Poem: Night by C.K. Williams

We were very honoured when the poet regaled this beauty poetry to Green Drinks Malta to be read on a Climate Change Green Drinks Gathering, February 2007.

1.
Somehow a light plane
coming in low at three
in the morning at a local airstrip
hits a complex of tones
in its growl so I hear mingles
with it a peal of church bells,
swelling in and out
of audibility, arrhythmic, but rich and insistent, then,
through I try to hold them,
they dissolve, fade away;
only that monochrome
drone bores on
alone through the dark.

2.
This is one of our new
winters, dry, windless
and warm, when even the lightest cover is stifling.
A luxuriant flowering
pear tree used to shelter
the front of our house,
but last August a storm
took it, a bizarrely focused
miniature tornado never
before seen in this climate,
and now the sky outside
the window is raw, inert
air viscous and sour.

3.
I was ill, and by the merest
chance happened to be
watching as the tree fell,
I saw the branches helplessly
flail the fork of the trunk
with a great creak split
and the heavier half scar
down, catch on wires,
and hang, lifting and subsiding
in the last barbs of the gale
as through it didn’t know yet
it was dead, when it did,
and slipped slowly sideways
onto its own debris in the gutter.

4.
When Ivan Karamazov
is reciting his wracking disquisition
about the evils perpetrated
on children, opining whether
human salvation would be worth
a single child’s suffering,
you know he’s close to braking
down, sobbing in shame
and remorse, and I wonder
if he’d imagined our whole planet,
the children with it,
wagered in a mad gamble
of world against wealth,
what would he have done?

5.
What do I do? Fret
mostly, and brood, and lie
awake. Not to sleep
wasn’t always so punishing.
Once, in a train, stalled
in mountains. In snow,
I was roused by the clank of a trainman’s crowbar
on the undercarriage of my car.
I lifted the leathery shade
And across a moon-dazzled
pine-fringed slope
A fox cut an arc; everything
else was pure light.

6.
I wanted it to last forever,
but I was twenty, and before
I knew it was back in my dream.
Do I ever sleep that way
now, innocent of everything
Beyond my ken? No,
others are always with me,
others I love with my life,
yet I’ll leave them scant
evidence of my care, and little
trace of my good intentions,
as little as the solacing shush
the phantom limbs of our slain
tree will leave on the night.

C.K. Williams