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Wesleyan University Press
Country Music: Selected Early Poems / Edition 2

Country Music: Selected Early Poems / Edition 2

by Charles Wright, David St. JohnCharles Wright
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Co-winner of the 1983 National Book Award for Poetry, Country Music is comprised of eighty-eight poems selected from Charles Wright's first four books published between 1970 and 1977. From his first book, The Grave of the Right Hand, to the extraordinary China Trace, this selection of early works represents "Charles Wright's grand passions: his desire to reclaim and redeem a personal past, to make a reckoning with his present, and to conjure the terms by which we might face the future," writes David St. John in the forward. These poems, powerful and moving in their own right, lend richness and insight to Wright's recently collected later works. "In Country Music we see the same explosive imagery, the same dismantled and concentric (or parallel) narratives, the same resolutely spiritual concerns that have become so familiar to us in Wright's more recent poetry," writes St. John.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819512017
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 12/01/1991
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Pages: 182
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

CHARLES WRIGHT was born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, and grew up in rural Tennessee and North Carolina. In addition to the four volumes selected from here, he published four volumes in the 1980s, which have been collected in The World of Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990. He is currently Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Read an Excerpt




Over Govino Bay, looking up from the water's edge, the landscape resembles nothing so much as the hills above Genova, valleying into the sea, washing down olive, cypress and excessive arbutus into the slow snapping of the plane trees where I, surrendering to the pulse beat of a silence so faint that it seems to come from another country, watch the sun rise over Albania, waiting — calmly, unquestioning — for Saint Spiridion of Holy Memory to arise, leave his silver casket and emerge, wearing the embroidered slippers, from his grove of miracles above the hill.


The Poet Grows Older

It seemed, at the time, so indifferent an age that I recall nothing of it except an infinite tedium to be endured. I envied no one, nor dreamed of anything in particular as, unwillingly, I enveloped myself in all of the various disguises of a decent childhood. Nothing now comes to mind of ever embarking upon famous voyages to the usual continents; of making, from the dark rooms and empty houses of my imagination, brilliant escapes from unnatural enemies; or, on rainy winter afternoons in an attic, of inventing one plot or counterplot against a prince or a beast. ... Instead, it must have been otherwise.

I try to remember, nevertheless, something of all that time and place, sitting alone here in a room in the middle of spring, hearing the sound of a rain which has fallen for most of April, concerned with such different things, things done bv others. ... I read of the aimless coups in the old dynasties from Africa to Afghanistan, their new republics whose lists of war lords alone are enough to distress the Arvan tongue; of intricate rockets in search of a planet, soon, perhaps to land in a country somewhere outside the pedestrian reach of reason; of the latest, old sailor's account of a water dragon seen bathing off the grizzled coast of Scotland. ... It is at times such as this, and without thinking, really, clothed in my goat's-wool robes, that I steal a camel from an outlying Arabian stable, gather together my clansmen, and gallop for days along the miraculous caravan trails to Asia.

The Voyage

At first I was overly cautious, procedure being all-important. I gathered around me those I considered friends, discovering, with a certain shock, a mere handful — nothing else, however, was lacking, as I had for months assembled equipage, and such rudiments as maps of cities, tidal charts, coastal readings, cryptic dictionaries, and guides to unusual monuments. Only, in assuring readiness, I had planned too well. ... As it was, this much should have been warning.

For days on end we waited, close by the north-east docks, admiring the stubborn tugs at work, studying the sea lanes. Such depths of perfect skies over the gaudy ships, outward-bound through the gay whistles of sea birds! ... And at night the glide and swish of well-oiled engines, the long calls of the horns. ... The weeks lengthened, our patience thickening. Then something altered, if imperceptibly at first: perhaps some quirk of the weather, perhaps of the sea. A little later and it was unmistakable: things tended to incline together, fogging distinctions, ships became less common, and schedules grew erratic; destinations became unsure in my head; the nights were longer, and with them there was the uncontrollable desire for sleep, up till then only vaguely recalled. Eventually, even, some of my friends, sharers of the voyage, vanished....

It is so difficult to come back, perspectives blunted, and to have only the waiting, now in the shuttered light, in the clutter of objects here in this drafty attic, until all is in readiness once more. Soon, perhaps, we shall go back down. But then, what stingy cargo to reload, what slackened baggage, O my stunted puppets!


The weeds have thickened among the orchards and leaves dangle unnoticed under the archways. At nighttime, before, where torchlight once peeled the darkness back from the lawn mosaics, from the formal gardens, where, it has been rumored, the parties attained such a perfection that Bacchus himself, angered at certain contests staged in his name, peered in one twilight, then ordered his image stricken from the household, his paeans discontinued, all is unshingled by the moon. Occasional chords from a ghostly lute, it is true, will sometimes come down the same Alpine wind that continues to herd the small waters into the shore; or a strayed traveller, or some misguided pilgrim might, of a summer evening, if he stands quite still and says nothing, imagine he hears the slight off-rhythm of some hexameter line deep in the olive grove, as the slither of night birds moves toward the darker trees. But that is all.

Grotte di Catullo, Sirmione


And when, that night, the unseasonable rain (the hail a shredding sound in the lemon trees) thudded against the lumbering of the bay, in August, haunting the dark with a querulous whiteness, he retired to the basement room under the house to study the various aspects of water, the ships in sudden counterpoint on the rising scales of the sea, and to wait for the breakthrough, across the barren hills of his brain, of the bronze soldiers, for the swelling flash of their knives.




Homage to Ezra Pound

  Past San Sebastiano, past
  The Ogni Santi and San Trovaso, down
  The Zattere and left
  Across the tiered bridge to where
  — Off to the right, half-hidden —
  The Old Dogana burns in the spring sun:
  This is how you arrive.

This is the street where Pound lives,
  A cul-de-sac
  Of rheumy corners and cracked stone,
  At whose approach the waters
  Assemble, the gulls cry out;
  In here — unspeaking, unturned — he waits,
  Sifting the cold affections of the blood.

* * *

Others have led the way,
  Vanishing in their sleep, their beds
  Unmade, the sheets still damp
  From what has set them apart —
  Cancer or bad lungs, the wrack
  Of advancing age, the dull
  Incense of suicide ...

And he has survived,
  Or refused to follow, and now
  Walks in the slow strobe of the sunlight,
  Or sits in his muffled rooms,
  Wondering where it went bad,
  And leans to the signal, the low
  Rustle of wings, the splash of an oar.

* * *

Today is one of those days
  One swears is a prophesy:
  The air explicit and moist,
  As though filled with unanswered prayers;
  The twilight, starting to slide
  Its sooty fingers along the trees;
  And you, Pound,

Awash in the wrong life,
  Cut loose upon the lagoon (the wind
  Off-shore, and gaining), the tide going out ...
  Here is your caul and caustic,
  Here is your garment,
  Cold-blooded father of light —
  Rise and be whole again.


Homage to Arthur Rimbaud

Laying our eggs like moths
  In the cold cracks of your eyes,
  Brushing your hands with our dark wings
  — Desperate to attempt
  An entrance, to touch that light
  Which buoys you like a flame,
  That it might warm our own lives —,

We cluster about your death
  As though it were reachable.

For almost a hundred years
  We've gathered outside your legend (and been afraid
  Of what such brilliance affords;

And knew the while you were risen, your flight
  Pneumatic and pure, invisible as a fever;
  And knew the flight was forever,
  Leaving us what we deserve:

Syllables, flowers, black ice;
  The exit, the split cocoon ...


Homage to Baron Corvo

Of all the poses, of all the roles,
This is the one I keep: you pass On the canal, your pope's robes Aflame in a secret light, the four Oars of your gondola white As moth wings in the broken dark,
The quail-eyed fisher-boys Sliding the craft like a coffin out to sea;
The air grows hard; the boat's wake Settles behind you like a wasted breath.

* * *

(For months, Corvo, you floated through my sleep As I tried to track you down:
That winter you lived in a doorway;
The days and nights on these back canals You spent in a musty blanket,
Your boat both bed and refuge —
And writing always The book, the indescribable letters ...
Was it the vengeance only That kept you alive, the ripe corkscrew Twisted and deep in the bottle's throat?

One afternoon — in the late spring — I went
  To San Michele, to see
  The sealed drawer that holds your name,
  To take you flowers, as one
  Is moved to do for the dead, and found
  Not even a vase to put them in.
  Leaving, I spread them on the lagoon,
  Ungraftable shoots of blood. There is, you said,
  A collusion of things in this world ...)

* * *

And so you escape. What books there are,
  Old hustler, will never exhume you,
  Nor places you stayed.
  Hadrian, Nicholas Crabbe, you hide
  Where the dust hides now,
  Your con with its last trick turned,
  Stone nightmare come round again —
  Fadeout: your boat, Baron, edges
  Toward the horizon, a sky where toads,
  Their eyes new fire,
  Alone at the landings blink and blink.


Homage to X

  The red earth, the light diffuse
  In the flat-leaved limbs of the trees;
  A cold, perpetual rain
  As though from a heaving breast;
  O loved ones, O angels ...

* * *

The thing, as always, begins
  In transit, the water infusion
  Oily and phosphorescent —
  The vine is a blue light,
  The cup is a star.

* * *

In the dream you will see a city,
  Foreign and repetitious,
  The plants unspeakably green;
  That is of no concern; your job
  Is the dust, the belly-relinquishing dust.

* * *

It's the day before yesterday,
  It's the other side of the sky:
  The body that bears your number
  Will not be new, will not be your
  own And will not remember your name.

Prague / Prague-Strashnitz

The New Poem

  It will not resemble the sea.
  It will not have dirt on its thick hands.
  It will not be part of the weather.

It will not reveal its name.
  It will not have dreams you can count on.
  It will not be photogenic.

It will not attend our sorrow.
  It will not console our children.
  It will not be able to help us.

Portrait of the Poet in Abraham von Werdf's Dream

  Outside, the Venice skyline, and stars
  Half-seen through an opened window;
  Inside, it's the Renaissance,
  The men in hose,
  The furnishings elegant, but spare;
  A griffin rears in the archway;
  An eagle dives from the ceiling;
  And over the far wall — like Dürer's —
  Two cherubs support the three
  Disordered initials of my signature.

Paper is stacked in neat piles, as I
  First drew them; square blocks of type, their beds
  Tilted and raised, their letters reversed,
  Glisten among the shadows;
  Two men in the foreground work
  A press, inking and setting; a third
  Is washing his hands, kneeling
  In front of a tub; a fourth, his right arm
  Extended, adjusts the unused type;
  A fifth is correcting proof.

Alone in an alcove, a sixth man, unnoticed
  And unfamiliar, his strange clothes
  Centuries out of date, is writing, his back turned
  To what I tried to record.
  The lines, a spidery darkness, move
  Across the page. Now
  He looks this way. And now he rises
  — XYZ, his mouth says, XYZ —,
  Thrusting the paper into my hands.
  These words are the words he has written.


  Why not? The mouths of the ginger blooms slide open,
  The willows drag their knuckles across the earth;
  Each year has its fields that no one tends.

Our days, unlike the long gasps of the wind,
  Stay half in love with the rushes, and half with the water reeds.
  Outside the body, all things are encumbrances.

One Two Three

  A shift in the wind the darkness
  Beading about your eyelids
  The sour pull of the blood
  Everything works against you
  The way the evening comes down
  Its trellises one rose at a time
  The watery knots of light
  That lap at your memory
  The way you thought of your life once
  An endless falling of seeds

* * *

Already places exist
  Which cannot reshelter you
  Hands you have clasped for the last time
  Familiar mirrors remain
  That will not contain your face
  Words you have uttered
  That will not remember your tongue
  The sofas that held your sleep
  Gradually rise to assume
  Their untouched shapes and their dreams

* * *

The wave will deliver you
  Your arms thrown out like driftwood the shore
  Eroding away at your touch
  Your fingers ingrained in its loose skin
  The idea of absence
  Sprouting like grass from your side
  Your autobiography
  Completed no less than what
  Always you claimed it would be the stone
  That no one will roll away


Carafe, compotier, sea shell, vase:
  Blank spaces, white objects;
  Luminous knots along the black rope.

* * *

The clouds, great piles of oblivion, cruise
  Over the world, the wind at their backs
  Forever. They darken whomever they please.

* * *

The angel, his left hand on your left shoulder;
  The bones, in draped white, at the door;
  The bed-sheets, the pillow-case, your eyes.

* * *

I write your name for the last time in this mist,
  White breath on the windowpane,
  And watch it vanish. No, it stays there.

* * *

White, and the leaf clicks; dry rock;
  White, and the wave spills.
  Dogwood, the stripe, headlights, teeth.


Omnia quae sunt, lumina sunt


  The sugar dripping into your vein;
  The jaundice rising upon your face like a blush;
  The glass box they keep you in —

The bandage over your eyes;
  The curdled milk on your lips;
  The plastic tube in your throat —

The unseen hands that linger against your skin;
  The name, like a new scar, at your wrist;
  The glass box they keep you in —

We bring what we have to bring;
  We give what we have to give;
  Welcome, sweet Luke, to your life.


  The bougainvillaea's redress
  Pulses throughout the hillside, its slow
  Network of vines

Holding the earth together, giving it breath;
  Outside your window, hibiscus and columbine
  Tend to their various needs;

The summer enlarges.
  You, too, enlarge,
  Becoming accessible,
  Your liquid reshufflings

Protracted and ill defined,
  Yet absolute after all, the new skin
  Blossoming pink and clear.


  You lie here beside me now,
  Ineffable, elsewhere still.
  What should one say to a son?

Emotions and points of view, the large
  Abstractions we like to think
  We live by — or would live by if things

Were other than what they are;
  Or we were; or others were;
  If all were altered and more distinct?

Or something immediate,
  Descriptive, the virtuous use of words?
  What can one say to a son?


If it were possible, if
  A way had been overlooked
  To pull that rib of pure light

Out of its cage, those few felicitous vowels
  Which expiate everything ...
  But nothing has been left out,

Nothing been overlooked.
  The words remain in the dark, and will
  Continue to glitter there;

No tricks we try to invent,
  No strategies, can now extract them.
  And dust is dust for a long time.


  What I am trying to say
  Is this — I tell you, only, the thing
  That I have come to believe:

Indenture yourself to the land;
  Imagine you touch its raw edges
  In all weather, time and again;

Imagine its colors; try
  to imitate, day by day,
  The morning's growth and the dusk,

The movement of all their creatures;
  Surrender yourself, and be glad;
  This is the law that endures.


  The foothills of Tennessee,
  The mountains of North Carolina,
  Their rivers and villages
  — Hiwassee and Cherokee,
  The Cumberland, Pisgah and Nantahala,
  Unaka and Unicoi —

Brindle and sing in your blood;
  Their sounds are the sounds you hear,
  Their shapes are the shapes you see

Regardless, whenever you concentrate
  Upon the remembered earth
  — All things that are are lights.

Slides of Verona

1. Here where Catullus sat like snow Over the Adige the blooms drift West on the west-drifting wind

2. Cangrande mellifluous ghost sails His stone boat above the yard

3. St George and Trebizond each Elsewhere still hold their poses still burn

4. Death with its long tongue licks Mastino's hand affection he thinks Such sweetness such loyalty

5. Here comes Whatever Will Come His shoulders hunched under lost baggage

6. Two men their necks broken hang Opposite where the hill once was And that's where the rainbow ends

7. The star of the jasmine plant Who follows you now who leads

8. The great gates like wings unfold The angel gives him a push The rosaries click like locks

9. White glove immaculate touch How cold you are how quiet


  Its hair is a fine weed,
  Matted, where something has lain,
  Or fallen repeatedly:

Its arms are rivers that sink
  Suddenly under the earth,
  Elbow and wristbone: cold sleeve:

Its face is a long soliloquy,
  A language of numerals,
  Impossible to erase.


  This is the light we dream in,
  The milk light of midnight, the full moon
  Reversing the balance like shapes on a negative:
  The chalk hills, the spectral sky,
  The black rose in flame,
  Its odors and glittery hooks
  Waiting for something to snag.

The mulberries wink like dimes;
  Fat sheep, the mesquite and chaparral
  Graze at their own sweet speed,
  The earth white sugar;
  Two miles below, and out,
  The surf has nothing to add.

  — Is this what awaits us, amorphous
  Cobalt and zinc, a wide tide
  Of brilliance we cannot define
  Or use, and leafless, without guilt;
  No guidelines or flutter, no
  Cadence to pinpoint, no no?

Silence. As though the doorway behind
  Us were liquid, were black water;
  As though we might enter; as though
  The ferry were there,
  Ready to take us across,
  — Remembering now, unwatermarked —
  The blackout like scarves in our new hair.

The Fever Toy

  The arms seem clumsy at first,
  Outsize, the eyes detached; at odd angles,
  The wrists respond to no touch;
  Rickety, flat-veined, the legs
  Push out like stems from their bulbous feet;
  The fingers repeat themselves.

What pleasure this gives, this sure
  Mating of parts, this slip and catch
  Of bone to bone, of stiff flesh
  To socket and joint, this gift
  You give yourself in advance.
  Instructions are not enclosed, and yet

How well you assemble it,
  How well you insert yourself in each
  Corner and crevice of its wrong arms:
  Its breath caresses your eyes,
  Its lips — like larvae — explore your face,
  Its lashes become your own.

And this is how it begins.
  This is the way your true name
  Returns and returns again,
  Your sorrow becoming a foreign tongue,
  Your body becoming a foreign tongue,
  Blue idiom, blue embrace.


Excerpted from "Country Music"
by .
Copyright © 1982 Charles Wright.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword: "Charles Wright's Country Music" by David St. John,
The Grave of the Right Hand,
The Poet Grows Older,
The Voyage,
Hard Freight,
Homage to Ezra Pound,
Homage to Arthur Rimbaud,
Homage to Baron Corvo,
Homage to X,
The New Poem,
Portrait of the Poet in Abraham von Werdt's Dream,
One Two Three,
Slides of Verona,
The Fever Toy,
Notes for Oscar Wilde at San Miniato,
Oscar Wilde at San Miniato,
Dog Creek Mainline,
Blackwater Mountain,
Sky Valley Rider,
Northhanger Ridge,
Clinchfield Station,
Virgo Descending,
Easter, 1974,
Cancer Rising,
Notes to Tattoos,
Hardin County,
Delta Traveller,
Notes to Skins,
Link Chain,
Bays Mountain Covenant,
Rural Route,
China Trace,
Self-Portrait in 2035,
Indian Summer,
At Zero,
Nerval's Mirror,
Edvard Munch,
California Twilight,
12 Lines at Midnight,
Dino Campana,
Invisible Landscape,
Remembering San Zeno,
Born Again,
Captain Dog,
Depression Before the Solstice,
Stone Canyon Nocturne,
Reply to Chi K'ang,
"Where Moth and Rust Doth Corrupt",
Going Home,
Cloud River,
Reply to Lapo Gianni,
Thinking of Georg Trakl,
Spider Crystal Ascension,
Moving On,
Clear Night,
Sitting at Night on the Front Porch,
Saturday 6 a.m.,

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