Friday, May 24, 2024

The Poetry Corner


By Norah Christianson

James Wright 1927 – 1980

I was only a young man
In those days. On that evening
The cold was so God damned
Bitter there was nothing.
Nothing. I was in trouble
With a woman, and there was nothing
There but me and dead snow.

I stood on the street corner
In Minneapolis, lashed
This way and that.
Wind rose from some pit,
Hunting me.
Another bus to Saint Paul
Would arrive in three hours,
If I was lucky.

Then the young Sioux
Loomed beside me, his scars
Were just my age.

Ain’t got no bus here
A long time, he said.
You got enough money
To get home on?

What did they do
To your hand? I answered.
He raised up his hook into the terrible starlight
And slashed the wind.

Oh, that? he said.
I had a bad time with a woman. Here,
You take this.

Did you ever feel a man hold
Sixty-five cents
In a hook,
And place it
In your freezing hand?

I took it.
It wasn’t the money I needed.
But I took it.

James Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. His whole life, Wright battled depression and alcoholism, which is probably the reason his poems so often deal with the outsider and emotional suffering. Still, his poems can be optimistic in that they often deal with the salvation of human connection.

In his poem “Hook,” there’s a tremendous power in his short, lean lines that speak of two scarred strangers, outsiders, on a bitter night coming together in human union. “Did you ever feel a man hold sixty-five cents in a hook, and place it gently (gently!) in your freezing hand?” Wright asks. It wasn’t the money he needed, Wright says. And we readers understand that it was the joining with another human he hungered for.


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