A friend gave me this book some years ago, and I can see from my notes in the margins that I have read it at least once before. No matter, the poems leap off the pages and, though dated at moments, might have been written this morning. In a prefatory essay, “hills,” Wright says, “There are luminous albeit terrible facts I must simply transcribe.” And she advises: “you have to strike down your own mythology, about yourself, your loves, your ravishing and atavistic homeland. I am interested in the vision beyond this confrontation.” These poems and prose pieces chronicle her sojourn away from her childhood in the Ozarks, but she can never get her images pried completely loose from their “geographic sovereignty.”
This is the first poem in the book and it seems to catalog both a particular time and a lifetime:
Nothing to Declare
When I lived here
the zinnias were brilliant,
spring passed in walks.
One winter I wasn’t so young.
I rented a house with Ann Grey
where she wrote a book and I could not.
Cold as we were on the mountain
we wouldn’t be moved to the plain.
Afternoons with no sun
a blanket is left on the line.
Hearts go bad
like something open on a shelf.
If you came to hear about roosters,
iron beds, cabinets of ruby glass–
those things are long gone;
deepscreen porches and Sunday’s buffet.
This was the school
where they taught us
the Russians send their old
to be melted down for candles.
If I had a daughter I’d tell her
Go far, travel lightly.
If I had a son he’d go to war
over my hard body.
Don’t tell me it wasn’t worth the trouble
carrying on campaigns
for the good and the dead.
The ones I would vote for
never run. I want each and every one
to rejoice in the clotheslines
of the colored peoples of the earth.
Try living where you don’t have to see
the sun go down.
If the hunter turns his dogs loose
on your dreams
Start early, tell no one
get rid of the scent.