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The Jewel

There is this cave
In the air behind my body
That nobody is going to touch:
A cloister, a silence
Closing around a blossom of fire.
When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.

James Wright

Thank you Whiskey River for another diamond hard hit to the deeper regions. Only 7 lines. What efficiency.

Wright (1927-1980) is an American poet whose most famous book, The Branch Will Not Break was published in 1963. He is often positioned as a counterpoint to the New York school of poetry and the Beats who dominated much of the poetry scene during the 50’s and early 60’s. Through his interest in world poetry, Wright became closely linked with Robert Bly. Since his death in 1980 he has become increasingly influential as a poet.

Wright’s son Franz, a poet, also won the Pulitzer Prize. They are the only parent/child pair to have won in the same category.


It’s a wordless place where I spend most of my time these days. Language is a bridge that gives out without warning, a friend then a foe, the metal against your skin that is either too cold or too hot.

So I’m giving into my proclivities. Leaning on metaphor rather than exposition, on suggestion rather than description. The words of others feel like trail markers, and I’m so grateful when I see a stone stack to reassure me that this actually is a path, that others have come this way many times before. I am not lost yet.

Franz Wright is the son of poet James Wright (whose haunting poem To The Muse was posted here on June 5.) I read this and was reminded that death is not the only way nature tells you to be quiet. And this line served up a precise and deep incision: “your conflagration starved/to diamond.”


Death is nature’s way
of telling you to be quiet.

Of saying it’s time
to be weaned, your conflagration starved
to diamond.

I’ll give you something to cry about.

And what those treetops swaying
dimly in the wind spelled.

Franz Wright

Another day of rag and bone shopping, of gentle and cautious gestures, of softly silencing the voice of judgment, of speaking in a quiet voice when I want to be screaming. This is my courtship of the muse, I remind myself. The process is a dance of seduction, and success requires great patience and focus.

My husband now has a phrase he uses for my art making time: Studioing. He pronounces it studi-O-ing, accent on the O. I like his name for it because it gives the illusion of doing something recreational, like leaving the house to go kayaking or to take a canoe down a river. The reality is that I feel like I’m underwater, not gliding over the surface; I am a diver who must go down to the sea bed and secure the cabling, an anchor, a piling.

Once again my friend Sally Reed has enriched my thinking with her insightful offerings. This comment was left in response to my posting from yesterday about wooing the muse, “Court and Spark.”

The poem by James Wright is a stunner. And in the words of Emily Dickinson (thank you for reminding me of this Sally) a great poem “makes my body so cold no fire can warm me,” and makes me “feel as if the top of my head were taken off.” I felt headless the first time I read this piece. Thank you Sally.

Yes, sometimes it is a playful and sweet seduction.

In some cases it can be a darker and more painful story. Sometimes the muse herself can be feeling fragile or frightened. So then patience and gentleness are the watchwords. I don’t think it dampens the joy, ultimately, do you? In fact, perhaps the opposite.

To the Muse

It is all right. All they do
Is go in by dividing
One rib from another. I wouldn’t
Lie to you. It hurts
Like nothing I know. All they do
Is burn their way in with a wire.
It forks in and out a little like the tongue
Of that frightened garter snake we caught
At Cloverfield, you and me, Jenny
So long ago.

I would lie to you
If I could.
But the only way I can get you to come up
Out of the suckhole, the south face
Of the Powhatan pit, is to tell you
What you know:

You come up after dark, you poise alone
With me on the shore.
I lead you back to this world.

Three lady doctors in Wheeling open
Their offices at night.
I don’t have to call them, they are always there.
But they only have to put the knife once
Under your breast.
Then they hang their contraption.
And you bear it.

It’s awkward a while. Still it lets you
Walk about on tiptoe if you don’t
Jiggle the needle.
It might stab your heart, you see.
The blade hangs in your lung and the tube
Keeps it draining.
That way they only have to stab you
Once. Oh Jenny.

I wish to God I had made this world, this scurvy
And disastrous place. I
Didn’t, I can’t bear it
Either, I don’t blame you, sleeping down there
Face down in the unbelievable silk of spring,
Muse of the black sand,

I don’t blame you, I know
The place where you lie.
I admit everything. But look at me.
How can I live without you?
Come up to me, love,
Out of the river, or I will
Come down to you.

–James Wright