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Nunc Stans: on "Star Turn".

It is easy to get lost in Charles Wright's Appalachia. It's much less easy to find your way out, even though the collection almost always provides a sense of when--February in the year of the rat, a rainy Saturday, the fourth of July, a day in late spring given over to dandelions and violets. As to where, the locales are familiar--a yard with a "high privet hedge on two sides," Montana, before a west window, somewhere this side of the Blue Ridge, in a deck chair. And yet, the map always points elsewhere, and in all directions: over the ridge, into mole holes, into the past, back toward language, and ever in the vicinity of the "secret landscape behind the landscape we look at here." But it only points--the map has no pages for the underside or for that side of the Blue Ridge that will tell me which side this side is. So while I always know I am here in Appalachia, I no longer know where here is.

"Where do we find ourselves?" is the opening gambit of Emerson's "Experience." It also resounds across Appalachia. With each reading I reply: amid images--so much flora, so little fauna--in The Appalachian Book of the Dead with its praise (for present and past) and its preparation for the final departure, in memory, and in a narrative accreted poem by poem (or is it image by image across the pages?), each mapping, as best it can, a secret landscape.
 Just under the surface of the earth
 The traffic continues to glide by
 all night with its lights off.
 ("Remembering Spello, Sitting Outside in Prampolini's

Where do we find ourselves? One might expect to find "us" in the interval figured by the "by." But subterranean traffic does not consider us, nor are we there to witness let alone direct the geophysical undulations that occasionally crest as our lives.

When not exiling them, philosophers are fond of giving poets advice, including Emerson who describes "The Poet" as "... my errand from the muse to the poet concerning his art." Cheeky, but his request is pertinent--a sense of the whole that reattaches finite bits to the larger, great unfolding, that enables recipients to find "... within their world, another world, or nest of worlds; for the metamorphosis once seen, we divine that it does not stop." Emerson has a great deal more in store for whoever answers his call, but what I've gathered is not alien to Appalachia, where one finds evidence of shovels and spades at the surface.

When looking down only goes so far, it pays to look up. Appalachia knows many skies--some blue in mid-August, some "Blue as a new translation of Longinus on the sublime." But peel back that blue or wait on its unraveling and the twinkle, twinkle of what remains will flash into (and out of) view, fugitives from "the great fire," once burnt twice gun-shy. These are less than boon companions. Lidless hence unblinking, one might also think them loyal, unflinching. In a sense; they do persist. But they are mute and stupid (that dumb), and so their mix of rumble and pink noise is probably only the slow, dying echo of what they fail to be privy to but nevertheless convey--the recurring explosions from which they were flung to drift, alphas, betas, never omegas. Still they seem closer to "the great fire," the Heraclitean generator, that which can never be created nor destroyed, that which percolates as flora, fauna, you, me. Or rather I feel closer to that fire when I look into those eyes and recall my from-where and whither, my what if's and if only's--the rehearsal where I try to be thankful for my mortal heats in what is always the twilight of their cooling.

But that's me in Appalachia, which is why I keep looking up when the sky turns. Those are the times of my life, of a life that can be minefor the time being, mine in turn. I share this confession because Appalachia also offers an occasional afternoon when all is a hush and each companion--cloud, hedge, left and right, barn swallows and the back porch--is:
 ... blown with silence, until the grass grieves.
 Until there is nothing else.
 ("Opus Posthumous III

This is a whole, though one without a here, without a now--or just a now, a nunc stans in which nothing else stands, not even someone to say, if only sotto voce, "at last."

There's a saying that greets those who enter Appalachia. "Our lives can't be lived in flames." Quite true; we walk along cooled traces. And yet, at each turn I find myself a child of the great fire, its cough, its little song, sidereal in a manner not struck dumb by the great kaboom. But that is to say, and perhaps only to say, that unlike the keeper of all I've heard in Appalachia, I haven't looked, all my life, for "... this slow light, this smallish light" that hushes all the rest. And I don't think I can. That's posthumous work, not work for the time being.
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Title Annotation:Symposium II: Commentaries on Poems by Charles Wright
Author:Lysaker, John
Publication:Northwest Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Previous Article:Star Turn.
Next Article:18.

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