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So wrote Franz Wright in “Nocturne,” from his 1982 collection, The One Whose Eyes Open When You Close Your Eyes, published when he was in his late twenties. In this dazzling collection of Wright’s first four books, we go back to his origins and meet a much younger poet, pained and prescient: he is the boy secretly sipping from his father’s bourbon and sealing his fate; he is the “Boy Leaving Home,” who is happy to find “the little Olivetti / like a miniature suitcase / placed beside him on the frozen ground.” We also get a rare glimpse of the poet in love as a young man, as he begins to grapple with the inevitably fleeting aspect of anything that is beautiful, and to examine where it goes. In Wright’s case, that doomed beauty is masterfully transformed into poetry.
Earlier Poems is a rich study in one poet’s development—not simply Wright’s journey from dark to light, but a revelation of the ways in which the darkness contained glimmers of what was to come. Even in the midst of desolation he wrote ravishing, hopeful poems that point to the generous, often joyful sensibility of the mature poet we know today, and the strong sense of vocation that has made his work so powerful through the years.
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Franz Wright’s most recent works include God’s Silence, Walking to Martha’s Vineyard (which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry), The Beforelife (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Ill Lit: Selected & New Poems. He has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Fellowship, and the PEN/Voelcker Prize, among other honors. He currently lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife, the translator and writer Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Poem with No Speaker
Are you looking
for me? Ask that crow
across the green wheat.
See those minute air bubbles
rising to the surface
at the still creek's edge—
talk to the crawdad.
of the skinny mosquito
on your wall
stinging its shadow,
the hair on your neck.
When the hearts in the cocoon
start to beat,
and the spider begins
its hidden task,
and the seed sends its initial
pale hairlike root to drink,
you'll have to get down on all fours
to learn my new address:
you'll have to place your skull
besides this silence
no one hears.
Entry in an Unknown Hand
And still nothing happens. I am not arrested.
By some inexplicable oversight
nobody jeers when I walk down the street.
I have been allowed to go on living in this
room. I am not asked to explain my presence
What posthypnotic suggestions were made; and
are any left unexecuted?
Why am I so distressed at the thought of taking
They are absolutely shameless at the bank—
you'd think my name meant nothing to them. Non-
chalantly they hand me the sum I've requested,
but I know them. It's like this everywhere—
they think they are going to surprise me: I,
who do nothing but wait,
Once I answered the phone, and the caller hung up—
They think they can scare me.
I am always scared.
And how much courage it requires to get up in the
morning and dress yourself. Nobody congratulates
At no point in the day may I fall to my knees and
refuse to go on, it's not done.
I go on
dodging cars that jump the curb to crush my hip,
accompanied by abrupt bursts of black-and-white
laughter and applause,
past a million unlighted windows, peered out at
by the retired and their aged attack dogs—
toward my place,
the one at the end of the counter,
the scalpel on the napkin.
I took a long walk
that night in the rain.
It was fine.
Bareheaded, shirt open: in love
nobody gives a shit about the rain.
I suddenly realized that I would hitchhike
the 60 or so miles into Kent—
it was so late
I could make it by dawn,
and see the leaf-light in late April
called your eyes. The evil
we would do
had not yet come. No one but me
knows what you were at that time, with
a loveliness to make men cry
out, haunting beyond beauty.
We had what everyone is dying
for lack of, and let it
finally just slip away.
I will never understand this.
I was at the time a relatively intelligent
at what my life would be—that what I longed for most
would be exactly what I'd get
at the price, sooner or later, little by little,
of everything else,
every last fucking thing.
Yet that morning exists, it must,
it happened. And the years we had—
those almost endless summer afternoons and nights,
a solitary hawk sleeping on the wind, your
incandescent whiteness emerging from the water
in the moon, or snow
beginning, horizontally, to fall as you fall
asleep with your head on my shoulder while I drive...
where are they? They exist, the way the world will
when I'm dead. I won't be there
but another nineteen-year-old idiot will be
and to him I say: Don't do it!
But he will—blinded, spellbound, destroyed
by the search for something
he can never see or touch,
when all the while he holds it in his arms.
It's one of those evenings
we all know
from somewhere. It might be
the last summery day—
you feel called on to leave what you're doing
and go for a walk by yourself.
Your few vacant streetes are the world.
And you might be a six-year-old child
who's finally been allowed
by his elders to enter a game
of hide-and-seek in progress.
It's getting darker fast,
and he's not supposed to be out;
but he gleefully runs off, concealing himself
with his back to a tree
that sways high overhead
among the first couple of stars.
He keeps dead still, barely breathing for pleasure
long after they all have left.
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