The Appalachian Book of the Dead

By Charles Wright b. 1935 Charles Wright
Sunday, September Sunday ... Outdoors,
Like an early page from The Appalachian Book of the Dead,   
Sunlight lavishes brilliance on every surface,
Doves settle, surreptitious angels, on tree limb and box branch,   
A crow calls, deep in its own darkness,
Something like water ticks on
Just there, beyond the horizon, just there, steady clock ...

Go in fear of abstractions ...
                                                    Well, possibly. Meanwhile,
They are the strata our bodies rise through, the sere veins   
Our skins rub off on.
For instance, whatever enlightenment there might be   
Housels compassion and affection, those two tributaries   
That river above our lives,
Whose waters we sense the sense of
                                                    late at night, and later still.

Uneasy, suburbanized,
I drift from the lawn chair to the back porch to the dwarf orchard   
Testing the grass and border garden.
A stillness, as in the passageways of Paradise,
Bell jars the afternoon.
                                     Leaves, like ex votos, hang hard and shine   
Under the endlessness of heaven.
Such skeletal altars, such vacant sanctuary.

It always amazes me
How landscape recalibrates the stations of the dead,
How what we see jacks up
                                     the odd quotient of what we don’t see,   
How God’s breath reconstitutes our walking up and walking down.   
First glimpse of autumn, stretched tight and snicked, a bad face lift,
Flicks in and flicks out,
                                       a virtual reality.
Time to begin the long division.

Charles Wright, “The Appalachian Book of the Dead” from Black Zodiac. Copyright © 1997 by Charles Wright. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. 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 The Body, Death, Fall, Living, Religion, Nature, God & the Divine

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Charles  Wright

Biography

Charles Wright is often ranked as one of the best American poets of his generation. Born in 1935 in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, Wright attended Davidson College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; he also served four years in the U.S. Army, and it was while stationed in Italy that Wright began to read and write poetry. His early work, including The Grave of the Right Hand (1970), received positive critical attention, but his reputation . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT The Body, Death, Fall, Living, Religion, Nature, God & the Divine

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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