C. D. Wright, 1949–2016

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The following article appeared on January 14th 2016, in The Paris Review and was written by by .

“The poet C. D. Wright died unexpectedly this week at the age of sixty-seven, in Providence, Rhode Island. “It is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free,” Wright once said, “and declare them so”; poetry was “the one arena where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine.” Over the course of more than a dozen books, she “found a way,” as The New Yorker put it, “to wed fragments of an iconic America to a luminously strange idiom, eerie as a tin whistle.”

Wright’s poem “Our Dust,” which might double as a kind of eulogy—“I made / simple music / out of sticks and string … I / agreed to be the poet of one life, / one death alone”—appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Paris Review, and is reprinted in full below. It was later collected in her book Steal Away. You can watch her read it aloud here.

Our Dust

I am your ancestor. You know next-to-nothing
about me.
There is no reason for you to imagine
the rooms I occupied or my heavy hair.
Not the faint vinegar smell of me. Or
the rubbed damp
of Forrest and I coupling on the landing
en route to our detached day.

You didn’t know my weariness, error, incapacity,
I was the poet
of shadow work and towns with quarter-inch
phone books, of failed
roadside zoos. The poet of yard eggs and
sharpening shops,
jobs at the weapons plant and the Maybelline
factory on the penitentiary road.

A poet of spiderwort and jacks-in-the-pulpit,
hollyhocks against the tool shed.
An unsmiling dark blond.
The one with the trowel in her handbag.
I dug up protected and private things.
That sort, I was.
My graves went undecorated and my churches
abandoned. This wasn’t planned, but practice.

I was the poet of short-tailed cats and yellow
line paint.
Of satellite dishes and Peterbilt trucks. Red Man
Chewing Tobacco, Black Cat Fireworks, Triple Hut
Creme Soda. Also of dirt dobbers, nightcrawlers,
martin houses, honey, and whetstones
from the Novaculite Uplift. What remained
of The Uplift.

I had registered dogs 4 sale; rocks, dung,
and straw.
I was a poet of hummingbird hives along with
redhead stepbrothers.

The poet of good walking shoes—a necessity
in vernacular parts—and push mowers.
The rumor that I was once seen sleeping
in a refrigerator box is false (he was a brother
who hated me).
Nor was I the one lunching at the Governor’s
mansion.

I didn’t work off a grid. Or prime the surface
if I could get off without it. I made
simple music
out of sticks and string. On side B of me,
experimental guitar, night repairs and suppers
such as this.
You could count on me to make a bad situation
worse like putting liquid make-up over
a passion mark.

I never raised your rent. Or anyone else’s by God.
Never said I loved you. The future gave me chills.
I used the medium to say: Arise arise and
come together.
Free your children. Come on everybody. Let’s start
with Baltimore.

Believe me I am not being modest when I
admit my life doesn’t bear repeating. I
agreed to be the poet of one life,
one death alone. I have seen myself
in the black car. I have seen the retreat
of the black car.

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Wednesday Poem: I Worried ~ Mary Oliver

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I Worried

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning
and sang.

Mary Oliver

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Wednesday Poem: The Nightmare Before Christmas Original Poem~ Tim Burton

It was late one fall in Halloweenland,
and the air had quite a chill.
Against the moon a skeleton sat,
alone upon a hill.
He was tall and thin with a bat bow tie;
Jack Skellington was his name.
He was tired and bored in Halloweenland

“I’m sick of the scaring, the terror, the fright.
I’m tired of being something that goes bump in the night.
I’m bored with leering my horrible glances,
And my feet hurt from dancing those skeleton dances.
I don’t like graveyards, and I need something new.
There must be more to life than just yelling,
‘Boo!’”

Then out from a grave, with a curl and a twist,
Came a whimpering, whining, spectral mist.
It was a little ghost dog, with a faint little bark,
And a jack-o’-lantern nose that glowed in the dark.
It was Jack’s dog, Zero, the best friend he had,
But Jack hardly noticed, which made Zero sad.

All that night and through the next day,
Jack wandered and walked.
He was filled with dismay.
Then deep in the forest, just before night,
Jack came upon an amazing sight.
Not twenty feet from the spot where he stood
Were three massive doorways carved in wood.
He stood before them, completely in awe,
His gaze transfixed by one special door.
Entranced and excited, with a slight sense of worry,
Jack opened the door to a white, windy flurry.

Jack didn’t know it, but he’d fallen down
In the middle of a place called Christmas Town!
Immersed in the light, Jack was no longer haunted.
He had finally found the feeling he wanted.
And so that his friends wouldn’t think him a liar,
He took the present filled stockings that hung by the fire.
He took candy and toys that were stacked on the shelves
And a picture of Santa with all of his elves.
He took lights and ornaments and the star from the tree,
And from the Christmas Town sign, he took the big letter C.

He picked up everything that sparkled or glowed.
He even picked up a handful of snow.
He grabbed it all, and without being seen,
He took it all back to Halloween.

Back in Halloween a group of Jack’s peers
Stared in amazement at his Christmas souvenires.
For this wondrous vision none were prepared.
Most were excited, though a few were quite scared!

For the next few days, while it lightninged and thundered,
Jack sat alone and obsessively wondered.
“Why is it they get to spread laughter and cheer
While we stalk the graveyards, spreading panic and fear?
Well, I could be Santa, and I could spread cheer!
Why does he get to do it year after year?”
Outraged by injustice, Jack thought and he thought.
Then he got an idea. “Yes. . .yes. . .why not!”

In Christmas Town, Santa was making some toys
When through the din he heard a soft noise.
He answered the door, and to his surprise,
He saw weird little creatures in strange disguise.
They were altogether ugly and rather petite.
As they opened their sacks, they yelled, “Trick or treat!”
Then a confused Santa was shoved into a sack
And taken to Halloween to see mastermind Jack.

In Halloween everyone gathered once more,
For they’d never seen a Santa before
And as they cautiously gazed at this strange old man,
Jack related to Santa his masterful plan:
“My dear Mr. Claus, I think it’s a crime
That you’ve got to be Santa all of the time!
But now I will give presents, and I will spread cheer.
We’re changing places I’m Santa this year.
It is I who will say Merry Christmas to you!
So you may lie in my coffin, creak doors, and yell, ‘Boo!’
And please, Mr. Claus, don’t think ill of my plan.
For I’ll do the best Santa job that I can.”

And though Jack and his friends thought they’d do a good job,
Their idea of Christmas was still quite macabre.
They were packed up and ready on Christmas Eve day
When Jack hitched his reindeer to his sleek coffin sleigh,
But on Christmas Eve as they were about to begin,
A Halloween fog slowly rolled in.
Jack said, “We can’t leave; this fog’s just too thick.
There will be no Christmas, and I can’t be St. Nick.”
Then a small glowing light pierced through the fog.
What could it be?. . .It was Zero, Jack’s dog!

Jack said, “Zero, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

And to be so needed was Zero’s great dream,
So he joyously flew to the head of the team.
And as the skeletal sleigh started its ghostly flight,
Jack cackled, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas, and all though the house,
Not a creature was peaceful, not even a mouse.
The stockings all hung by the chimney with care,
When opened that morning would cause quite a scare!
The children, all nestled so snug in their beds,
Would have nightmares of monsters and skeleton heads.
The moon that hung over the new-fallen snow
Cast an eerie pall over the city below,
And Santa Claus’s laughter now sounded like groans,
And the jingling bells like chattering bones.
And what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a coffin sleigh with skeleton deer.
And a skeletal driver so ugly and sick
They knew in a moment, this can’t be St. Nick!
From house to house, with a true sense of joy,
Jack happily issued each present and toy.
From rooftop to rooftop he jumped and he skipped,
Leaving presents that seemed to be straight from a crypt!
Unaware that the world was in panic and fear,
Jack merrily spread his own brand of cheer.

He visited the house of Susie and Dave;
They got a Gumby and Pokey from the grave.
Then on to the home of little Jane Neeman;
She got a baby doll possessed by a demon.
A monstrous train with tentacle tracks,
A ghoulish puppet wielding an ax,
A man eating plant disguised as a wreath,
And a vampire teddy bear with very sharp teeth.

There were screams of terror, but Jack didn’t hear it,
He was much too involved with his own Christmas spirit!
Jack finally looked down from his dark, starry frights
And saw the commotion, the noise, and the light.
“Why, they’re celebrating, it looks like such fun!
They’re thanking me for the good job that I’ve done.”
But what he thought were fireworks meant as goodwill
Were bullets and missiles intended to kill.
Then amidst the barrage of artillery fire,
Jack urged Zero to go higher and higher.
And away they all flew like the storm of a thistle,
Until they were hit by a well guided missile.
And as they fell on the cemetery, way out of sight,
Was heard, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good
night.”

Jack pulled himself up on a large stone cross,
And from there he reviewed his incredible loss.
“I thought I could be Santa, I had such belief”
Jack was confused and filled with great grief.
Not knowing where to turn, he looked toward the sky,
Then he slumped on the grave and he started to cry.
And as Zero and Jack lay crumpled on the ground,
They suddenly heard a familiar sound.

“My dear Jack,” said Santa, “I applaud your intent.
I know wreaking such havoc was not what you meant.
And so you are sad and feeling quite blue,
But taking over Christmas was the wrong thing to do.
I hope you realize Halloween’s the right place for you.
There’s a lot more, Jack, that I’d like to say,
But now I must hurry, for it’s almost Christmas day.”
Then he jumped in his sleigh, and with a wink of an eye,
He said, “Merry Christmas,” and he bid them good bye.

Back home, Jack was sad, but then, like a dream,
Santa brought Christmas to the land of Halloween.

 

the end

Poem copyright Tim Burton

Wednesday Poem: Saying Goodbye ~ Ralph Burns and Jeff Moss

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Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye’s such a hard thing to say
Touching our hands, wondering why
It’s time for saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we’ve had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It’s time for saying goodbye.

Don’t want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it’s better to go
Somehow I know, we’ll meet again
Not sure quite where and I don’t know just when

You’re in my heart, so until then
It’s time for saying goodbye.

Ralph Burns and Jeff Moss

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Wednesday Poem: Lavender’s Blue ~ Traditional, England circa 1680

lavender

Lavender’s Blue

“Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green,
When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.
Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?
‘Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.

Call up your men, dilly, dilly, set them to work
Some with a rake, dilly, dilly, some with a fork.
Some to make hay, dilly, dilly, some to thresh corn.
While you and I, dilly, dilly, keep ourselves warm.

Lavender’s green, dilly, dilly, Lavender’s blue,
If you love me, dilly, dilly, I will love you.
Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, And the lambs play;
We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm’s way.

I love to dance, dilly, dilly, I love to sing;
When I am queen, dilly, dilly, You’ll be my king.
Who told me so, dilly, dilly, Who told me so?
I told myself, dilly, dilly, I told me so.”

Traditional

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Wednesday Poem: ‘Autumn’ ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Autumn

‘Autumn’

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,

as if orchards were dying high in space.

Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling

away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Wednesday Poem: August Moonrise ~ Sara Teasdale

august moonrise

August Moonrise

THE sun was gone, and the moon was coming
Over the blue Connecticut hills;
The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
And over my head the swallows rushed
This way and that, with changeful wills.
I heard them twitter and watched them dart
Now together and now apart
Like dark petals blown from a tree;
The maples stamped against the west
Were black and stately and full of rest,
And the hazy orange moon grew up
And slowly changed to yellow gold
While the hills were darkened, fold on fold
To a deeper blue than a flower could hold.
Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.
O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,
And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;
If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.
Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.

Sara Teasdale

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