Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Top Ten New Mexico Poets: Jay Wright

"I carried my life, like a stone,/in a ragged pocket, but I/had a true weaving song, a sly/way with rhythm, a healing tone."

This gorgeous quatrain, ending Jay Wright's poem, "The Healing Improvisation of Hair," featured on the 2008 National Poetry Month Poster, is emblematic of Wright's writing life, and might well be an apt goal for all poets.

A Bollingen Prize winner, McArthur fellow and author of over a dozen volumes of poems, plays and essays, including the highly acclaimed, The Double Invention of Komo, a succession of poems following the Komo initiation rites of the African Bambara people, Wright blends disparate elements into a body of work that is sometimes difficult to penetrate. But, by applying effort, the reader is rewarded with a unique vision borne on a language that is virtuosic on all levels: typographic, sonic, sensory and ideational.

The spirituality and universality of Wright's work were, no doubt, born from an early exposure to Mexican, Spanish, and Navajo cultures, growing up African-American in his home state of New Mexico. He held this open stance toward the world as he moved through diverse careers in professional baseball, the U.S. Army, and academics, first majoring in chemistry, then winning a theological fellowship, before finally completing a masters degree in comparative literature from Rutgers in 1967.

Listen to the Latin dance rhythms and cobbled musical textures in "Areito," which is, among other things, a celebration of celebration, bringing together Aztec (mitote), Carribean (Areito), and Spanish ceremony and mythos. ("Corre," "corrido," and "navideno" in line 8 refer to "running," "family history" and "festival," respectively.)


This is my mitote,
my bareitote.
This is my bareitote,
areito, batoco,
my a-ba-mitote.

Corre, corrido, navideño.

Friday the thirteenth
and snow in the birch.
Love’s days all begin
with that kind of coldness.
We had come down
to the fog and the bite of the sea,
another of love’s soft nibbles
on the skin.
The axe had chipped in the trees.
High up, the squabble of birds
through the evergreens
became the painful sound of palms.

And the woman sang:
I’ve got love all around me
My own treasure’s found me
My savior
is a boy in bloom.

So you guess that I wrestled
the shadows of my cabin at night.
My wife, in her corner,
tumbled over the milk in her sleep.
We had arrived
with more than a small purchase,
a small reparation,
to make.
Was it only the axe wronged in the trees?
My skin is the repository
of the sun’s needles.
Why had I chosen the cold?

And the woman sang:
Flesh of my flesh, I nurse your dreams
I nurse your screams
I am
your mother.

Mystic rose of the heart,
how could three of us
be imprisoned there?
And how could we come
from the dark wood into the light
yet still hear the moonlit canticles
prey in the water
still pray in another tongue
for sunlight on our nets?
Three of us to nurse the night,
and three of us for saving.
Santos and serpents,
tangled in the streams of our bodies,
dance in the blue of our altar lights.

Dolor, dolori, passa
A strength in a weary land
A shelter in the time of a storm.

I had lived alone with the woman,
sunlight, a son, fish, the fallen apples,
the holy deer that would kneel to our knife,
all the provisions or prayer,
to find myself unmarried,
my woman drunk with God,
nurse of a savior’s screams.
Then out of the woods,
I turned to the woods,
to the toothless nurse of my own dreams.
by the light of the thirteenth moon,
I began to search for my own light.

Wood of the woods
Bird of the woods
Woman you were created by God.

Necromancer of the hummingbird,
I bring you this bird’s body
and the thirteen rings of my love’s chains.
I bring you the secret whispers of my wife’s sleep,
the tangled passions of the forest,
the thorn I would return
to another heart.

Bird of the woods, fly into her heart.

Teach me how to stalk her sleep
and the bible of her loves.
Teach me the darkness of thirteen moons,
how to contend with a God.
Bathe me in love’s coldness.
Woman of the woods.

Dolor, dolori, passa.

I lie down in the sand
to hear my batoco,
my mitote,
my areito,

Jay Wright--not only a poet, but a poet's poet AND one of my top ten New Mexico poets!

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