River Writing: An Eno Journal

River Writing: An Eno Journal

by James Applewhite

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"River Writing is an extraordinary journal of a poet's intimate encounter with a landscape in which the self can temporarily abandon itself. In this setting, nature becomes a text, a language of past, present and future. Applewhite reads that text for us with enormous empathy and by ideal light." --Lisel Mueller"James Applewhite's River Writing: An Eno Journal seems


"River Writing is an extraordinary journal of a poet's intimate encounter with a landscape in which the self can temporarily abandon itself. In this setting, nature becomes a text, a language of past, present and future. Applewhite reads that text for us with enormous empathy and by ideal light." --Lisel Mueller"James Applewhite's River Writing: An Eno Journal seems to me one of the few authentic and strong American poetic sequences of his generation. Applewhite has found his true subject as a poet, and has developed a stance and style wholly adequate to the philosophical and spiritual reach of his poignant concerns." --Harold Bloom"These poems are the waves emanating from the gravitational fall of my runs by the Eno river," writes James Applewhite, "and other travels, into a self I could not otherwise know. They are my repetitive song of belief in the possibility of presence in language."From "Observing the Sun" On a bank overlooking the Eno, I feel us as lightly aligned As heads of the Queen Anne's lace, Their congregation of angles. Red sun, dilated, has us all In its sights. Against its horizon, I spread my arms like a road sign To mark earth where we are.

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Princeton University Press
Publication date:
Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets Series
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

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River Writing

An Eno Journal

By James Applewhite


Copyright © 1988 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-06726-1


    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.

    The Ford

    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
    Shone green.

    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.

    Just Rain

    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
    Waste heap.
    Beyond the written beech,
    An ice-white sycamore
    Spired air
    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.

    Clear Winter

    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.

    River Within/Without

    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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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