The Minneapolis Poem

By James Wright 1927–1980 James Wright

to John Logan

1
I wonder how many old men last winter
Hungry and frightened by namelessness prowled   
The Mississippi shore
Lashed blind by the wind, dreaming
Of suicide in the river.
The police remove their cadavers by daybreak   
And turn them in somewhere.
Where?
How does the city keep lists of its fathers   
Who have no names?
By Nicollet Island I gaze down at the dark water   
So beautifully slow.
And I wish my brothers good luck
And a warm grave.

   2
The Chippewa young men
Stab one another shrieking
Jesus Christ.
Split-lipped homosexuals limp in terror of assault.   
High school backfields search under benches   
Near the Post Office. Their faces are the rich   
Raw bacon without eyes.
The Walker Art Center crowd stare
At the Guthrie Theater.

   3
Tall Negro girls from Chicago
Listen to light songs.
They know when the supposed patron
Is a plainclothesman.
A cop’s palm
Is a roach dangling down the scorched fangs   
Of a light bulb.
The soul of a cop’s eyes
Is an eternity of Sunday daybreak in the suburbs   
Of Juárez, Mexico.

   4
The legless beggars are gone, carried away
By white birds.
The Artificial Limbs Exchange is gutted
And sown with lime.
The whalebone crutches and hand-me-down trusses   
Huddle together dreaming in a desolation
Of dry groins.
I think of poor men astonished to waken   
Exposed in broad daylight by the blade   
Of a strange plough.

   5
All over the walls of comb cells
Automobiles perfumed and blindered   
Consent with a mutter of high good humor   
To take their two naps a day.
Without sound windows glide back
Into dusk.
The sockets of a thousand blind bee graves tier upon tier
Tower not quite toppling.
There are men in this city who labor dawn after dawn
To sell me my death.

   6
But I could not bear
To allow my poor brother my body to die
In Minneapolis.
The old man Walt Whitman our countryman
Is now in America our country
Dead.
But he was not buried in Minneapolis
At least.
And no more may I be
Please God.

   7
I want to be lifted up
By some great white bird unknown to the police,
And soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden   
Modest and golden as one last corn grain,
Stored with the secrets of the wheat and the mysterious lives   
Of the unnamed poor.

James Wright, “The Minneapolis Poem” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. Copyright © 1990 by James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose (1990)

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Poet James Wright 1927–1980

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Crime & Punishment, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 James  Wright

Biography

James Wright was frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. He was admired by critics and fellow poets alike for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns. In the Minnesota Review, Peter A. Stitt wrote that Wright's work both represents and parallels the development of the best modern American poets: "Reading the Collected Poems of James . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Crime & Punishment, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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