Read an Excerpt
An Eno Journal
By James Applewhite
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1988 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
World's Shoulder, Turning
A rock of the bulk of a house leaned out
From bank across the creek — as if earth were still
In the making. Through the weed screen, I noticed
How light had lessened, mountain laurel beyond
Submerged in slope-shadow. Going back, I felt white
Quartz and the bone of a bracket mushroom
Shine their beams at me. The bouquet of huckleberry
Leaves I picked seemed tiny tropical fish.
They floated on their stems as I ran, and I
Added bleached grasses like sea oats, a few
Fronds of fern. I ran lightened in the gloom
By the scarlet and tan like a torch in my hand.
Yesterday I'd seen the sun, a scoured
Copper pan, shine through pines, from a bend
Of the high shouldering trail where the horizon
Falls away. I remembered the light's raying,
Like magnetized metallic dust. I felt all
These bright things — huckleberry stems and sea oats,
Quartz rocks and mushroom — held in the field
Of sun now down below shoulder of the world's turning.
Today the air was mist, the river full
Bank to bank with fog. The time
Grows near the birth of Christ.
Because of the solstice. Because
We see a new year like a spark
In these short, dark days. Today
I felt released by the past. I passed
The hill where ruts made by wagons
To the mill seemed Civil War breastworks
The past was only rock from
A wall, a chimney fallen in the woodland
Of now. In the rain, everything
Crossing on Cables
I'd passed the cable crossing, thinking it too late,
Until stopped by a movement in bushes. Squirrels?
A deer? I couldn't hear more. The two-story
Boulder near the river bulked gray under
Mountain laurel. I climbed the tree that held the cables
And slid my feet over water, steadied by the strand above.
The landing led up through a staircase crevice
To a ledge giving vantage over a rippled bend.
The rock-grain felt rough as tree bark, the top
Pitted and peaked like a topographical map
Of the continent. The hundreds-of-thousands-of-years-old
Shelf shone gray-green with lichen, mossed
In spots like forests seen from space. Resting,
My hand supporting me, I felt a cold slow
Pulse pushing between my bone and the granite.
Constructing the River
The sequences of the river write themselves
Anew every day. It is a flow which dries
In lines from my pen. Fine dogwood twigs
End in periods of buds, limb-type prints
Phonemes of foam on air. Words are things.
I feel them in my brain's blood, forming with my
Running. I am accompanied through a narrowing
Where path comes close to rocky shallows by a
Continuous murmuring of the many streams' tongues
The rapids form. I use foam, stream, and tongue
For their sound. So language refers to itself.
Millipede with tail in its mouth, it circles
In these woods and every word is a leg touching
Water or tree. The cliff shows an intrusion of quartz,
Crystalline vein continuing even where
Softer stone has rotted to loam. Word is not
Object but both exist and align. This poem
I am writing is not precisely the one in my head
As I was running. This presence is an illusion.
The relation between word-thing and quartz vein
Is something seen, clear air, quintessential
As metaphor. It was not there before. Poor
As we are, this affluent gleam at the speed
Of light vibrates between noun and thing, almost
Joining them. Grandsons of Freud, we handle
The mental toy, make it disappear like mother,
Fort/da, fort/da. We visit our own funerals with
Huck Finn. The word-river cherishes time that was,
That is, that will never again be. Is elegy.
The steady rain grew colder as I ran.
Honeysuckle crowding across the path sopped
My shoe tops with water. The river was
Louder than ever, a continuous crescendo,
A racing flow into frothing combers.
The current's galloping took over, thought
Forced to concentrate on the path's ledge
That offered an easy slide. To go under
The tan moil and hurry with small logs
Riding it bareback seemed, to my absent
Mind, attractive. Like call of the distance
Below a precipice. Cold and uncomfortable
Rain doesn't make one's possession of self
More intense. Mind wanders to memories
Of summer, close warm smells fill the
Breath. Raw is the word for the river. I
Regretted disturbing the small birds pecking
By the ford. I lay down in weeds at
The abandoned homestead, to feel what it's
Like being dead. Rain felt pure on my face.
Tree of Babel
A green air freshened from cedar
And holly. The river's metal
Reflection shone molten.
Rocks, washed of silt,
Left the mind rinsed.
The cloth in a fork,
Like a scrap tacked to fact
From dream, was gone.
From the shore I'd crossed to by cable,
I looked back at people
Hiking on Sunday.
I waved before fading
Into trees. The boot print
I found in a clearing
(Like Friday coming on Crusoe)
Stunned me. A hundred yards on,
An ancient, forked beech
Carved with illegible
Letters seemed text
To the living story
Of abandoned rows under trees.
A scribble of vines loaded
My head like a dictionary's
Beyond the written beech,
An ice-white sycamore
With absolute moment.
I discovered the illusion
Newly. The pool of perception
Inked only by branches
Seemed garden before
Transgression, flood high over
The Babel tower. I came
Home from this year
Made new with only a happy
Headache, a thorn in my finger
A Wash of Words
Leaden, I surprised the sun,
A great copper pan
Through crowns of pines.
It weighed its ton
On the path, that inclined
Toward it with my breath.
I could run. I tasted
Glistening over my tongue
The sound-feel young:
Not a property of me
Or of the river, but of
Its flash upon the mirror
That beholds it.
All the way to the bridge,
I ran through airs
And humidities like sheets
Hung on a line. Breathed
Washed accents of language.
Confusion of seasons is over.
Today was clear winter.
Light that on trunks seemed warm
Looked bleak and bare
On chill limbs high in chill air.
I saw bodies of trees
Piled mercilessly by past
High water, crotch-chunk
Of one upon trunk of another.
Angular cedars, their crowns
Thinned of needles by drought,
Seemed a desert tribe
Overtaken by an angel of death.
Finally I climbed clear
Of the valley which memory
Stocked with its proxy
Corpses. I saw air
In its isolation now pure.
We are unable to endure
This light the cold whets to steel.
I stood above river land
And hypothesized the being
We cannot understand, who
Begins things with flame of a star.
Who is the zero far dark.
I sniffed for scent of some smoke,
For coffee, leaf-smolder or
Cigarette odor. All unendurably
Absent. I turned toward home,
Alone as a pane of ice
The keen sun shines through.
I kissed my warm wife
And under the first star
Gathered cedar for a fire.
Today, a rime of ice on the path.
I make metaphor of water.
Or simply record
The figures of the river.
The one who runs and is
Aware is wrapped in the same
Light and air as the trees.
A bend curves closer to words.
Mind lamps back a damp
Flash of language. Verbs,
Rubbed on rocks, take a fresh
Edge. The interlinked spillage
Of phonemes, sliding, signifying
Are made to name by things
Like underwater dams. Rock ledge
Roils a print, the ripple-shine of
Current like vowel/consonant.
I palm the oak's bark.
Noun tree. Governs verb to be.
Two rivers are flowing this poem.
Winds of These Times
Today with ice by the path, I let
The wind bare my pain. Most of the run
Was numb. Nothing would come until
I'd climbed up the slope from Pea Creek.
From the powerline cut, the image
I may have been seeking: two trees
Crushed into an embrace. In the winds
Of these times, I hardly know who
Is uprooted. The thick-legged woman
With her Labrador on the other side
Of the river pleased me. Cold makes
Friends of a stranger. Why not of a lover?
Toppled together, we break each other.
Like a Body in the River
The atmosphere was bitter mist — my nerves
Worse than the weather. I buttoned on
A Bean guide jacket, laced rubber foot
Boots. Running on the slushy bank felt
Childishly barefoot. I ran without thought.
A heavy plop, and circles in the river marked
A beaver I'd surprised. I stopped to watch
Its seal-like head in the sledding current,
Its outraged eye. The cocoa water grew
Darker, with bass thumps and drowning
Percussions. The river bobbled with nightmare.
Turgid screams drove at me out of my dreaming
Remembrance — tight as wire lines the bats
Stitched in the net of branches. I'd seen,
On a figure at a stoplight, the face
Of my friend's dead wife. Felt lost.
The sepia light rusted toward oblivion
As I groped toward home in grief.
The Sense of Light
I run in an unmoving pane
That accompanies my face, a beam
Like a stream standing still —
While vines and tree trunks flow
Furiously. Though bronze through the lens
Of sun in afternoons, this other sun
Has no tone. The father I saw,
Hovering over his toddler, will
Hold the umbrella and pull down shades
In vain. This absolute light X-rays
Walls, transparent cliff that
Crowds us to the edge of space.
Overexposure thins the scenes
Of our lives. It is a summer sun
In which we dream by the river,
Scheming for constancy, changing.
When the Night Falls
I crossed on the cables when it was late
To look at what I thought was a boat.
Earlier I'd seen the air illuminate
A white sycamore, thought even more
Marvelous the scene in my brain —
That the two were one. But not
For long. Still, given the path's aim,
The young will see it almost the same.
The painting will be similar, with different
Signature in the corner. Whenever I
Imagine being dead, I can't see
The world without an angle. My foot
Finds air instead of path, I stumble and
Lose my breath. I feel the phenomenology
Of self, no name of Applewhite, only bushes
And briars and undetermined shapes in the night —
Feel dissociate, and far. I'm almost out
Of the picture. The picture remains. Howl
From dog or owl comes scrambled and haunting.
The seat from a junked truck, one end
Sunk in ice near the bank, proves the boat
I'd thought. I find I've caught my leg
On the old barbed wire below the cable.
I hurry across hand over hand, almost
Take a tumble in the ice-crusted river.
The sycamore lighted by consciousness returns.
I'll run the sun while there is time.
Miles to Go
Seeing and hearing expanded today.
I came into a beech grove open
Like a clearing. The ferns in folds
Of Pea Creek's valley walls shone
Clean through breath-misting overcast.
The slope made a large room.
Leaves were a rug of loam.
Holly punctuated its holiday welcome
With red dots coding bent green.
Rocks under the grape-pulp current
Seemed forms half-seen
Through sleep. The words like
A taste on the tongue: brown, lie down.
The Snow's Code
A cedar like a lancet window
Down the snow-loaded aisles seemed
A Black Forest icon. Hoffmann or Hans
Christian Andersen. Trees feathered
Softly swan-white on gray duck bark.
Cold was cruel, seventeen degrees
When I set out. I kept dreaming
Through branches the Christmas scene
On campus. Spires and roofs of Trinity
Lifted their outline. Gold electric
Lights from the great hall, sharpened
By arches, cut into the night —
Glowed a cold where our frost-breaths
Praised Christ. These structures of stone
And word are our imperial
Burdens, skylines of Oxford-ideal
Built past our ability to fulfill
Them, fractious and self-interested
As we are, though moved by Handel,
The refectory's leaded panes, a star.
Yet Jane Goodall's chimp that killed
Its brother ape proves Cain
Again in a different text. We would
Be murderous still, only poorer,
Without our words, our stones of grandeur.
Retracing tracks toward home, I
See holly and cedar dotted and
Dashed with snow, the pagan coding
Behind our Christian creche. A child,
I feel the North cut nearer, zero wind
Sing me the tale of the Erlking.
Excerpted from River Writing by James Applewhite. Copyright © 1988 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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