235: Body and Soul

235: Body and Soul

235: Body and Soul

Body and Soul
by Charles Wright

(For Coleman Hawkins)

The world’s body is not our body,
                                                        although we’d have it so.
Our body’s not infinite, although
This afternoon, under the underwater slant-shine
Of sunlight and cloud shadow,
It almost seems that way in the wind,
                                                              a wind that comes
From a world away with its sweet breath and its tart tongue
And casts us loose, like a cloud,
Heaven-ravaged, blue pocket, small charge for the hand.

I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
                                              was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That words were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
                                                                             I still do.

Some poems exist still on the other side of our lives,
And shine out,
                        but we’ll never see them.
They are unutterable, in a language without an alphabet.
Unseen. World-long. Bone music.
Too bad. We’d know them by heart
                                if we could summer them out in our wounds.
Too bad. Listening hard.
Clouds, of course, are everywhere, and blue sky in between.
Blue sky. Then what comes after the blue.

Our lives, it turns out, are still-lifes, glass bottles and fruit,
Dead animals, flowers,
                                     the edges of this and that
Which drop off, most often, to indeterminate vacancy.
We’re beautiful, and hung up to dry.
                                                           Outside the frame,
Mountains are moving, rivers flash, a cloud-scrumbled sky.
Field-patches nudge up to comfort us.
A train crosses a trestle.
Across the room, someone gets up and rearranges the things.

Insubstantial as smoke, our words
Drum down like fingertips across the page,
                                                             leaving no smudge or mark.
Unlike our purloined selves, they will not rise from the dead.
Unlike our whimpers and prayers, they lie low and disappear.

This word, that word, all fall down.
How far from heaven the stars are,
                                                         how far the heart from the page.
We don’t know what counts—
It’s as simple as that, isn’t it,
                                               we just don’t know what counts.

Mid-winter in Charlottesville,
                                                soul-shunt and pat-down, crumbs
Snow-flecked across the back yard, then gone on the sun’s tongue.
These are the four lessons I have learned,
One from Martha Graham,
                                           three others from here and there—
Walk as though you’d been given one brown eye and one blue,
Think as though you thought best with somebody else’s brain,
Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,
Pray as though you were praying with someone else’s soul.

"Body and Soul" by Charles Wright, from BYE-AND-BYE by Charles Wright, copyright © 2012 Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.