Poetry and Chukar Hunting

Sunlight lavishing brilliance

Sunday, September Sunday … Outdoors,
Like an early page from The Appalachian Book of the Dead,
Sunlight lavishes brilliance on every surface,
Doves settle, surreptitious angels, on tree limb and box branch,
A crow calls, deep in its own darkness,
Something like water ticks on
Just there, beyond the horizon, just there, steady clock …

Reading through some stuff for a school project, I came across a poem by Charles Wright called “The Appalachian Book of the Dead,” and some lines in it — because this is what happens sometimes when you allow yourself to read — arrested me and my chukar-on-the-brain-ness. The beginning of the poem, above, intersects with catalogs of my Hells Canyon chukar hunting memory. But it’s the end of the poem that really does it for me, brings it home in all the activity’s weirdness, struggling with the meaning of hunting and competing mortalities, the effort put into it, the miracle of motion, the season changes, and — mostly — the terrain…

It always amazes me
How landscape recalibrates the stations of the dead,
How what we see jacks up
                                                  the odd quotient of what we don’t see,
How God’s breath reconstitutes our walking up and walking down.
First glimpse of autumn, stretched tight and snicked, a bad face lift,
Flicks in and flicks out,
                                            a virtual reality.
Time to begin the long division.
Landscape recalibrating stations of the dead

I feel like I’m constantly trying to answer the question for myself, “Why this?” Finding things like this poem, which I don’t “understand” really, helps articulate possible answers, and that’s satisfying. What are you searching for, not just when you’re out there, but — even more — afterward?

I remember Charles Wright from the 1970s. He lived on a street in Laguna Beach next to one of my school friends, and he was a colleague of my dad’s at UC Irvine until he moved east to another university. I remember liking his voice and Southern accent, but it wasn’t until I started teaching English that I’d read any of his poems. I like how things come around in strange, boomerangy ways, paths crossing and getting reasserted unexpectedly, intersections which, if you have the time, notice themselves in you and amplify things you didn’t realize could be amplified.

3 Replies to “Poetry and Chukar Hunting”

  1. Really nice Bob. As a UCLA Alum and English major, I have barely enough (but enough!) linguistic sensitivity to appreciate these insights. I haven’t been out this year, probably because Jessie is gone but I will get out very soon. Jessie is doing really well with her new owner in Durango, CO and I get regular photo updates. She has hunted ptarmigan which is certainly new for her and she has done a great job showing her 18 mo old “sibling” how it should be done. I think she will be in South Dakota this month for pheasant. She’s getting lots of exercise and has 3 others dogs around her. She’s learning what it’s like to not always be the center of attention. Probably good for her. Thanks again for your help in finding such a great home for her.

Chirp away

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