Sunday, July 08, 2012

`On Boughs Turned Green Again'

A writer’s chief job is not analgesic. Nor is it palliative, sedative, tranquilizing, stimulating, emetic or otherwise therapeutic. A writer’s first job is to write well; as Yvor Winters distilled it, “to make a statement in words about an experience.” If, while accomplishing that, a writer soothes a reader, reinvigorates or brings solace, that’s gravy, delicious, unnecessary gravy. Catherine Tufariello’s “The Sill of the World,” in the spring issue of The Dark Horse, is subtitled “on first reading Richard Wilbur”: 

“She wakes up happy, not remembering why,
A convalescent, light, in cool white sheets.
Sheer curtains fill their bellies with blue sky.
The sun-struck window opens on the street’s 

“Chiaroscuro shimmer, piled meringues
Of clouds, gray squirrels haranguing in the eaves,
The grinding bass and brighter clinks and clangs
Of garbagemen, the shush of linden leaves. 

“She looks and listens, not remembering why
She’d found the world uninteresting. The men
Remount the truck with cowboy yips, the sigh—
No, gasp—of brakes is—Fumbling for a pen, 

“She sees face down, spread-winged beside the bed,
The book she’d stayed up reading half the night,
Whose harmonies still floated overhead
After she slept, converging to alight 

“On boughs turned green again. Wind lifts the latch;
The linden davens, quick with silver flames.
What bird is that one, with a shoulder patch
Of rosy orange? She must learn their names.” 

To find the world “uninteresting” is almost a crime, the self’s misdemeanor against creation. Depressives find the world uninteresting, but what to make of non-depressives who ape their unhappiness? Even without the clue Tufariello gives in her subtitle, we still might have deduced the author of the bedside book. No one would seriously have guessed John Berryman. Sunlight, greenery, wind and birds are Wilbur’s familiars. Without saying so, he is forever suggesting we pay attention to the world and celebrate it. The bird? An oriole or red-winged blackbird? Wilbur writes in “A Barred Owl” (Mayflies: New Poems and Translations, 2000): 

“Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear…”


Jonathan Chant said...

Another fine post. Great poem, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing the poem & poet to my attention; I searched the net for other poems by Catherine Tufariello & have also ordered her book. I recall fondly the delight of sixth & seventh graders encountering Richard Wilbur poems, especially one young man who, re-reading "A Barred Owl", noticed a juxtaposition of the words "Who cooks for you?" with "...and eaten raw", joyfully discovering what was there all along. Most good poetry is like that: simple, direct, clear, & a little bit of "Yes, of course, I see that now."