must have picked up a handful of dust...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

C.D. Wright

only the crossing counts

It's not how we leave one's life. How go off
the air. You never know do you. You think you're ready
for anything; then it happens, and you're not. You're really
not. The genesis of an ending, nothing
but a feeling, a slow movement, the dusting
of furniture with a remnant of the revenant's shirt.
Seeing the candles sink in their sockets; we turn
away, yet the music never quits. The fire kisses our face.
O phthsis, o lotharian dead eye, no longer
will you gaze on the baize of the billiard table. No more
shooting butter dishes out of the sky. Scattering light.
Between snatches of poetry and penitence you left
the brumal wood of men and women. Snow drove
the butterflies home. You must know
how it goes, known all along what to expect,
sooner or later … the faded cadence of anonymity.
Frankly, my dear, frankly, my dear, frankly


In some ways C. D. Wright is not an easy poet to read, but her work comes to me in a very Hopkins-like manner – beautiful, impossible, fresh. Her penchant for language is one of her literary powers, and that strength shows in “only the crossing counts”. The poem is, at times, quite surreal – “shooting butter dishes out of the sky” – but I’m drawn in.

This poem, like much of her work, strikes me as a glimpse, a moment, a brief opening into some truth – mainly about myself. Her poetic concern is not resolution, and I find that appealing. She once described her poetry as being focused on desire – a poetry about questions, conflict, hunger, and not about answers or satisfaction. That is not to say that nothing will be gained. The ending of “only the crossing counts” – “the faded cadence of anonymity” – can be a powerful experience if the reader doesn’t resist. The final line moves me into a very personal region that is both familiar and unfamiliar.

She writes, “You think you’re ready / for anything; then it happens, and you’re not.” This is a disturbing poem – a “genesis of an ending” – a world of brumal wood, snow, and butterflies. The light is scattered. There are snatches of poetry in the air. Candles burn down to their sockets. Sooner or later oblivion takes us all.

The final line … with its revised or misted view of Gone with the Wind … echoes the nature of apathy. If this were Keats’ urn, the two painted faces – forever fixed in the chase but disconnected – would show Gable or Leigh or the late poet Frank Stanford. The truth is we do give a damn. It’s not the ending, it’s the crossing.


Dennis said...

I can see so much better when you shine your light on other poets words. Thanks for making a difficult poem meaningful. Surreal - definitely!

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read Dennis. I appreciate that.