward the disruption,
the moment when the oil of my star at noon
                                     is a new dawn.


I shall go away, I shall disappear,
I shall be stretched on a bed of yellow roses   
and the old women will cry for me.
So the Toltecas wrote: their books are finished,   
but your heart has become perfect.

Jay Wright, “Desire’s Persistence” from Transfigurations: Collected Poems (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Jay Wright. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Transfigurations: Collected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2000)

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Poet Jay Wright b. 1934

Subjects Love, Relationships, Desire

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Jay  Wright


Frequently described as a “poet’s poet,” Jay Wright has quietly built an impressive career as one of America’s leading African-American voices. His work, praised for its evocative language, introspective tone, and mythological imagery, has won many honors, including the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships, and Yale’s prestigious Bollingen Prize. Wright’s plays, essays, and poetry generally . . .

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SUBJECT Love, Relationships, Desire

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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