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By James Wright

Strange bird,

His song remains secret.

He worked too hard to read books.

He never heard how Sherwood Anderson

Got out of it, and fled to Chicago, furious to free himself   

From his hatred of factories.

My father toiled fifty years

At Hazel-Atlas Glass,

Caught among girders that smash the kneecaps

Of dumb honyaks.

Did he shudder with hatred in the cold shadow of grease?   

Maybe. But my brother and I do know

He came home as quiet as the evening.


He will be getting dark, soon,   

And loom through new snow.

I know his ghost will drift home

To the Ohio River, and sit down, alone,

Whittling a root.

He will say nothing.

The waters flow past, older, younger   

Than he is, or I am.


James Wright, “Youth” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose. Copyright © 1990 by James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose (1990)

Poet Bio

James Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio. He served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War before entering Kenyon College, where he received a B.A. He went on to the University of Washington for an M.A. and Ph.D. Wright studied under John Crowe Ransom and Theodore Roethke. He worked at several universities, including the University of Minnesota—Minneapolis, Macalester College, Hunter College of the City University of New York, and State University of New York at Buffalo. 

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