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C.K. Williams

Elms | The Dream | War | Peace | The Shade

C.K. Williams, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1936, "... but one's first birth is rather boring or at least ordinary, isn't it? Even to oneself? I prefer to think of having had several comings into the world: maybe the first real one was the dusk when I was seven or so and first breathed the scent of trees and new grass and realized what a sensuous place the world was. Certainly another would be when I wrote my first poem..." he has said. C.K. Williams is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The Singing, which won The National Book Award in 2003; Repair (also from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999), which won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize; The Vigil (1997); A Dream of Mind (1992); Flesh and Blood (1987), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Tar (1983); With Ignorance (1997); I Am the Bitter Name (1992); and Lies (1969). Williams has also published a memoir: Misgivings (2000) and a book of essays: Poetry and Consciousness; plus five works of translation: Selected Poems of Francis Ponge (1994); Canvas, by Adam Zagajewski (with Renata Gorczynski and Benjamin Ivry, 1991); The Bacchae of Euripides (1990); The Lark. The Thrush. The Starling (Poems from Issa, 1983); and Women of Trachis, by Sophocles (with Gregory Dickerson, 1978). Among his many other awards and honors are an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and a Pushcart Prize. Williams spends part of the year in Paris and teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University.

C.K. Williams's compelling poetry is often characterized by long meditative lines which engage the reader in a moral awareness of relationships within society and between the self and other. His poetry often possesses a disarming immediacy -establishing an intimate rapport with the reader's psyche. The poems are deeply thoughtful and thought provoking. Williams has said, "My poems have a double function for me: they are about consciousness, in a more or less direct way, and they're involved just as much with the social, moral world with which my consciousness is necessarily concerned." When interviewed onthe PBS News Hour in November of 2003 upon winning the National Book Award for The Singing he said; "Poetry is part of the moral resonance of the world's urgency. It adds to the moral respository of the human conscience and is part of the existence of moral resonance in the world."
Cover art for Repair by Jed Mauger Williams. (c) 1999 by the artist. All rights reserved.
Sample poems of C.K Williams follow here by permission of the author.
Copyright © 1994-- 2003 by C.K. Williams, Farrar Straus & Giroux: NY. All rights reserved.

Elms


All morning the tree men have been taking down the stricken elms skirting
              the broad sidewalks.
The pitiless electric chain saw whine tirelessly up and down their pierc-
             ing, peratic scales
and the diesel choppers in the street shredding the debris chug feverishly,
             incessantly,
packing trukload after truckload with the feathery, homogenized, inert
             remains of heartwood,
twig and leaf and soon the black is stripped, it is as though illusions of
             reality were stripped:
the rows of naken facing buildings stare and think, their divagations more
             urgent than they were.
"The Winds of time," they think, the mystery charged with fearful clarity:
             "The winds of time…"
All afternoon, on to the unhealing evening, minds racing, "Insolent,
             unconscionable, the winds of time…"

The Dream


How well I have repressed the dram of death I had after the war when
             I was nine in Newark.
It would be nineteen forty-six; my older best friend tells me what the
             atom bomb will do,
consume me from within, with fire, and that night, as I sat, bolt awake,
             in agony, it did:
I felt my stomach flare and flame, the edges of my heart curl up and
             char like burning paper.
All there was was waiting for the end, all there was was sadness, for in
             that awful dark,
that roar that never ebbed, that frenzied inward fire, I knew that everyone
             I loved was dead,
I knew that consciousness itself was dead, the universe shucked clean of
             mind as I was of my innards.
All the earth around me heaved and pulsed and sobbed; the orient and
             immortal air was ash.

War

Jed is breathlessly, deliriously happy because he's just been deftly am-
             bushed amd gimmed down
by his friend Ha Woei as he came charging headlong around the corner
             of some bushes in the bois.
He slumps dramatically to the ground, disregarding the damp, black
             gritty dirt he falls into,
and holds the posture of a dead man, forehead to the earth, arms and
             legs thrown full-length east and west,
until it's time for him to rise and Ha Woei to die, which Ha Woei does
             with vigor and abandon,
flinging himself down, the imaginary rifle catapulted from hnhis hand like
             Capa's Spanish soldeir's.
Dinnertime, bath time, bedtime, story time, bam, bambambam, bam--
             Akhilleus and Hektor.
Not until the cloak of night falls do they give themselves to the truces
             nd forgivenesses of sleep.

Peace

We fight for hours, through dinner, through the endless evening, who
             even knows how what about,
what could be so dire to have to suffer so for, stuck in one another's
             craws like fishbones,
the cadavers of our argument dissected, flayed, but we go on with it, to
             bed, and through the night,
feigning sleep, dreaming sleep, hardly sleeping, so precisely never touch-
             ing, back to back,
the blanket bridged across us for the wintery air to tunnel down, to keep
             us lifting, turning,
through the angry dark that holds us int he cup of pain, the aching dark,
             the weary dark,
then, tow3ard dawn, I can't help it, though justice won't I know be served,
             I pull her to me,
and with such accurate, gradeful deftness she rolls to me that we arrive
             embracing our entire lengths.

The Shade

A summer cold. No rash. No fever. Nothing. But a dozen times during
             the night I wake
to listen to my son whimpering in his sleep, trying to snort the sticky
             phlegm out of his nostrils.
The passage clears, silence, nothing. I cross the room, groping for the
             warm,
elusive creature of his breath and my heart lunges, stutters, tries to race
             away;
I don't know from what, from my imagination, from life itself, maybe
             from understanding too well
and being unable to do anything about how much of my anxiety is always
             for myself.
Whatever it was, I left it when the dawn came. There's a park near here
 where everyone who's out of work in Qur neighborhood comes to line
             up in the morning.
The converted school buses shuffling hands to the cannery fields in Jersey
             w;ere just raffling away when I got there
and the small-time contractors, hiring out cheap walls, cheap ditches,
             cheap everything,
were loading laborers onto the sacks of plaster and concrete in the backs
             of their pickups.
A few housewives drove by looking for someone to babysit or clean cellars
             for them,
then the gates of the local bar unlaced and whoever was left drifted in
             out of the wall of heat
already rolling in with the first fists of smoke from the city incinerators

.It's so quiet now, I can hear the sparrows foraging scraps of garbage on
             the paths.
The stove husk chained as a sign to the store across the street creaks in
             the last breeze of darkness.
By noon, you'd have to be out of your mind to want to be here: the park
             will reek of urine,
bodies will be sprawled on the benches, men will wrestle through the
             surf of broken bottles,
but even now, watching the leaves of the elms softly lifting toward the
             day, softly falling back,
all I see is fear forgivng fear on every page I turn; all I knokw is every
             time I try to change it,
I say it again: my wife, my child…my home, my work, my sorrow.
If this were the last morning of the world, if time ahd finally moved
             inside us and erupted
and we were Agamemnon again, Helen again, back on that faint, be-
             ginning planet
where even the daily survivals were giants, filled with light, I think I’d
             still be here,
afraid or not enough afraid, silently howling the names of death over the
             grass and asphalt.
The morning goes on, the sun burning, the earth burning, and between
             them, part of me lifts and starts back,
past the wash of dead music from the bar, the drinker reeling on the
             curb, the cars coughing alive,
and part, buried in itself, stays, forever, blinking into the glare, freezing
.

Copyright © 1994-- 2003 C.K. Williams. All rights, including electronic, reserved by the author.

Printed here by permission of the author from the various collections named above.

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