Three Poems by Charles Edward Wright

Wretcheder Than a Stone or Tree

Self-loathing without humility is a waste of precious insight.
—R. St John Cowie

When I could sleep, I lay on my back
like a newborn ready to be cradled,
or a body waiting to be raised.

Now I don’t sleep.  I lie with my fingers curled on my pounding chest.  The handwriting is on the ceiling, the urgent timetables to be worked out and the pressing actuary tables to be worked through, accommodating all proposed travel and revenge.  Slights and injuries are catalogued.  I relive my Olympian feats and my venial crimes.  I weigh my remorse.  I wait for an international prize.  I guess how long until my hypochondria is finally vindicated, first with a tooth pulled, next a kidney taken, then a leg lost.  I wonder at the callously slow miracle of compound interest.  I resolve to cultivate mourners.

I stare at my parents: my father dead too soon, my mother dead not long.  I stare at myself in a hand mirror my nostrils cannot fog.  I feel the shovel pound the earth flat over my shallow chest.  I watch as my flavorless carcass is slighted by lions and jackals in turn.  I peer out a dumpster through the funneled end of a furled and blood-sodden carpet.  I spill from an upended urn.  I bob in formaldehyde.

Let me die abruptly and absurdly.
Let Otis speed me to the lobby at 9.8 m/sec².
Let my rib cage ruin the alignment of a luxury sedan.
Let my most needful organs be done suddenly to a turn while I levitate above a thunderstruck meadow.
Let me cower in the glare of limousine headlamps beneath the low ceiling of a parking garage with crime syndicate ties.
Let me displace my own volume in molten lava.
Let my entrée’s attendant toxin be both tasteless and odorless.
Let me chance upon quicksand after pruning all the lower limbs.
Let me somersault down a rocky incline in an open car.
Let my seat in coach sustain me for a time against the North Atlantic.
Let me fidget with a cramped arch while inside a magician’s sword basket.
Let my trapeze partner surprise me with a seizure.

There will be afterward no equestrian statue,
no memorial bridge,
no federal holiday,
no eponymous sect,
no void.

A Discontinued Railway as a Metaphor for My Practiced Adolescent Despair

On vacant days in summer I would walk
alone along a line of idle tracks
soliloquizing unrelievedly
in canvas shoes with hollow-diamond soles
that gripped the rusted loaf-topped rails until
I dropped to stutter-step across the stride-
short ties before I tried my steadiness
on gravel ballast mile by bending mile
to nowhere in particular and back.

The Emerald Bottle

From a heavy glass dimpled green bottle,
opened and smoking its effervescence,
opened and sweating its chill,
on a night stand
in a guest house
atop the terraced hills
of India’s narrowing edge
where lizards pace the ceiling
and monkeys walk the roof,
I taste the forward sweetness
of simulated lemon
and imitation lime,
and I am suddenly wistfully home.

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