Here the ghosts walk on past. At the last turn in the paths small creatures have carved, where locust thorns snatch our sleeves, low-coiled briars burn in reddening light. Something else stands between us and where we are headed— more than these nettles in bent grass, more than the cold air that strains the breastbone and teeth. A few more steps and we might know what lies behind the cracked door on perception’s edge, the light within it the color of sweet backwater, the kind that wants to be snowmelt, so blue it hurts to witness, to taste. So let’s walk through these slender asters, bind the gap between silence and syntax. Let’s watch the contexts of silences as they turn like embryos in the many wombs of air, wheeling in orchard sheds and the ossuaries of distant pines. Let’s take these soft stones and feel them to know their mother, the glacier that birthed this pasture, nurturer of knapweed and loosestrife, thorn moths and cornflower until the ghosts come back. If we move on, they will lift their liquid heads like strange birds and open their throats, utter everything that is grass and tooth, door and bloom, answer what we have yet to ask, their voices pulsing through the bright seeds of their mysterious hearts.
Elegy for the Man in My Periphery
He’s the one of tin roofs and swift storms, the one who upended the night to watch the moon drown. He’s the one who worshiped blight and the battered dark, who savored fall dusks that skinned trees alive with that quick, failing light. Now that he is gone, I may come to love him, his name being my own, even as I always missed him edge the rain-pits and marsh hummocks, even as he shirked plain sight to study the toothache tree’s leaflets, the green-yellow glow of its blossoms. One day I may come to understand his refusal to love me back, that lack like a nick in the soft flesh between the thumb and forefinger. And if there is one thing I want to understand, it’s why he hitchhiked across ten counties, hopped trains and leaned into the fire of stars to shroud himself in the smells of sawmills and rusted coulters; to murmur the name of someone I loved just as I would walk away. If he’s really gone, why do the shallons and shagbark hickories burn with their understory? Why do I see him now, stalking apple and walnut groves, where he stops to witness the larvae of coddling moths writhe through every fruit?
Mother of this valley, the moss and fern wilt in drought; the sun wrests water to trickling shadow.
The mountain kneels. The seep creaks stone with benzodiazepine, a stranded trout with phosphine
sediment. Down a mile, the silt slags with runoff from a meth house where water falls harder
from an incoming rivulet to create broken confluence, suds that shake dark with rust.
Mother of this valley, the wind mists the air creatureless, the wind winds chains
around the throats of the saw-whet owls. After rain, the stone reeks: nail polish
and the insoluble unction of rust.
William Wright is the author of five collections of poetry, including Tree Heresies (Mercer University Press, 2015) and Night Field Anecdote (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011) and four chapbooks. Wright is also the editor of eleven volumes, including The Southern Poetry Anthology, an ongoing, multi-volume series celebrating poetry of the American South. He has recently published in The Kenyon Review, Oxford American, The Antioch Review, and Southern Poetry Review. Currently Writer-in-Residence at the University of Tennessee, Wright is married to the writer Michelle Wright.