“Two Hangovers”

James Wright
Selected by Brad Johnson

Wright Above the River

Often considered one of James Wright’s most optimistic poems, “Two Hangovers” is appropriately two-minded and torn. Asking for a silence it doesn’t entirely want, it finds a joy it didn’t expect.

—Brad Johnson


Two Hangovers

Number One

I slouch in bed.
Beyond the streaked trees of my window,
All groves are bare.
Locusts and poplars change to unmarried women
Sorting slate from anthracite
Between railroad ties:
The yellow-bearded winter of the depression
Is still alive somewhere, an old man
Counting his collection of bottle caps
In a tarpaper shack under the cold trees
Of my grave.

I still feel half drunk,
And all those old women beyond my window
Are hunching toward the graveyard.

Drunk, mumbling Hungarian,
The sun staggers in,
And his big stupid face pitches
Into the stove.
For two hours I have been dreaming
Of green butterflies searching for diamonds
In coal seams;
And children chasing each other for a game
Through the hills of fresh graves.
But the sun has come home drunk from the sea,
And a sparrow outside
Sings of the Hanna Coal Co. and the dead moon.
The filaments of cold light bulbs tremble
In music like delicate birds.
Ah, turn it off.

Number Two:
I Try to Waken and Greet the World Once Again

In a pine tree,
A few yards away from my window sill,
A brilliant blue jay is springing up and down, up and down,
On a branch.
I laugh, as I see him abandon himself
To entire delight, for he knows as well as I do
That the branch will not break.

 

Above the River by James Wright

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Poetry collections by James Wright (1927-80) include The Green Wall (1957), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, Saint Judas (1959), The Branch Will Not Break (1963), Shall We Gather at the River (1968), and Two Citizens (1973). Wright was elected a fellow of The Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize. He died in New York City in 1980, having served on the English faculties at the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and Hunter College (CUNY).

Brad Johnson is a co-manager of Diesel Bookstore.

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