Nine-Panel Yaak River Screen

Midmorning like a deserted room, apparition
Of armoire and table weights,
Oblongs of flat light,
                                      the rosy eyelids of lovers
Raised in their ghostly insurrection,
Decay in the compassed corners beating its black wings,
Late June and the lilac just ajar.

Where the deer trail sinks down through the shadows of blue spruce,
Reeds rustle and bow their heads,
Creek waters murmur on like the lamentation of women
For faded, forgotten things.
And always the black birds in the trees,
Always the ancient chambers thudding inside the heart.


Swallow pure as a penknife
                                                   slick through the insected air.
Swallow poised on the housepost, beakful of mud and a short straw.
Swallow dun-orange, swallow blue,
                                                                 mud purse and middle arch,
Home sweet home.
Swallow unceasing, swallow unstill
At sundown, the mother's shade over silver water.

At the edge of the forest, no sound in the grey stone,
No moan from the blue lupin.
The shadows of afternoon
                                               begin to gather their dark robes
And unlid their crystal eyes.
Minute by minute, step by slow step,
Like the small hand on a clock, we climb north, toward midnight.


I've made a small hole in the silence, a tiny one,
Just big enough for a word.
And when I rise from the dead, whenever that is, I'll say it.
I can't remember the word right now,
But it will come back to me when the northwest wind
                                                                            blows down off Mt. Caribou
The day that I rise from the dead, whenever that is.

Sunlight, on one leg, limps out to the meadow and settles in.
Insects fall back inside their voices,
Little fanfares and muted repeats,
Inadequate language of sorrow,
                                                            inadequate language of silted joy,
As ours is.
The birds join in. The sunlight opens her other leg.


At times the world falls away from us
                                                                     with all its disguises,
And we are left with ourselves
As though we were dead, or otherwised, our lips still moving,
The empty distance, the heart
Like a votive little-red-wagon on top of a child's grave,
Nothing touching, nothing close.

A long afternoon, and a long rain begins to fall.
In some other poem, angels emerge from their cold rooms,
Their wings blackened by somebody's dream.
The rain stops, the robin resumes his post.
                                                                               A whisper
Out of the clouds and here comes the sun.
A long afternoon, the robin flying from post back to post.


The length of vowel sounds, by nature and by position,
Count out the morning's meters—
                                                              bird song and squirrel bark, creek run,
The housefly's languor and murmurous incantation.
I put on my lavish robes
And walk at random among the day's
                                                                     dactyls and anapests,
A widening caesura with each step.

I walk through my life as though I were a bookmark, a holder of place,
An overnight interruption
                                                 in somebody else's narrative.
What is it that causes this?
What is it that pulls my feet down, and keeps on keeping my eyes
       fixed to the ground?
Whatever the answer, it will start
                                                              the wolf pack down from the mountain,
The raven down from the tree.


Time gnaws on our necks like a dog
                                                                  gnaws on a stew bone.
It whittles us down with its white teeth,
It sends us packing, leaving no footprints on the dust-dour road.
That's one way of putting it.
Time, like a golden coin, lies on our tongue's another.
We slide it between our teeth on the black water,
                                                                                        ready for what's next.

The white eyelids of dead boys, like flushed birds, flutter up
At the edge of the timber.
Domestic lupin Crayolas the yard.
                                                              Slow lopes of tall grasses
Southbound in the meadow, hurled along by the wind.
In wingbeats and increments,
The disappeared come back to us, the soul returns to the tree.


The intermittent fugues of the creek,
                                                                   saying yes, saying no,
Master music of sunlight
And black-green darkness under the spruce and tamaracks,
Lull us and take our breath away.
                                                              Our lips form fine words,
But nothing comes out.
Our lips are the messengers, but nothing can come out.

After a day of high winds, how beautiful is the stillness of dusk.
Enormous silence of stones.
Illusion, like an empty coffin, that something is missing.
Monotonous psalm of underbrush
                                                               and smudged flowers.
After the twilight, darkness.
After the darkness, darkness, and then what follows that.


The unborn own all of this, what little we leave them,
St. Thomas's hand
                                   returning repeatedly to the wound,
Their half-formed mouths irrepressible in their half-sleep,
Asking for everything, and then some.
Already the melancholy of their arrival
Swells like a sunrise and daydream
                                                                 over the eastern ridge line.

Inside the pyrite corridors of late afternoon,
Image follows image, clouds
Reveal themselves,
                                    and shadows, like angels, lie at the feet of all things.
Chambers of the afterlife open deep in the woods,
Their secret hieroglyphics suddenly readable
With one eye closed, then with the other.


One star and a black voyage,
                                                     drifting mists to wish on,
Bullbats and their lullabye—
Evening tightens like an elastic around the hills.
Small sounds and the close of day,
As if a corpse had risen from somewhere deep in the meadow
And walked in its shadows quietly.

The mouth inside me with its gold teeth
Begins to open.
No words appear on its lips,
                                                     no syllables bubble along its tongue.
Night mouth, silent mouth.
Like drugged birds in the trees,
                                                          angels with damp foreheads settle down.
Wind rises, clouds arrive, another night without stars.

Charles Wright, "Nine-Panel Yaak River Screen" from A Short History of the Shadow. Copyright © 2002 by Charles Wright. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Source: Poetry
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