A Secret Gratitude

By James Wright 1927–1980 James Wright

Eugen Boissevain died in the autumn of 1949. I had wondered already, at the time of our visit, what would happen to Edna [Millay] if he should die first.

—Edmund Wilson

1
She cleaned house, and then lay down long   
On the long stair.

On one of those cold white wings
That the strange fowl provide for us like one hillside of the sea,   
That cautery of snow that blinds us,
Pitiless light,
One winter afternoon
Fair near the place where she sank down with one wing broken,   
Three friends and I were caught
Stalk still in the light.

Five of the lights. Why should they care for our eyes?   
Five deer stood there.
They looked back, a good minute.
They knew us, all right:
Four chemical accidents of horror pausing
Between one suicide or another
On the passing wing
Of an angel that cared no more for our biology, our pity, and our pain   
Than we care.

Why should any mere multitude of the angels care   
To lay one blind white plume down
On this outermost limit of something that is probably no more   
Than an aphid,
An aphid which is one of the angels whose wings toss the black pears
Of tears down on the secret shores
Of the seas in the corner   
Of a poet’s closed eye.   
Why should five deer   
Gaze back at us?
They gazed back at us.
Afraid, and yet they stood there,
More alive than we four, in their terror,   
In their good time.

We had a dog.
We could have got other dogs.
Two or three dogs could have taken turns running and dragging down
Those fleet lights, whose tails must look as mysterious as the   
Stars in Los Angeles.
We are men.
It doesn’t even satisfy us   
To kill one another.
We are a smear of obscenity   
On the lake whose only peace   
Is a hole where the moon   
Abandoned us, that poor   
Girl who can’t leave us alone.

If I were the moon I would shrink into a sand grain   
In the corner of the poet’s eye,
While there’s still room.

We are men.
We are capable of anything.
We could have killed every one of those deer.
The very moon of lovers tore herself with the agony of a wounded tigress
Out of our side.
We can kill anything.
We can kill our own bodies.
Those deer on the hillside have no idea what in hell
We are except murderers.
They know that much, and don’t think
They don’t.
Man’s heart is the rotten yolk of a blacksnake egg
Corroding, as it is just born, in a pile of dead
Horse dung.
I have no use for the human creature.
He subtly extracts pain awake in his own kind.
I am born one, out of an accidental hump of chemistry.
I have no use.

   2
But
We didn’t set dogs on the deer,   
Even though we know,
As well as you know,
We could have got away with it,   
Because
Who cares?

   3
Boissevain, who was he?   
Was he human? I doubt it,   
From what I know
Of men.

Who was he,
Hobbling with his dry eyes   
Along in the rain?

I think he must have fallen down like the plumes of new snow,   
I think he must have fallen into the grass, I think he
Must surely have grown around
Her wings, gathering and being gathered,
Leaf, string, anything she could use
To build her still home of songs   
Within sound of water.

   4
By God, come to that, I would have married her too,   
If I’d got the chance, and she’d let me.
Think of that. Being alive with a girl
Who could turn into a laurel tree
Whenever she felt like it.
Think of that.

   5
Outside my window just now
I can hear a small waterfall rippling antiphonally down over   
The stones of my poem.

James Wright, “A Secret Gratitude” 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 Living, Poetry & Poets, Home Life, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

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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SUBJECT Living, Poetry & Poets, Home Life, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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