C. K. Williams, 1936–2015


In Memoriam

From the cover of Selected Poems.

C. K. Williams, the poet known for his “long, unraveled lines,” died yesterday at seventy-eight. Williams realized, he told the New York Times, “that by writing longer lines and longer poems I could actually write the way I thought and the way I felt. I wanted to enter areas given over to prose writers, I wanted to talk about things the way a journalist can talk about things, but in poetry, not prose.” The Paris Review published three of Williams’s poems in the eighties; this one, “From My Window,” is from our Fall 1981 issue.

Spring: the first morning when that one true block of sweet,
            laminar, complex scent arrives
from somewhere west and I keep coming to lean on the sill,
            glorying in the end of the wretched winter.
The scabby-barked sycamores ringing the empty lot across
            the way are budded—I hadn’t noticed—
and the thick spikes of the unlikely urban crocuses have
            already broken the gritty soil.
Up the street, some surveyors with tripods are waving each
            other left and right the way they do.
A girl in a gym suit jogged by a while ago, some kids
            passed, playing hooky, I imagine,
and now comes the paraplegic Vietnam vet who lives in a half-
            converted warehouse down the block
and the friend who stays with him and seems to help him
            out come weaving towards me,
their battered wheelchair lurching uncertainly from one
            edge of the sidewalk to the other.
I know where they’re going—to the “Legion”: once, when I
            was putting something out, they stopped,
both drunk that time, too, both reeking—it wasn’t ten o’clock
            —and we chatted for a bit.
I don’t know how they stay alive—on benefits most likely. I
            wonder if they’re lovers?
They don’t look it. Right now, in fact, they look a wreck,
            careening haphazardly along,
contriving, as they reach beneath me, to dip a wheel from
            the curb so that the chair skewers, teeters,
tips, and they both tumble, the one slowly, almost gracefully
            sliding in stages from his seat,
his expression hardly marking it, the other staggering over
            him, spinning heavily down,
to lie on the asphalt, his mouth working, his feet shoving
            weakly and fruitlessly against the curb.
In the storefront office on the corner, Reed and Son, Real
            Estate, have come to see the show.
Gazing through the golden letters of their name, they’re not,
            at least, thank god, laughing.
Now the buddy, grabbing at a hydrant, gets himself erect
            and stands there for a moment, panting.
Now he has to lift the other one, who lies utterly still, a
            forearm shielding his eyes from the sun.
He hauls him partly upright, then hefts him almost all the
            way into the chair, but a dangling foot
catches a support-plate, jerking everything around so that
            he has to put him down,
set the chair to rights, and hoist him again and as he does
            he jerks the grimy jeans right off him.
No drawers, shrunken, blotchy thighs: under the thick, white
            coils of belly blubber,
the poor, blunt pud, tiny, terrified, retracted, is almost
            invisible in the sparse genital hair,
then his friend pulls his pants up, he slumps wholly back as
            though he were, at last, to be let be,
and the friend leans against the cyclone fence, suddenly
            staring up at me as though he’d known,
all along, that I was watching and I can’t help wondering if
            he knows that in the winter, too,
I watched, the night he went out to the lot and walked,
            paced rather, almost ran, for how many hours.
It was snowing, the city in that holy silence, the last we
            have, when the storm takes hold,
and he was making patterns that I thought at first were
            circles, then realized made a figure eight,
what must have been to him a perfect symmetry but which,
            from where I was, shivered, bent,
and lay on its side: a warped, unclear infinity, slowly, as the
            snow came faster, going out.
Over and over again, his head lowered to the task, he
            slogged over the path he’d blazed,
but the race was lost, his prints were filling faster than he
            made them now and I looked away,
up across the skeletal trees to the tall center city buildings,
            some, though it was midnight,
with all their offices still gleaming, their scarlet warning
            beacons signaling erratically
against the thickening flakes, their smoldering auras
            softening portions of the dim, milky sky.
In the morning, nothing: every trace of him effaced, all the
            field pure white,
its surface glittering, the dawn, glancing from its glaze,
            oblique, relentless, unadorned.