Last month, C. D. Wright died suddenly in her sleep. There have been many good articles about her life and work since then. This poem, from her book String Light, reads to me as a self-written obituary.
Oh, the Novaculite Uplift–a chert and flint formation in the mountains of Arkansas (where Carolyn was born), Oklahoma and Texas.
I am your ancestor. You know next to nothing
There is no reason for you to imagine
the rooms I occupied or my heavy hair.
Nor the faint vinegar smell of me. Or
the rubbered damp
of Forrest and I coupling on the landing
on route to our detached day.
You didn’t know my weariness, error, incapacity.
I was the poet
of shadow work and towns with quarter-inch
phone books, of failed
roadside zoos. The poet of yard eggs
and sharpening shops,
jobs at the weapons plant and the Maybelline
factory on the penitentiary road.
A poet of spiderwort and jacks-in-the pulpit,
hollyhocks against the toolshed.
An unsmiling dark blond.
The one with the trowel in her handbag.
I dug up protected and private things.
That sort, I was.
My graves went undecorated and my churches
abandoned. This wasn’t planned, but practice.
I was the poet of shorttailed cats and yellow
Of satellite dishes and Peterbilt trucks. Red Man
Chewing Tobacco, Triple Hit
Creme Soda. Also of dirt daubers, nightcrawlers,
martin houses, honey, and whetstones
from the Novaculite Uplift. What remained
of The Uplift.
I had registered dogs 4 sale, rocks, dung
I was a poet of hummingbird hives along with
The poet of good walking shoes—a necessity
in vernacular parts—and push mowers.
The rumor that I was once seen sleeping
in a refrigerator box is false (he was a brother
who hated me).
Nor was I the one lunching at the Governor’s
I didn’t work off a grid. Or prime the surface
if I could get off without it. I made
out of sticks and string. On side B of me,
experimental guitar, night repairs and suppers
such as this.
You could count on me to make a bad situation
worse like putting liquid make-up over
a passion mark.
I never raised your rent. Or anyone else’s by God.
Never said I loved you. The future gave me chills.
I used the medium to say: Arise arise and
Free your children. Come on everybody. Let’s start
Believe me I am not being modest when I
admit my life doesn’t bear repeating. I
agreed to be the poet of one life,
one death alone. I have seen myself
in the black car. I have seen the retreat
of the black car.
C. D. Wright