NEA Literature Fellowships

Charles North

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(2001 - Poetry)

from "Day After Day the Storm Mounted. Then It Dismounted."

Suppose I am not the uplifter of all I uplift,
in the same sense that the coal-black sky, scumbled and showing a few red streaks,
doesn't exactly equal space.

The air is thick. Now it swirls.

It isn't air.

As in the Iliad,
death is continually swirling over
the bravest warriors from its source
in some tornado cellar or storage bin of death
and never in a straight line -- as though it were embarrassed
to be seen for what it is and chose
the devious route. Not that
it can't directly target those whom it
chooses, but that it chooses not to.

A roughly trapezoidal shadow
has swirled up the side of the building opposite,
making its sooty brick facing darker than normally.
Some cars emerge from its insides.

One is making a left turn
from the extreme right lane.

When you think of the
truly instinctual moments, crying out
when the door slams on your foot,
or breathing deeply of spring, it seems only natural
to imagine an opposite way of behaving.

And when instinct is visible,
as clear in the air as leaves and water tanks,
it isn't inconceivable to suppose
an infinite number of possible worlds, bargained for, grasped,
and finally let go at the moment the situation
becomes clear, like storm clouds illuminating a herd of cows
nestled against coal-black tree trunks - n'est-ce pas?

And in composing for wind instruments
and putting the same or nearly the same chords
into two different pieces, you are
not likely to hear the same concert at noon
as at dusk - unless, of course, the performances are all illusion
and those in attendance merely marking time
within their own private band shells.


An example of feeling
not quite taking the place of thought,
although memorized by it.

The house I live in.
The block of wood and the wood chips,
the surrounding proof that things exist outside the self
despite constant weeding. A waterfall of selves.

The mice are a nice touch, they don't have to speak in complete sentences.
Also the sawhorses.
One, sprinkled with life force,
took off a few minutes ago. Stung by its freedom,
whirling to gain a sense of direction,
it hovered over New Jersey for several seconds
before making a U turn.

No, you turn.

(From The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight by Charles North, published by Adventures in Poetry. Copyright 2000 by Charles North. By permission of the publisher.)

Real Audio excerpt read by the author

Charles North was born in New York City and began writing poetry in his middle twenties. An active musician in his youth, he played clarinet with his first orchestra at the age of thirteen and spent summers at the music program in Interlochen, Michigan. After receiving degrees from Tufts College and Columbia University, he worked briefly in publishing before turning to college teaching. He is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently New and Selected Poems (Sun & Moon, 1999) and The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight (Adventures in Poetry, 2001), and a book of essays on poets, artists, and critics (No Other Way: Selected Prose, Hanging Loose, 1998). With James Schuyler he edited Broadway: A Poets and Painters Anthology (Swollen Magpie, 1979) and Broadway 2 (Hanging Loose, 1989). In addition to this NEA Fellowship, which is his second, he has received three awards from the Fund for Poetry and an award from the Poets Foundation. He is Poet-in-Residence at Pace University.

Author's Statement

The excerpt reproduced here represents approximately one-fifth of "Day After Day the Storm Mounted. Then It Dismounted." The title came from a Looney Tunes cartoon on TV - I think it was Woody Woodpecker - but the poem as a whole is quite serious.