North American Bear, by Charles Wright

Early November in the soul,
                                    a hard rain, and dusky gold
From the trees, late afternoon
Squint-light and heavy heart-weight.
It's always downleaf and dim.
A sixty-two-year-old, fallow-voiced, night-leaning man,
I stand at ease on the blank sidewalk.
Unhinder my habitat, starlight, make me insoluble;
Negative in my afterscape
                                    sidle the shadow across my mouth.
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Random geometry of the stars,
                                    random word-strings,
As beautiful as the alphabet.
Or so I remember them,
                                    North American Bear,
Orion, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades,
Stitching their syntax across the deep North Carolina sky
A half-century ago,
The lost language of summer nights, the inarticulate scroll
Of time
                                    pricked on its dark, celestial cylinder.
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What is it about the stars we can't shake?
                                    What pulse, what tide drop
Pulls us like vertigo upward, what
Height-like reversal urges us towards their clear deeps?
Tonight, for instance,
Something is turning behind my eyes,
                                    something unwept, something unnamable
Spinning its line out.
Who is to say the hijacked heart has not returned to its cage?
Who is to say some angel has not
                                    breathed in my ear?
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I walk in the chill of the late autumn night
                                    like Orpheus,
Thinking my song, anxious to look back,
My vanished life an ornament, a drifting cloud, behind me,
A soft, ashen transcendence
Buried and resurrected once, then time and again.
The sidewalk unrolls like a deep sleep.
Above me the stars, stern stars,
Uncover their faces.
                                    No heartbeat on my heels, no footfall.
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Some of these star fires must surely be ash by now.
I dawdle outside in the backyard,
Humming old songs that no one cares about anymore.
The hat of darkness tilts the night sky,
Inch by inch, foot by black foot,
                                    over the Blue Ridge.
How bright the fire of the world was, I think to myself
Before white hair and the ash of days.
I gaze at the constellations,
                                    forgetting whatever it was I had to say.
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The sidewalk again, unrolling grey and away. 9 p.m.
A cold wind from the far sky.
There is a final solitude I haven’t arrived at yet,
Weariness like a dust in my throat.
                                    I simmer inside its outline,
However, and feel safe, as the stars spill by, for one more night
Like some medieval journeyman enfrescoed with his poem in his hand,
Heaven remaining in my neighborhood.
And like him, too, with something red and inviolate
                                    under my feet.

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