Tonight so clear the Milky Way shimmers like a stoked furnace,
the scattered stars like rogue embers deep in a bloomery.
I recall my father’s face, the orange light of the wood stove
imprisoned in his skin, his eyes trapping the firelight
until he’d lobbed and poked the pine logs, then shut
and latched the grate. The chimney roiled the wind
with the sweet-sharp scent of charred trees, a smell
that I catch tonight through the open window despite
the lingering scent of a cold rain that’s come and gone,
rushed and vanished over town like smoke.
That was the year my father smelled of tobacco and rum,
leather and stone, the year the house creaked hollow,
ticking down into the gravity of his loneliness. That was the year
his silence began in earnest, the months he embraced
his bitterness, mantled it on his body like a second skin.
Nothing mattered then save the language of the woods—
the single plum tree sprouting tiny, sour hearts, the bullfrogs’
blaring counterpoint to owls that never asked any question,
only swooped to snag a shrew or mouse and disappear
back into the darkness of their hunger. That winter, the nights
were stitched with screams, half-human, half-angel, nephilim
wails that braided through trees so loud they woke one
from deepest dreams of attics afire, of possession lost to the throat
of flame. They woke one to stand dizzy and stumble numb-footed
out into the cold with no malice, only dazed wonder at the face
that glowed low from the dead leaves: a fox so still and obsessed
it became a creature of ruby, of snow-mask and bloodroot
whose radiance granted my father rare joy, first healing.
This poem abounds with nature, with human pain, and eventually with an understanding the human might survive his pain. I like this piece because it is all that and more. It is a wordsmith at his task, alive and well; a son sharing family history; a naturalist soaking in nostalgia. And it is poetic precision.
Believe it or not, I know little of William Wright. I intend to rectify that.