Charles Wyatt – Six Poems


 Du Fu Remembers

I am watching you from the empty house
you imagined thinking later that you dreamed
Over the two of us a full moon makes an empty
sky touch only the tips of these bare trees
Together we think of Du Fu that old man
his long journeys the birds he listened to

that same moon rising and falling while
he drank toasts to us arguing with God
the empty house is full of the same ghosts
you heard in the sagging floor and insect
tick at the windows you turned when you
heard that last sound it was the poem

looking up at you remember the snow
on the path the wooden bridges and deep
below the water moving under ice
thinking its own thoughts the poem
must have enough momentum to roll
though the bridge creak like a gunshot


The Clouds Float Off

A blackbird lit near us and sang its words
and then again as if we would not remember
then away I thought the air would hold me
and you for a moment but morning moved away
we were our own offering Du Fu often complains
of age or of responsibility but looks toward evening

as we do for the music we make and another
glass of wine when I play the first note I remember
the last a good day is when the music speaks
like the blackbird and then wings away
how it feels shouldn’t matter but it does
or else I would not remember the blackbird

its bright eye how it might not have been there
at all clouds drifting over us in several layers
the day ordinary a piece of time spinning
in light the wind chime holding its breath
don’t think of heaven that long journey
holding the paddle behind but not steering


A Place to Listen

You said the crepe myrtles have such graceful ankles
and I kept looking up at bare limbs branching
from more bare limbs thinking finally they may not
be standing on their heads the roots may have
ankle hats there in that place above the ground
astride perhaps the ground all around us

a morning given to a mix of settling and rising
some birds encouraging its continuance
Du Fu will look down or perhaps look up
and observe that weather is always loose
drifting and unmoored like time an unlikely
thought I’ll grant perhaps it was that bird

calling from a place he holds and keeps dry
with his yammering up in the ankles
above the peeling bark which aspires to white
in this gray place what time is it or perhaps
this time is not what you imagine there
below looking up in an unseemly lost hour


Come to Mind

Why these questions, chickens and ducks
mapping the earth robins close to the sound of it
do you remember any of this do you dream
this is what comes of it the commas
the tugs and shifts the part of the tree
that goes in the ground do you know about the sword

where the pointy end goes do you know really
old Chinese poet or barnyard bird a good meal
begins with a poem the brush hovering
some weight pulls down to the word and the word
is a lake of meaning do you mean this fish
or the face of an owl too sudden for chance

those crows made such music trying to say
owl in harsh legato and owl patient
must make one last curtain call and bear
away thinking why these crows always
thinking they have made poems but poems
are quieter and wait with me in shadow 


One Time Becomes Even Now

My father has been visiting my dreams of late
not the towering demon I once believed him to be
but a supporting figure nearly taken for granted
I wonder briefly about it as the clouds thin
and I slip into my clothes into my new day
where rain waits and I mind as I always mind

his initials were carved into my desk at school
and some of the teachers knew him their burden
being to grow old watching families grow old
Du Fu would say get drunk with the old spirit
let him show you the shadow world you so
eagerly are bent on forgetting let him in

without those dreams they are very like
the rain you cried out against this morning
suspended waiting for you drawing out
your heat let them flap wearily away
leaving nothing but you and whittling robins
an old ghost who has asked of you nothing


Not Far Down the Day

First the moon in her usual place confessed
that I was hard to see because clouds kept passing
between us still I looked up over my shoulder
and cheered her on then one white tailed rabbit
ran the full block before disappearing under a fence
a day like this tooth in the mouth of winter means

something Du Fu would know a woman with two dogs
small white and medium black nearly waltzing
up Central Avenue is next her cell phone not
the best idea we have seen them before
and the black one will loose his shit and if
he doesn’t bite the white one he will sing

all the tenor arias Pucinni ever wrote the while
that old lady puppet master pulls and tangles
leashes how could this happen she might cry
but decides it is more dignified to ignore me
and my white poodle who cried out herself
earlier when I stepped on her dainty paw


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Asking me what I think about beauty, and by the way don’t quote Keats, may be editorially sound, but it’s cruel.  For crying out loud, I am reading Helen Vendler on the Odes.  I kid you not.  I wanted to read Vendler on Wallace Stevens’ long poems but decided to read Keats first because Stevens had gone to school on Keats.

My poems tend to be conversations with writers I admire:  Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Theodore Roethke.  Lately, I composed a book length sequence and Du Fu made an appearance in every poem.  The sequence is called 3 X 6, Caprices.  The form is Berryman’s Dream Song form.  That’s a kind of conversation, too.

These poems are post sequence, after the monkey (me) read some W. S. Merwin and wanted to find out how a poem could work without punctuation.  It reminds me of the time my starter went out and I tried to roll the car down a hill to get the engine to turn over.  I had a good idea but also had an automatic transmission.

When I think of beauty, I think of music.  Mozart, Beethoven, Bach.  That kind of music.  Well, it’s been my day job for a long time.  If I could write a poem that does what the opening measures of Debusy’s Pelléas et Mélisande do, I would pay myself a million bucks.  I spent fifteen years writing a poem called Goldberg-Variations that comes from the pov of a piece of music. 

These conversations with poets (and with pieces of music) come about because I’m a shy person.  I’m kind of a non-violent Boo Radley.  I’d rather talk to Emily Dickinson, anyway.  Apart from talent, she and I have a lot in common.

I like what Auden says about poems being contraptions.  I tinker with them.  Then I hang out like Keats in his Ode on Indolence (let’s see if I can get this past the editor) and wait for a new idea.

Maybe I still have time to quote from the children’s story I wrote about Li Po Bunny and Du Fu bunny getting into a drunken brawl in the Green Meadow.  “I knew you when you were Tu Fu,” said Li Po, his words slurred and his four tones hopelessly mixed, the rising falling, the falling reclining. 

“I knew you when you were Li Bai,” said Du Fu just before he tripped over Hedgehog and tumbled gently (very like a cloud) into a clump of milkweed plants, nearly squashing a slew of caterpillars.

Hedgehog, the cup bearer, has the last word on beauty as the two Chinese poets snore peacefully:   

“Hedgehog poured himself a brimming cup of wine.   ‘I am a floating twig,’ he mused, ‘seeking the eastern sea, and the peaches of immortality.’’


Charles Wyatt is the author of two collections of short fiction, (Listening to Mozart, University of Iowa Press, Swan of Tuonela, Hanging Loose Press), a novella (Falling Stones; the Spirit Autobiography of S.M. Jones, Texas Review Press), and three poetry chapbooks (A Girl Sleeping, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Series, Myomancy, Finishing Line Press, Angelicus ex Machina, Finishing Line Press).  He is the recipient of the Beloit Poetry Journal’s 2010 Chad Walsh Prize and the Writers at Work 2013 Fellowship in Poetry.  A poetry collection, Goldberg-Variations, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2015.

A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music (BM), The Philadelphia Musical Academy (MM), and Warren Wilson College (MFA), he has served as visiting writer at Binghamton University, Denison University, The University of Central Oklahoma, Purdue University, and Oberlin College.  He currently teaches in the Low Residency Program of the University of Nebraska Omaha and the Writing Program of UCLA Extension.

Before this, he was principal flutist of the Nashville Symphony for 25 years.