Nick Courtright’s poetry in his new volume Let There Be Light (Gold Wake Press, 2014) is serious stuff that refuses to take itself too seriously. It is all about discovering the light, lyrical and profound in that which is ordinary, and it is on the intersection of these three that Courtright focuses his keen eye. He says that the woman upstairs,
“pounding about the floor
in tune to her workout video
is this close to God. I believe that,
why not? Sillier things have caused enlightenment,
the palm of a man
on the forehead of another, the heat
of holy water upon the nape
of a neck, the father of a daughter realizing
what he cannot control…”
Courtright finds wonder in life to be sure:
“Many minutes pass,
and marvelous springtime eyes its own predictable mess
as new life trembles beneath the wind.”
But he also discovers some wonder and certainly invitation in death:
“All our lives are crossing the Alps.
It’s cold. It’s cliff face and sheer drop.
And it’s more than possible
a large cat of the wilderness, or a large dog in its pack,
will prepare your pathway for you.
It’ll invite you into its mouth, where it’s warm.
You may be tempted to go.”
There is at least reassurance in Courtright’s treatment of death and in his relentlessly personal address to the reader as if he is taking us by the elbow or maybe even the lapels.
“Half the world is lost in the canyon,
half of the market
and of the lamplight, and half the raspy voices of children
who eat stones for breakfast. Half the world is lost.
Do not be worried. It was always lost.”
In Courtright’s poems death can be sad and wistful but is seldom tragic; it is a fire we tease, poke at, dance about and maybe even warm ourselves beside before it consumes us. At its most threatening and insidious it diminishes the joy and beauty of life:
“Why? Because apples were tributes to the seasons,
carrots were tributes to the sun,
almonds were tributes to the eyes of angels,
and leaves were tributes to every leaf. But who left those apples
long past their brilliance
on this land? Who, in doing so, compromised all the world’s tributes?”
Sometimes as in The Human Experience death fails at even that:
“In just a few short minutes a lunar eclipse will reveal itself.
From a mere two hundred twenty-one
Thousand miles from earth
the missing slice of the moon almost perfect,
as if it were a perfect bite made by a perfect, godly mouth.
This bite mark may conjure
a memory of apples
which could easily
lead to Eden, and to depravity
and desire and urges and lust, and straight
back to Venus,
the romantic image of utter, absolute beauty.
But what is not absolute beauty? Let’s be serious.”
Perhaps this is because Courtright’s voice is inclusive, philosophical, wise, balanced and always has eternity in view; indeed his viewer sees everything from afar:
in the middle of a bridge
to gather her breath.
She stands there in the middle
and she can look to her left
or to her right, and she can look up and down.
But all this looking is only that, because on this bridge
the middle is where she is, and this is a very long bridge:
When it comes time to end, no worries.
When it comes time to end, no worries, no worries.
When it comes time to begin, no worries.
When it comes time to begin, no worries, no worries, no worries.”
In Courtright’s poem Lost on Planet Earth, all of these things come together in a traffic jam of life, endless streams of the coming and the going barely avoiding collision, destination intuitively if indefinitely understood, equilibrium careful if casual. It is all a matter of faith.
“When we go missing, we can blame
the search team, the rescue squad, the fleet of helicopters
competing with the calls of wild birds.
We can blame the earthworms
moving the land beneath us, the day
both too long and not long enough,
and the fact that, in these new bodies, we have
only so much time.
We can fault the immensity of the galaxy, the smallness of the
of the human soul,
which have their way with the light of the sun
as it is brought across the backs of whales, or harpooned
across the face
of the empty moon, deep
in the black soup of night.
When we go missing, we can heave our blame
Into the wind
of our grandparents’ grief and love
the unspeakable desire
of the first two cells
who came together
in the petri dish of an early ocean.
We could even blame America, the outspoken, the rich.
Or we could take credit
for our missing,
for how we wandered from where we were born
that the maps we chose were outdated, all the roads long gone
or curiously mismarked,
that each stop we took into the plain, or into the plan
was in fact into the forest,
where what was watching us
was watching itself.
And maybe, when we are finally found
our finders too will have become lost,
and will have discovered not only us, but themselves.”
Nick Courtright is a native of Ohio who teaches at Concordia University in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two sons. His first volume, Punchline, also published by Gold Wake Press, was a National Poetry Series finalist in 2012. His verse has appeared in The Southern Review, The Boston Review and The Kenyon Review Online. The chapbook Elegy for a Builder’s Wife was published by Blue Hour Press.