Stacey Harwood's important post earlier this week put me in mind of James Wright. A poet and exemplar of endurance. A sturdy fragile voice. Perhaps I'm looking for an antidote. Perhaps I'm just looking. In any event, I was reminded this morning of his "Northern Pike".
This is one to read slowly to oneself, twice-in-a-row. (It's an argument with the self, I think...). It works best on a kind of rhythmic repetition...
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can't imagine and a pain
I don't know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden's blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.
-- James Wright
Mary Oliver once wrote of those poets and other artists who commit suicide, "I forgive them/their unhappiness.../...for walking out of the world./But I don't forgive them.../for taking off their veils/and dancing for death. for hurtling/toward oblivion/on the sharp blades/of their exquisite poems, saying:/this is the way/// I was, of course, all that time/coming along/behind them, and listening/for advice. She concludes "Members of the Tribe" from her 1986 Dream Work with these lines that remind me of my own high school darkness, and how, on the day after, I'd feel so light my head and shoulders just floating up without any of the ego or striving left in me:
And the man who merely
washed Michelangelo's brushes, kneeling
on the damp bricks, staring
every day at the colors pouring out of them,
lived to be a hundred years old.
So here's a toast...To the muskrats. To the game warden's blindness. And to life. Inventive. Fragile. Liveable.