David Wagoner is one of our greatest poets. His poems feel to me a Grand Canyon of the art–poem after poem carving beauty of bedrock material, and the body of work as a whole indelible, awe-inspiring, lasting, while at the same time each poem lives utterly intimate, particular, and individual in my heart. There is no one like him, and I treasure his presence and gift to us all.
Thoreau in the Rain
He liked bad weather best. He would keep walking when others hurried home, then he would be the only one on a road or a pathway or trespassing through an orchard, lifting his boots and putting them down among the windfall apples.
Rain beat on his cape. He felt it urging him to deepen like a bush or a wildflower, to change his shape, to smooth away his crotchets and quirks, and as he walked through cloudbursts or almost balmy feathers of mist when the wind would sigh and sweep its long curtains and scarves and pleated skirts and antimacassars and tassels across his home away from home, he would sit content, absorbed, on his favorite furniture, all morning long, on a stump like a toadstool.
A Footnote for Isaiah 40:3
The other kinds of voices that cry in the wilderness were much too numerous for Isaiah to mention then, concerned, as he must have been, with the coming of his Lord.
The desert had heard it all before: the cracked lips croaking Help! or For Godsake, Water! or maybe forecasting disasters or Doom! again.
But for those lost in the woods (which is also a wilderness) a shout is a warning meaning Here I am. Stay away. And even singing or talking announces personal space and a claim of territory, and whistling, squealing, and crying are dangerous strange attractors that call all predators to come to the chaos now, to join in the consumption and quick reorganization of a living organism, namely what used to be you.
After Take Off
I’m up. I didn’t flounder, skid sloppily to a stop, or hesitate just a little too long down there on the level in the earthbound company of trees and been snagged there with the rest of the poor groundlings, hung up for good. But here I am, up, and have been for a respectable while, with a privileged look at what it was like to be down there, a barely visible speck of living matter among vegetable and mineral matters of fact, and now I have to go back down, like it or not, because everybody else who’s tried to stay up here hasn’t. They’ve all found out that staying above it all is just as improbable as being above themselves, and I know if I lessen my impulse forward, fall short of keeping the distance between me and Earth, I’ll make an end to this flighty behavior, and if I insist on trying to flap and flap a little higher till nothing occurs to me by choice, till nothing remains except for a last quick chance to memorize the sky, I’ll go plummeting down, not having learned or changed enough in the breathless, giddy meanwhile to justify having been lighter than air.
I bring them from the mountains, from the sea, from the edge of streams and look at them, heft them, hold them hard while they keep holding themselves harder. Is it because they haven’t had to change their surfaces in our time though, in theirs, they’ve suffered the blunt demands of ice and water and wind and god knows fire, been cracked and frozen, thawed, made molten again and again have started over grinding and being ground from monument to boulder, to rock, to river stone, to gravel, to pebbles, to sand, to slurries of grit, to dust?
David Wagoner has published 20 books of poems, most recently After the Point of No Return(Copper Canyon Press, 2012). He has also published ten novels, one of which, The Escape Artist, was made into a movie by Francis Ford Coppola. He won the Lilly Prize in 1991, six yearly prizes from Poetry, two yearly prizes from Prairie Schooner, and the Arthur Rense Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2011. In 2007, his play First Classwas given 43 performances at A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for 23 years. He edited Poetry Northwest from 1966 to 2002, and he is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington. He teaches at the low-residency MFA program of the Whidbey Island Writers Workshop.