Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence


William Wright


Just north of Ward, South Carolina,
the pong of the paper mill writhes
the air southward,

across the orchards, all the way
to Johnston,
where creeks coil

through their motions;
small seeps carry through ditches
to and from my father’s pond,

where catfish ripple
across the bottom, stir up
delicate skeletons

of their forebears. A stray dog,
wolflike, with a snout long and fierce,
with a lip piece bitten and torn

from the bone so the teeth
forever snarl through that terrified life,
wails the tree line to prayer.

Up toward McCormick, a fire gnaws
through understory, destroys, renews.
The ash crosses

four counties.


When I rise in the lonely hours
of the predawn, and the violet blossom
of fear turns in my stomach,

I hear my grandfather’s voice.
I smell the cedar tang of his small house
in Troutman, North Carolina.

He told me once that, while fighting
in Iwo Jima, down deep in a trench canopied
in gunfire and the screams of the dying,

he saw a Japanese man’s face
detach from the front of his skull
and fall like a huge, soggy leaf

down the hole to land on his shoulder,
the eyebrows and mouth still intact,
a grisly mask.

Later, on Honshu, a crazed boy
from Idaho threatened
to slit his throat

if he didn’t let the boy piss first in a bunker.
So my grandfather let him pass,
walked a few steps back,

and turned to see the boy explode
on a mine, a shard of metal
flying out of the jet of viscera

to lodge deep in his arm.


When I am angry, envy
grinding my body
down to burl,

I think of the sweat drenching
my grandfather’s face, searing his eyes,
as he tried to rest

in the cover of scant trees
while shells boomed just a mile

Then the rage shrinks in me,
and I notice how the wind sends
the high branches

to song. I notice how the trees scroll
through words of their own hidden language,
a lexicon behind perception,

a grammar of silences
that belies the violence
pulsing through our kind.


Down here in Johnston,
just east of the Savannah,
the iron-red snake that winds

between Georgia and Carolina, peaches
amplify under skies thrummed with bees,
attuned to field, bough, flower—

sometimes frost-silenced,
sometimes urged
to sweetness, the fruit

swollen wombs. Sometimes
the tongue cannot rejoice;
sometimes the psalms

of August shrivel
the heart to knot. So down
here, when summers growl

and scald creek-mouths
dry, hiss afternoons
with sudden storms, I watch

the woods and water for least gestures,
pray to know the singing
of the fox or kingfisher, elm or bream,

so that nights
when I can’t sleep—deprived
of the one voice

I long to hear—
I can ride out those creatures’
compound melodies,

their one and only hymn.