Scar Tissue

Scar Tissue

by Charles Wright

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In Scar Tissue, the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Charles Wright not only investigates the tenuous relationship between description and actuality—"A thing is not an image"—but also reaffirms the project of attempting to describe, to capture the natural world and the beings in it, although he reminds us that landscape is not his subject matter but his technique: that language was always his subject—language and "the ghost of god." And in the dolomites, the clouds, stars, wind, and water that populate these poems, "something un-ordinary persists."

Scar Tissue is a groundbreaking work from a poet who "illuminates and exalts in the entire astonishing spectrum of existence" (Booklist).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374530839
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 07/24/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 88
Sales rank: 1,101,505
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Charles Wright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award, teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Read an Excerpt

Scar Tissue

By Charles Wright

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Charles Wright
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7743-6


    [Appalachian Farewell

    Sunset in Appalachia, bituminous bulwark
    Against the western skydrop.
    An Advent of gold and green, an Easter of ashes.

    If night is our last address,
    This is the place we moved from,
    Backs on fire, our futures hard-edged
    and sure to arrive.

    These are the towns our lives abandoned,
    Wind in our faces,
    The idea of incident like a box beside us on the Trail ways seat.

    And where were we headed for?
    The country of Narrative, that dark territory
    Which spells out our stories in sentences, which gives them an end
    and beginning ...

    Goddess of Bad Roads and Inclement Weather, take down
    Our names, remember us in the drip
    And thaw of the wintry mix, remember us when the light cools.

    Help us never to get above our raising, help us
    To hold hard to what was there,
    Orebank and Reedy Creek, Surgoinsville down the line.

    Last Supper

    I seem to have come to the end of something, but don't know what,
    Full moon blood orange just over the top of the redbud tree.
    Maudy Thursday tomorrow,
    Then Good Friday, then Easter in full drag,
    Dogwood blossoms like little crosses
    All down the street,
    lilies and jonquils bowing their mitred heads.

    Perhaps it's a sentimentality about such fey things,
    But I don't think so. One knows
    There is no end to the other world,
    no matter where it is.
    In the event, a reliquary evening for sure,
    The bones in their tiny boxes, rosettes under glass.

    Or maybe it's just the way the snow fell
    a couple of days ago,
    So white on the white snowdrops.
    As our fathers were bold to tell us,
    it's either eat or be eaten.
    Spring in its starched bib,
    Winter's cutlery in its hands. Cold grace. Slice and fork.

    Inland Sea

    Little windows of gold paste,
    Long arm of the Archer high above.
    Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.
    Bitter the waters of memory,
    Bitter their teeth and cold lips.

    Better to stuff your heart with dead moss,
    Better to empty your mouth of air
    Remembering Babylon
    Than to watch those waters rise
    And fall, and to hear their suck and sigh.

    Nostalgia arrives like a spring storm,
    Looming and large with fine flash,
    Dissolving like a disease then
    into the furred horizon,
    Whose waters have many doors,
    Whose sky has a thousand panes of glass.

    Nighttime still dogs and woos us
    With tiny hiccups and tiny steps,
    The constellations ignore our moans,
    The tulip flames
    snuffed in their dark cups,
    No cries of holy, holy, holy.

    Little windows of gold paste,
    Long arm of the Archer high above.
    Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.
    Bitter the waters of memory,
    Bitter their teeth and cold lips.

    The Silent Generation II

    We've told our story. We told it twice and took our lumps.
    You'll find us here, of course, at the end of the last page,
    Our signatures scratched in smoke.

    Thunderstorms light us and roll on by.
    Branches bend in the May wind,
    But don't snap, the flowers bend and do snap, the grass gorps.

    And then the unaltered grey,
    Uncymbaled, undrumrolled, no notes to set the feet to music.
    Still, we pull it up to our chins; it becomes our lives.

    Garrulous, word-haunted, senescent,
    Who knew we had so much to say, or tongue to say it?
    The wind, I guess, who's heard it before, and crumples our pages.

    And so we keep on, stiff lip, slack lip,
    Hoping for words that are not impermanent — small words,
    Out of the wind and the weather — that will not belie our names.

    High Country Canticle

    The shroud has no pockets, the northern Italians say.
    Let go, live your life,
    the grave has no sunny corners —
    Deadfall and windfall, the aphoristic undertow
    Of high water, deep snow in the hills,
    Everything's benediction, bright wingrush of grace.

    Spring moves through the late May heat
    as though someone were poling it.

    The Wrong End of the Rainbow

    It must have been Ischia, Forio d'Ischia.
    Or Rome. The Pensione Margutta. Or Naples
    Somewhere, on some dark side street in 1959

    With What's-Her-Name, dear golden-haired What's-Her-Name.
    Or Yes-Of-Course
    In Florence, in back of S. Maria Novella,
    And later wherever the Carabinieri let us lurk.

    Milano, with That's-The-One, two streets from the Bar Giamaica.
    Venice and Come-On-Back,
    three flights up,
    Canal as black as an onyx, and twice as ground down.

    Look, we were young then, and the world would sway to our sway.
    We were riverrun, we were hawk's breath.
    Heart's lid, we were center's heat at the center of things.

    Remember us as we were, amigo,
    And not as we are, stretched out at the wrong end of the rainbow,
    Our feet in the clouds,
    our heads in the small, still pulse-pause of age,

    Gazing out of some window, still taking it all in,
    Our arms around Memory,
    Her full lips telling us just those things
    she thinks we want to hear.

    A Field Guide to the Birds of the Upper Yaak

    A misty rain, no wind from the west,
    Clouds close as smoke to the ground,
    spring's fire, like a first love, now gone to ash,
    The lives of angels beginning to end like porch lights turned off
    From time zone to time zone,
    our pictures still crooked on the walls,
    Our prayer, like a Chinese emperor, always two lips away,
    Our pockets gone dry and soft with lint.
    Montana morning, a cold front ready to lay its ears back.

    If I were a T'ang poet, someone would bid farewell
    At this point, or pluck a lute string,
    or knock on a hermit's door.
    I'm not, and there's no one here.
    The iconostasis of evergreens across the two creeks
    Stands dark, unkissed and ungazed upon.
    Tonight, it's true, the River of Heaven will cast its net of strung stars,
    But that's just the usual stuff.
    As I say, there's no one here.

    In fact, there's almost never another soul around.
    There are no secret lives up here,
    it turns out, everything goes
    Its own way, its only way,
    Out in the open, unexamined, unput upon.
    The great blue heron unfolds like a pterodactyl
    Over the upper pond,
    two robins roust a magpie,
    Snipe snipe, the swallows wheel, and nobody gives a damn.

    A Short History of My Life

    Unlike Lao-tzu, conceived of a shooting star, it is said,
    And carried inside his mother's womb
    For 62 years, and born, it's said once again, with white hair,
    I was born on a Sunday morning,
    untouched by the heavens,
    Some hair, no teeth, the shadows of twilight in my heart,
    And a long way from the way.
    Shiloh, the Civil War battleground, was just next door,
    The Tennessee River soft shift at my head and feet.
    The dun-colored buffalo, the sands of the desert,
    Gatekeeper and characters,
    were dragon years from then.

    Like Dionysus, I was born for a second time.
    From the flesh of Italy's left thigh, I emerged one January
    Into a different world.
    It made a lot of sense,
    Hidden away, as I had been, for almost a life.
    And I entered it open-eyed, the wind in my ears,
    The slake of honey and slow wine awake on my tongue.
    Three years I stood in S. Zeno's doors,
    and took, more Rome than Rome,
    Whatever was offered me.
    The snows of the Dolomites advanced to my footfalls.
    The lemons of Lago di Garda fell to my hands.

    Fast-forward some forty-five years,
    and a third postpartum blue.
    But where, as the poet asked, will you find it in history?
    Alluding to something else.
    Nowhere but here, my one and only, nowhere but here.
    My ears and my sick senses seem pure with the sound of water.
    I'm back, and it's lilac time,
    The creeks running eastward unseen through the dank morning,
    Beginning of June. No light on leaf,
    No wind in the evergreens, no bow in the still-blonde grasses.
    The world in its dark grace.
    I have tried to record it.

    Waking Up After the Storm

    It's midnight. The cloud-glacier breaks up,
    Thunder-step echoes off to the east,
    and flashes like hoof sparks.
    Someone on horseback leaving my dream.

    Senseless to wonder who it might be, and what he took.
    Senseless to rummage around in the light-blind stars.
    The full moon is one eye too many.

    Images from the Kingdom of Things

    Sunlight is blowing westward across the unshadowed meadow,
    Night, in its shallow puddles,
    still liquid and loose in the trees.
    The world is a desolate garden,
    No distillation of downed grasses,
    no stopping the clouds, coming at us one by one.

    * * *

    The snow crown on Mt. Henry is still white,
    the old smoke watcher's tower
    Left-leaning a bit in its odd angle to the world,
    Abandoned, unusable.
    Down here, in their green time, it's past noon
    and the lodgepole pines adjust their detonators.

    * * *

    The blanched bones of moonlight scatter across the meadow.
    The song of the second creek, with its one note,
    plays over and over.

    How many word-warriors ever return
    from midnight's waste and ruin?
    Count out the bones, count out the grains in the yellow dust.

    Confessions of a Song and Dance Man

    The wind is my music, the west wind, and cold water
    In constant motion.
    I have an ear
    For such things, and the sound of the goatsucker at night.
    And the click of twenty-two cents in my pants pocket
    That sets my feet to twitching,
    that clears space in my heart.

    "We are nothing but footmen at the coach of language,
    We open and close the door."
    Hmmm two three, hmmm two three.
    "Only the language is evergreen,
    everything else is seasonal."
    A little time step, a little back-down on the sacred harp.
    "Language has many mothers, but only one father."

    * * *

    The dying narcissus poeticus by the cabin door,
    Bear grass, like Dante's souls,
    flame-flicked throughout the understory,
    The background humdrum of mist
    Like a Chinese chant and character among the trees,
    Like dancers wherever the wind comes on and lifts them ...

    The stillness of what's missing
    after the interwork's gone,
    A passing sand step, a slow glide and hush to the wings —
    A little landscape's a dangerous thing, it seems,
    Giving illusion then taking it back,
    a sleight of hand tune
    On a pennywhistle, but holding the measure still, holding the time.

    * * *

    A God-fearing agnostic,
    I tend to look in the corners of things,
    Those out-of-the-way places,
    The half-dark and half-hidden,
    the passed-by and over-looked,
    Whenever I want to be sure I can't find something.
    I go out of my way to face them and pin them down.

    Are you there, Lord, I whisper,
    knowing he's not around,
    Mumble kyrie eleison, mumble O three-in-none.
    Distant thunder of organ keys
    In the fitful, unoccupied
    cathedral of memory.
    Under my acolyte's robes, a slip-step and glide, slip-step and a glide.

    * * *

    Red-winged blackbird balancing back and forth on pond reed,
    Back and forth then off then back again.
    What is it he's after,
    wing-hinge yellow and orange,
    What is it he needs down there
    In snipe country, marsh-muddled,
    rinsed in long-day sunlight?

    The same thing I need up here, I guess,
    A place to ruffle and strut,
    a place to perch and sing.
    I sit by the west window, the morning building its ruins
    In increments, systematically, across the day's day.

    Make my bed and light the light,
    I'll be home late tonight, blackbird, bye-bye.

    Against the American Grain

    Stronger and stronger, the sunlight glues
    The afternoon to its objects,
    the baby pine tree,
    The scapular shadow thrown over the pond and meadow grass,
    The absence the two
    horses have left on the bare slope,
    The silence that grazes like two shapes where they have been.

    The slow vocabulary of sleep
    spits out its consonants
    And drifts in its vowely weather,
    Sun-pocked, the afternoon dying among its odors,
    The cocaine smell of the wind,
    The too-sweet and soft-armed
    fragrance around the reluctant lilac bush.

    Flecked in the underlap, however,
    half-glimpsed, half-recognized,
    Something unordinary persists,
    Something unstill, never-sleeping, just possible past reason.
    Then unflecked by evening's overflow
    and its counter current.
    What mystery can match its maliciousness, what moan?


Excerpted from Scar Tissue by Charles Wright. Copyright © 2006 Charles Wright. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Appalachian Farewell,
Last Supper,
Inland Sea,
The Silent Generation II,
High Country Canticle,
The Wrong End of the Rainbow,
A Field Guide to the Birds of the Upper Yaak,
A Short History of My Life,
Waking Up After the Storm,
Images from the Kingdom of Things,
Confessions of a Song and Dance Man,
Against the American Grain,
College Days,
Night Thoughts Under a China Moon,
Bedtime Story,
Morning Occurrence at Xanadu,
Saturday Morning Satori,
Wrong Notes,
The Minor Art of Self-defense,
Scar Tissue,
Scar Tissue II,
Appalachia Dog,
Get a Job,
The Sodbuster's Saloon and Hall of Fame,
Heraclitean Backwash,
High Country Spring,
China Traces,
In Praise of Franz Kafka,
The Narrow Road to the Distant City,
Pilgrim's Progress,
Little Landscape,
Ghost Days,
The Silent Generation III,
Time Will Tell,
The Woodpecker Pecks, but the Hole Does Not Appear,
Singing Lesson,

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