Poem of the Week, “Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat”

Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat
by Charles Wright

East of town, the countryside unwrinkles and smooths out

Unctuously toward the tidewater and gruff Atlantic.

A love of landscape’s a true affection for regret, I’ve found,

Forever joined, forever apart,

outside us yet ourselves.

.

Renunciation, it’s hard to learn, is now our ecstasy.

However, if God were still around

he’d swallow our sighs in his nothingness.

.

The dregs of the absolute are slow sift in my blood,

Dead branches down after high winds, dead yard grass and

undergrowth—

The sure accumulation of all that’s not revealed

Rises like snow in my bare places,

cross-whipped and openmouthed.

.

Our lives can’t be lived in flames.

Our lives can’t be lit like saints’ hearts,

seared between heaven and earth.

.

February, old head-turner, cut us some slack, grind of bone

On bone, such melancholy music.

Lift up that far corner of landscape,

there, toward the west.

Let some deep light in, the arterial kind.

Sorry for the wonky formatting, but where the lines are actually matters (as in, some lines are intended to not be flush left), so I thought I would try to preserve that in this e-text version of Wright’s poem. However, that means that it HAS to be double spaced for indentation to work on wordpress (counting each line as a separate paragraph), which pretty much distresses me. Imagine it single spaced!! There are periods on the lines between stanzas to force double spaces to preserve stanza breaks. Eesh.

Charles Wright is a poet I’m only beginning to really appreciate. He’s from Tennessee! Before I came to Charlottesville, I’d only read Black Zodiac. I thought it was good, but wasn’t in love enough to go and buy more. Well, people here are a little crazy about Charles Wright. I read Littlefoot for a class I had last semester, and then I picked up Appalachia from the library purely out of curiosity. Man, Appalachia is crazy good. I am wild about it. This poem is the opening one of that collection. Maybe this piece resonates with me right now because I’ve been in a seminar on Hagiography this spring, which makes me excited about lines like “Our lives can’t be lit like saints’ hearts / seared between heaven and earth.”

If you think this poem is the cat’s pajamas, I suggest reading more of Wright’s work. Poets.org and the Poetry Foundation have several poems available to read online. I really love Littlefoot, 19, which is super-short.

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3 thoughts on “Poem of the Week, “Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat”

  1. Hahaha, of COURSE you love Appalachia. Poetry + Appalachians = Mary’s Personal Heaven. :P

    Just read Littlefoot, 19 and adored it. I was going to post my favorite lines, but then I realized it was well over half the poem. >.<

    Still.

    “Listen. It sounds a lot like you, hermane.
    It sounds like me.”

  2. Oh man, hagiography is so interesting! I wish I knew more about it. (I feel like saying this is the equivalent of saying something like “I LIKE POTATOES” that doesn’t contribute anything to the conversation, but that’s where my brain is right now. Oh well.)

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