I just saw a man walking a raccoon on a leash.
I kick a pathway through the foliage to my front door.
So much needs tending.
A flurry of leaves follows me inside,
depositing the season deeply into every corner.
The slanted fall light is so harsh it seems it might lay bare
everything it touches.
And no forgiveness in it.
I smell the winter approaching.
Taste the metallic cold of it in my mouth.
I fear I may have lived my best years.
I just saw a man walking a raccoon on a leash.
“They can hardly contain their happiness that we have come.”
This poem makes me cry. For the beauty and innocence of all animals everywhere. Wright’s way of creating a world within a few lines is simply magical. It can’t be taught. It can’t be learned. It is born within someone, I believe.
– by James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
This is one in a series of pandemic poems I’ve written since my initial quarantine. Many of the pieces that have resulted are unlike anything I’ve written before but it’s entirely understandable, of course. These times are unlike any we’ve known before.
The title of the piece is “Captive Audience” and stems from a dream I had a few nights ago. My dream held the seeds of the ideas and images I express here but as ever it is an inexplicable combination of elements that conspire to inspire. I wish it was as simple as just recording a dream I’ve had, which has happened to many writers. Amazingly, Kubla Khan came that way to Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Here is the text of the poem:
The world is sharing a recurring dream.
Every night we fall asleep
and take up the very same challenge.
All of us are running for our lives
across a parched landscape,
shoulder to shoulder
in an endless line.
An elusive shape pursues us from behind.
We know not why.
All we hear as we race forward is the person next to us,
and the thunder of our thousands of feet
pounding the ground beneath.
Some of us tire more easily, falter, rest,
We are united in a common purpose,
In knowing there is nothing for us
but the outrunning of this,
Every time we glance backward
the specter looms closer,
changing shape with each turn of our heads.
One minute a tumbleweed six stories high,
made not of brush
but of thick snarled barbed wire.
Next, feral beasts snarling at our heels,
then, above our heads, out-sized birds of prey filling the skies,
circling ever closer.
Tomorrow night our predator will reappear,
In this same dream
all of us share a wish.
To awaken in our beds tomorrow morning,
having returned to the world
we once so blithely shared,
each of us knowing
all of it,
only a dream.
She was impossibly beautiful, astoundingly poised. She was, on that summer evening as she stood by the camp fire, perfect.
There are moments in our lives that change us and how we see ourselves forever. There are also people that have that same effect on us. Yvonne who I write about here, was one of those people in my life.
Here is text of the poem:
A barbecue and swim after work had brought us together
around the campfire that summer evening,
An impromptu thing teenagers do best:
You bring the beer. I’ll bring the chips.
I watched her run up from the water laughing.
As I write this her name comes back to me: Yvonne.
Fresh from her swim she stood close to the fire
in her tiny yellow bikini
drying her waist-length sheet of onyx-colored hair with a towel.
She seemed so utterly assured of herself in the task at hand,
so composed for a young girl,
tossing her head languidly from side to side
then taking a large hounds tooth comb and slowly
pulling it through
that glorious hair of hers.
She must have known we all followed her every move,
couldn’t help but know it by the silence
that had enveloped her ritual,
the flames casting an unreal glow on that hair,
that perfect form and face.
The men particularly stared in awe
at this goddess from Okinawa
who’d ended up in our backwater
of all places,
in their midst.
I watched the men’s faces watching her
knowing even at 16 I would never possess the audacity
that was Miss Yvonne Tsubone’s that night,
and for as long as it lasted,
that which comes from sheer and absolute
a calling card that says,
I am perfect just as I am:
what I am is
The everyday extraordinary
As it ever did.
Biding its time until we stop,
Until we notice.
The tiny unheralded jewels nested within our daily lives
That we rushed past, cavalier,
With no time for the smaller movement,
We were hell bent on destinations.
Headed to the best seller, the top ten.
There were judgments to render, texts to send.
None of which we remembered
Five minutes after.
Pause to discover
It is not only the peony in delicious full bloom
That deserves our attention.
Bend down and inspect the tightly wrapped, sleeping bud
Just as it is,
Soon to swarm with the manic aphids that will allow it to be
All it can be.
Watch the dog watching the squirrel.
How the clouds above change shape even as we look away.
The sad supermarket cashier who will remember your smile.
It’s not the goal, it’s the journey.
Once trite, now wise.
Did you know Margaret Atwood also wrote poetry?
It’s become a time to discover things about yourself
you never knew.
This very day you realize
you are quite content sitting,
watching the birds come and go
at the feeder outside your window,
unconcerned of how much time is passing.
You may even search for a long ago gift from a friend,
a book you scarcely glanced at,
just now come to your mind –
Birds of Canada: Species and Habits.
You open page one.
Ready now, finally,
There are always good people.
Mr. Rogers was right.
Just yesterday the man on the plane
who saw me struggling with the overhead bin,
jumped up, took over, smiling.
The mother of three across the aisle
handing out cleaning wipes,
her children willingly helping.
The flight attendant, struggling with her face mask,
joking with her colleague:
“If I hyperventilate behind this, you got me, right?”
The Customs official facing a sea of disgruntled travelers,
asking me if I had fever or sickness: I told him no.
“I’m happy you’re well,” he said, before sending me on.
Heads up, people.
We have widely different families and streets and seas,
but underneath it all
we share a beating human heart,
the same skies and sun,
the same bewitching moon.
I am not immune to the wonders of the natural world.
I have seen peacock feathers under a microscope.
I know birds retrieve lint from the ears
Of a musk ox carcass to construct their downy nests.
I realize that the grand canyon of Mars
Is the same size as the United States.
I too know that when a blue whale dives deepest
Its massive heart slows down to two beats a minute.
But none, for me,
Can rank with a heated conversation one dressing room over at Marshall’s.
A debate in a movie lineup about the merits of Scorcese vs. Tarantino.
One Raymond Carver poem.
Give me the Lives column in a New York Times Magazine
About the writer’s troubled child.
Let me in on that moment when you knew it was over.
There for me lie the mysteries I care to unravel,
The fleeting moments between us drawing me back
Time and time again.
Hike your mountain. Portage the greatest rivers.
Give names to all the stars and constellations you have ever seen.
Then tell me about it when you get home.
** Photo by Joel Koop.
They remember you:
Their heightened perception always at work,
An enigmatic sixth sense,
So rare in humans.
They open wide their huge liquid alien eyes,
Shift quietly in their stalls.
Their huge nostrils flare in welcome
At your approach.
For you carry with you
Indelible in their memory,
Of someone once kind to them.
Astride their backs
We borrow their majesty.
We borrow freedom.
The sun was hotter.
You can tell.
Look at us squinting against it in photos then.
Everything washed out by the glare,
all detail surrendered.
we could be anybody.
The gardens, look,
It hurt to walk on the grass.
We lay in scorched backyards
slathering butter on our chests,
chain-smoking, eating fluorescent cheesies,
swilling bright red soda.
Everyone burned raw.
Everyone looked deliriously happy.
nothing could go wrong.
Our lives lay ahead of us.
Men were above us,
landing on the moon.
(goodreads.com contest winner).