The Journey by James Wright

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The 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning poet James Wright was born in Ohio to parents who never finished high school.  As an adult he lived in Minnesota for a time. When I was in Minnesota recently I thought of him and looked at his poems.

This poem illustrates a lesson about the state of mind that might lead to the writing of a poem. This is a travel poem but the moment of insight, of memorial, of magic, comes when the poet leaves the beaten path, the tour bus route, the crowd’s expectations, the advertiser’s presentation. What is found then, in that foreign place, is something that is universally familiar and could be found anywhere at all. When one is away, the mind and the spirit might be looking for a new song to sing.  As Eurocentric travelers we tend to listen to the advice that we should tramp around the ruins there. Then, with the mind at rest and searching for meaning in all the dust and sad history, comes the spark of recognition.  A little truth to take home–far more valuable than a gift shop souvenir–in the creation of a light and delicate web…

The Journey

Anghiari is medieval, a sleeve sloping down
A steep hill, suddenly sweeping out
To the edge of a cliff, and dwindling.
But far up the mountain, behind the town,
We too were swept out, out by the wind,
Alone with the Tuscan grass.
Wind had been blowing across the hills
For days, and everything now was graying gold
With dust, everything we saw, even
Some small children scampering along a road,
Twittering Italian to a small caged bird.
We sat beside them to rest in some brushwood,
And I leaned down to rinse the dust from my face.
I found the spider web there, whose hinges
Reeled heavily and crazily with the dust,
Whole mounds and cemeteries of it, sagging
And scattering shadows among shells and wings.
And then she stepped into the center of air
Slender and fastidious, the golden hair
Of daylight along her shoulders, she poised there,
While ruins crumbled on every side of her.
Free of the dust, as though a moment before
She had stepped inside the earth, to bathe herself.
I gazed, close to her, till at last she stepped
Away in her own good time.
Many men
Have searched all over Tuscany and never found
What I found there, the heart of the light
Itself shelled and leaved, balancing
On filaments themselves falling. The secret
Of this journey is to let the wind
Blow its dust all over your body,
To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly
All the way through your ruins, and not to lose
Any sleep over the dead, who surely
Will bury their own, don’t worry.

American prairie and the outcropping of Red Rock Ridge with petroglyphs near Jeffers, Minnesota, a few miles from my mother’s home.  Some of the carvings in the rock are 7,000 years  old.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               .


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