Field of Light and Shadow: Selected and New Poemsby David Young
A career-spanning volume from one of our most valuable living American poets, offering poems that display an exquisite ear tuned to the natural world, to love and friendship, and to the continually renewable possibilities of language. David Young’s settings are at once local and universal—an adolescence in Omaha, late summer on Lake Erie, a sleepless night in the backyard during a meteor shower. He moves with dazzling ease between culture and nature, between the literary and the philosophical, microcosm and macrocosm. Here are poems on Osip Mandelstam and Chairman Mao, the meaning of boxcars on the track, the beautiful names of the months, and a fox at the field’s edge, charged in each case by Young’s fierce intelligence and candor in the face of grief and loss.
“We float through space. Days pass,” Young writes in “The Portable Earth-Lamp.” “Sometimes we know we are part of a crystal / where light is sorted and stored.” His metaphysical reach, balancing remarkable humility with penetrating vision, is one of the great gifts of this exemplary career in poetry.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
My shoes crush acorns.
I’m thirty-nine I’m seven.
Far down the yard
my father and a neighbor
sail horseshoes through the air.
The clank and settle.
And the past I thought would dwindle
arcs back to me, a hoop.
The men wipe their necks,
the boy walks round the oak:
sometimes our lives rust gently,
a long-handled shovel, leaned
against a sun-warmed wall.
Fourteen, I perch on the wicker seat
in a nimbus of misery, love’s shrimp,
hearing the streetcar’s crackle and hiss
as the drugstore turns on its corner.
And what was real? The whipped sparks,
the glove puppets, bobbing, the pocket dreams,
this poem-to-be,my father’s wharf
of set belief, the wicker and shellac?
Learning to be imperfect—
Like coolies in flooded fields,
we wade on our own reflections.
November bleach and brownout. Acid sky,
falsetto sunlight, wire and fluff of weeds, pods,
bone and paper grass-clumps. The dog bounds off,
stitching the field with her nose. Hound city.
It’s thirteen years. Different dog, same field,
and double grief: dull for the slumped president,
stake-sharp for my friend’s ripped heart—faint
night-cries in the mansions where we lived.
But the bullet grooves are gone, the first dog’s dead,
and here is the field, seedy and full of sameness.
Speech fails, years wrinkle. Dream covers dream
that covered dream. My head starts up a jazz
I never could concoct. I have to grin. On the cold pond
the tinsmith wind is whistling at his work.
The Portable Earth-Lamp
The planet on the desk, illuminated globe
we ordered for Bo’s birthday,
sits in its Lucite crescent, a medicine ball
of Rand McNally plastic. A brown cord
runs from the South Pole toward a socket.
It’s mostly a night-light for the boys,
and it blanches their dreaming faces,
a blue sphere patched with continents,
mottled by deeps and patterned currents,
its capital cities bright white dots.
Our models: they’re touching and absurd,
magical both for their truth and falsehood.
I like its shine at night. Moth-light.
I sleepwalk toward it, musing.
This globe’s a bible, a bubble of mythlight,
a blue eye, a double
bowl: empty of all but its bulb and clever skin,
full of whatever we choose to lodge there.
I haven’t been able to shake off all my grief,
my globe’s cold poles and arid wastes,
the weight of death, disease and history.
But see how the oceans heave and shine,
see how the clouds and mountains glisten!
We float through space. Days pass.
Sometimes we know we are part of a crystal
where light is sorted and stored,
sharing an iridescence
cobbled and million-featured.
Oh tiny beacon in the hurting dark.
Oh soft blue glow.
The fox paused at the field’s edge, paw raised,
looked back and switched her tail, the way
a thrush will flutter among maple leaves—
that’s when I thought of you, choosing
your words, taking your careful steps,
sleeping so restlessly.
Our distance is not so much miles
as years and memories, mine such leafy compost
I shake my head, too full of duff and humus
to get a bearing or a fix. Foxfire, that weird
by-product of wood-decay, pulses in me today . . .
And look: after the vixen left, trailing a faint rank scent,
a freight passed slowly, flatcars in mizzling rain,
some of them loaded with truck trailers, some not,
objects that no more need attention than you need
waste time upon my lurching, coupled feelings.
Go with the fox—I send a sort of blessing
as gulls lift off the reservoir and day,
a spreading bruise against the western rim,
drains January and the freshened year.
—for my children
I see her doing something simple, paying bills,
or leafing through a magazine or book,
and wish that I could say, and she could hear,
that now I start to understand her love
for all of us, the fullness of it.
It burns there in the past, beyond my reach,
a modest lamp.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
David Young is the author of ten previous books of poetry, including Black Lab and At the White Window. He is a well-known translator of the Chinese poets and of the poems of Petrarch. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships as well as a Pushcart Prize, he is the Longman Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Oberlin College and the editor of the Field Poetry Series at Oberlin College Press.
From the Hardcover edition.
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