The animals are leaving / the safety of the trees // Light sensors respond / to the footfall of every guest // To retard the growth of algae // The fishes must be moved / from the window // Stiller than water she lies / As in a glass dress // As if all life might come to its end / within the radius of her bed // Beyond the reef of trees a beach cannot be seen / the bay itself barely breathing / / In the other wing of the house / a small boat awaits elucidation
from STEAL AWAY: SELECTED AND NEW POEMS (Copper Canyon Press, 2003) p. 181
FRAME OF REFERENCE Aristotle’s universal is modeled on biological self-becoming—the acorn becomes the oak. But organic becoming exhibits a thereness that is relatively universal by comparison with the roots of free self-becoming. These latter roots are no roots, since grounded in no ground. No ground, except the ungrounded ground of becoming, and even more primarily, the ground coming to be. This latter looks more like a nothing, a creative void, a porosity in the language I use. This porosity is the universal medium that is nothing—a porosity at the bottom of the bottomless soul in us. And it is in this nothing that the energies of creation are communicated to us.
WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, p. 75.
It is a watery world, and not only in Rhode Island. The still novel, still omniactive corona virus has brought death and the process of dying into consciousness everywhere. Our sense of time has been released from linearity. The butterfly effect and chaotic system show up in daily conversations between people who do not get enough sleep. Temporal archaeology is a thing. We now speak of being and ontology without blushing. And I didn’t even mention Alice Oswald.
And in the US and other supposedly free countries a mad tyrant runs, literally, the show. When I got to Providence, Rhode Island from Boston, I was jobless and manic. I’ve always loved liberal arts colleges, having just held down jobs at Harvard and Boston University. I knew the ropes. It took me two years to get my foot in the door at Brown as assistant, portfolio to be determined, to the President. One thing I knew for certain by then, Brown was home to a great poet, C. D. Wright.
Wright died in 2016, aged 67. She was a poet’s poet, always formally disturbing things with plurivocity and openness, virtues associated perhaps with Brown’s liberal ethos. Providence was founded on the grounds of separation of church and state. In many parts of America, the mere mention of such a thing causes vertigo and violent mental, if not physical, opposition. The center does not hold.
Not sure “center” makes any sense in Yeats’s line now. It’s ubiquitous, the center, in our COVID ocean. In Wright’s lyric “Privacy,” it clearly doesn’t. But if we look at the map of the lyric narrative (as discussed in this series) and back at the text, things stop shaking. The title anchors the text in a grip of a classic dyad, Private/Public. But the first image, authoritative in its directness, undoes our sense of fixity. It would seem there’s a backstory as in a dystopian novel. The public space is, has been, dissolving.
This scenario is filled out in the next sections, each of which is built on the same pattern of plain words, short lucid lines, and a sense of a world under threat. The equivocities of words like light, footfall, growth of algae, fish: these shadow a world, an other to the known world, but hey this is a poem.
Things twist away from the scene when the pronoun “she” appears; that is, the dialectic kicks in that includes “she” and potentially every reader, which includes “you.” With that the poetic order of analogy is introduced or imposed on the scene, becoming the key to the order of this newly determined space. Which, having evolved from the old sense of space, seems weirdly vertical. The lyric narrative has become archaeological like the roots of words are archaeology to more recent meanings. The dialectic of “not” “kicks in” and the landscape orientation gives way to portrait. A self emerges amongst the analogies, the as’s, the
concentration on a dimensionless point, dimensionLESS because somehow it’s the center of this center-less “lyric whole.” “The bay itself barely breathing” caps the things that make up this analogous world of words. Life is possible, just. As analogy, but with what?
Maybe with “nothing.” See the FRAME of REFERENCE.
Which brings us, as we knew it would —because that’s how the lyric narrative ends—to the edge of the abyss, into which we mustn’t fall. And we don’t, don’t have to and just don’t. The seemingly unfinishable narrative can end. And properly does end (the lyric decentered center does hold) beyond the self of the narrative. The lyric itself has a self, a “form,” a center, a voice. Here it seems a lot like the comfortingly plain, common sense voice of C. D. Wright: In the other wing of the house / a small boat awaits elucidation.
Oh yes. It does. Elucidation!
Maybe that boat was used by the animals to leave the safety of the trees. I don’t know. Come to think of it, WHY WOULD WE LEAVE THE SAFETY OF THE TREES. Why why why! From the bottom of our bottomless soul, why?
C. D. Wright had an infinitely tender way of smiling.