|“Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”|
—from Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil
A light has gone out. Bright even in the vastness of it all. Bright against giants felled and chains broken. We remember C.D. Wright. She was my friend. She was a poet of marvelous power—a poet whose work now, I imagine, will take on new meaning and urgency as her spirit transitions. In a world daily forgetting what it means to declare ourselves free, we need C.D. Wright. Fortunately for us it was her life's work, leaving this legacy into which we might step, step, like children slipping our small feet into the shoes of our biggers.
I met C.D. as a graduate student at Brown University. She'd just published One With Others (Copper Canyon) and perhaps was just coming off a semester-long sabbatical (as she wasn't facilitating any workshops or classes). The collection itself was well-received. Certainly one of her great hybrid works.
I think I write poetry in part due to lack // or a lack of language for such lack. I can't imagine I have enough language, or the right language, to describe a person whose largess sustained me when I had no food or money. How can I describe this woman, whose exacting courage has touched the far reaches of this nation, this globe? The truth is I "know next-to-nothing about [her]". What I know of her I know as well to be true of her poetry. I experience both. I revere both. I am comfortable (but never too comfortable) with the poet and her poetry.
In my days as a student I spent entirely too much time querying whoever might listen about the meaning of love. How did you know? What does it mean to you? I chose Forrest Gander as my thesis advisor and more often than not, rather than discuss poetry, I'd ask him inane questions about metaphysical quandaries with no obvious answers. Because why talk to a sage man about the death of the lyric when you can ask him the secrets of the universe?
"Forrest if you don't mind me asking, how did you know with C.D.?"
Forrest looked up at the ceiling, pausing in search of the poetry, and before long returned his warm gaze back at a younger me staring expectantly across the table.
"She trues me," he said in his distinctively Turkish blend voice.
She was constantly truing. I mentioned this conversation to C.D. later over an old-fashioned (I hadn't eaten, it went straight to my head). She asked, amused and full of mock-trepidation, "What'd he say?". "He said 'She trues me.'". She chuckled, grinned. I had hoped that this relay was received like an arrow handed over from Cupid's quiver.
Fast forward >> In 2015 I was asked to return to Brown as a visiting lecturer. Now C.D. would be my colleague. In the months before her passing we shared some beautiful moments, some wonderful hugs. Knowing that I had not been eating well, she strode one day into the lit arts department carrying a great brown paper bag with my name on it full of non-perishables. C.D. gives credence to the belief that angels live among us. That there is divinity in each of us.
On the way to the Salvation Army (because she wanted so desperately to buy me a bike—embarrassing in that way that your mother kissing you in front of your friends might be) we talked about longevity in her family. Hearing numbers upwards of 90, I was genuinely impressed by those good genes. But the number came with a caveat. While the people in her family lived well into old age, she added, they often lost some vital sensibilities. She said so in a tone that suggested (without tempting fate) she did not want to live to see herself wither into nothingness. She was too proud a person (too humble a spirit) to chase the fool's gold of immortality. Perhaps she felt ready. As ready as any mortal can be for the last act.
If she is gone, if her body is no longer a body among bodies, it is because she was so good, so full of life that to be remembered as anything less than the divinity she embodied would be an insult to the one who made her so.
Love you always C.D.
Come January I put away my sex
my smoke let lips whip like snap
dragons in cold wind blear up
like fiberglass is it what gets in
my eyes ache in artificial heat
for the real thing nursing my gums
for the real thing nursing my gums
If only when your teeth hurt
one hundred ways do you brush
in places not hushed down to death
are you this culture of deceasing
infants / each of you when I’m gone
leave in your wake a dark star
Standing where the men stand
muttering to themselves
thinking through their thumbs
when your knee against my knee
asleep wakes me like a storm
door slacking accidentally open
Knock for the quirks that worked
your last nerve in the wild face
of a boy holding the world still
scraping itself from his boot heel
terrible and cussing and one day
he won’t be there when he’s not there
Feb 2016 - Correction: CD had just published One With Others (2010) when the author arrived at Brown, well after receiving her MacArthur Fellowship.