When Charles Wright titles his new book of poems A Short History of the Shadow, he knows full well the many ways we might read that word.
Shadow: a silhouette, the absence of light, cast when the bright sun shines on an object; Shadow: a sense of darkness, especially near dusk; Shadow: the dark recesses, unlit corners, deep folds where secrets lurk; Shadow: a looming presence or coming event, often fearsome, always unknown; Shadow: an other-being, mirroring, mocking, negating one’s action; Shadow: a comic superhero.
Here and there throughout Wright’s poems, every definition works. Wright seeks slight, imperceptible truths, the certainty found in the light not cast, not in the brightness of the sun or the object illuminated: “Whatever it is I have looked for / Is tiny, so tiny it can dance in the palm of my hand.”
He feels more faith in looking into darkness for those truths: “It’s only in darkness you can see the light, only / From emptiness that things start to fill.” Shards of memory hold more than clear thought: “I’ve got a tune in my head I can’t let go, / unlike the landscape, heavy and wan, / Sunk like a stone in the growing night, / Snuffed in the heart like a candle flame that won’t come back.”
So many details hint toward the coming of death: “Thanksgiving Day, 2000. / Four insect hulls in the far corner, / fly inert on its back. / Inside or outside, a slow climb to the second life.” There are poems lurking in the other world, realizations and sensations that will never come into the light of day, that other poet who refuses to speak: “Some poems exist still on the other side of our lives, / And shine out, / but we’ll never see them. / They are unutterable, in a language without an alphabet. / Unseen. World-long. Bone music.”
And all the while Charles Wright amazes, sliding into our understanding with common moments and unexpected intersections of thought and memory, obscure references that make sense, new ways to see the months and seasons. Likewise Wright amuses, speaking so seriously and yet at times able to take himself so lightly: “Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small / Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge. / Getting too old and lazy to write poems, / I watch the snowfall / from the apple trees.”
Charlottesville and UVA poet Charles Wright, recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, will read from A Short History of the Shadow at New Dominion Bookshop on Thursday, March 28, at 5pm. 404 E. Main St. 295-2552.