Franz Wright

‘5:00 Mass’ by Franz Wright

The church is a ship in the brightening snowstorm;
shafts of light falling in through blue windows.
It’s almost night and starting to get light!
The planet, too, adrift
in an infinite blizzard of stars –
Where most of us are sick
and starving in the pitching dark, and the partying
masters up above
don’t know where we are either.
We love one another. We don’t really know
anyone well, but
we love one
another.

– Franz Wright, ‘5:00 Mass’, in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 28.

‘One Heart’, ‘Baptism’, and ‘Old Story’ by Franz Wright

There are two poets whose work I’ve been devouring of late: RS Thomas and Franz Wright. I will write more about the former at some other stage, of why the Welshman’s words haunt me in the hours I ought to be sleeping and of why he may in fact be one of the poets that I’ve been listening for for all my life. This wee post, however, is about Wright, an American poet writing with a different energy to Thomas’, and whose words, which are no less honest, move at a pace which betrays that he inhabits not only a different time, but a younger nation as well.

Published about a year ago, in a NYT article titled ‘Dark Glamour’, Daisy Fried writes about Franz Wright’s poems:

‘Wright’s poems sometimes feel insufficient, but also, in that insufficiency, authentic. Is there really any such thing as reconciliation? the poet seems to ask, even as he yearns for reconciliation. Anyone else might have come to terms with this quandary years ago. But poetry, like quandaries, should be unsolvable. What’s bothersome about Franz Wright is what keeps his poetry alive, and makes him worth coming back and back to’.

While these may not be the most striking examples, there is, I think, in this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s poems ‘One Heart’, ‘Baptism’ and ‘Old Story’ (all published in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard), instances of what Fried is eluding to:

◊◊◊

One Heart

It is late afternoon and I have just returned from
the longer version of my walk nobody knows
about. For the first time in nearly a month, and
everything changed. It is the end of March, once
more I have lived. This morning a young woman
described what it’s like shooting coke with a baby
in your arms. The astonishing windy and altering light
and clouds and water were, at certain moment,
You.

There is only one heart in my body, have mercy
on me.

The brown leaves buried all winter creatureless feet
running over dead grass beginning to green, the first scent-
less violet here and there, returned, the first star noticed all
at once as one stands staring into the black water.

Thank You for letting me live for a little as one of the
sane; thank You for letting me know what this is
like. Thank You for letting me look at your frightening
blue sky without fear, and your terrible world without
terror, and your loveless psychotic and hopelessly
lost
with this love.

◊◊◊

 

Baptism

That insane asshole is dead
I drowned him
and he’s not coming back. Look
he has a new life
a new name
now
which no one knows except
the one who gave it.

If he tastes
the wine now
as he is allowed to
it won’t, I’m not saying it
will
turn to water

however, since You
can do anything, he
will be safe

his first breath as an infant
past the waters of birth
and his soul’s, past the death water, married–

Your words are spirit
and life.
Only say one
and he will be healed.

◊◊◊

Old Story

First the telephone went,
then
the electricity.

It was cold,
and they both went to sleep
as though dressed for a journey.

Like addictions condoned
from above evening
fell, lost

leaves waiting
to come back as leaves–
the long snowy divorce. . .

That narrow bed, a cross
between an altar
and an operating table. Voice

saying, While I was alive
I loved you.
And I love you now.