Maurice Manning

After Reading Charles Wright I Turn Out the Light and Listen to the Rain
April 20, 2019 Manning Maurice

After Reading Charles Wright I Turn Out the Light and Listen to the Rain

Protestant American darkness
is always worldly, beginning in failure,
a failure that deepens in time to acquire
a punishing weight that can’t be shaken.
Though it’s always failure in worldly terms—
the material way to the easy life
falls short, the good times don’t last.
No thought of living beyond the life
within the span of the living life.
And then the melancholy turn,
the great American illusion,
inert, nothing living in it,
unless you think despair is alive.

Darkness according to the eastern
beliefs I’ve casually encountered
is not as absolute. If you don’t
quite make the illuminated tree
you can settle for the shadow behind it.
At least it’s calm in such a shade,
a deep shadow, like being asleep.
I could live with the deep shadow approach.
Eastern enlightenment, I’ve noted,
doesn’t need to be as bright.
The symbolic mountain is calmly cold
and usually shrouded in a mist.
A rain has tossed the blossoms down
though a few remain on the dark branch—
the water-color is washed out.
In the west we like a golden explosion—
enlightenment is a spectacle,
and not connected to anything,
an anomaly that’s just for us.

Mountains and valleys and long views,
the dead veins of a dropped leaf;
distances, the calliope music
of birds, silence, and slow time.

I’ve wanted to believe that art
and life could share a common purpose—
the aesthetic implying the ethical,
a way of being and going on.
I could be wrong about that. We’ll see.
I know I have to loosen my lines.
And stop drowning the inexplicable
sorrows in order to clarify
the ditty that drifts down to the page.
None of that is important. Let
them go, forever unexplained.
And I must free myself from the left
margin to let the line float
alive, symbolically, back and forth
or out of sight, like a leaf in water.
The figure, the phrase, alive to its own
motion, entwined with the other motion
below, or popping up in the water
somewhere approaching the other
Whatever is on the other side.
defining the space around it,
even an awkward, absent

It looks like a dropped line to me—
I still can’t do it unconsciously,
and still can’t break it all apart
on purpose to leave the sense of meaning
behind. And so more learning, more reading,
more sitting alone, though not alone,
the opposite of alone, in fact.
You go beyond yourself to find
the place—vast or intimate
or both—where you belong and yet
remain unknown, merely dissolved
in the cosmic, watery hum of the place,
a serenity sometimes known in the world,
and the verse becomes about the place
and the hush of belonging to it all.
There’s no point in doing any of this
if all you’re going to do is complain.
Anger stiffens everything.
What a waste of time. You have to go
for wonder that’s simply out there
and wonder that comes from reflection and waiting
or appears to appear coldly from nothing
and quietly ticks in unknown time.
I’ll probably have to study Italian.
God knows what else I’ll have to do.

Maurice Manning’s most recent book is Railsplitter.  He lives with his family in Kentucky.