It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to poet C. K. Williams who died at his home last Sunday. In twenty-two books of poetry, Williams graced us with his revelatory honesty, his passionate inquiries, and his unflinching morality. His body of work is a reminder of the ways in which art can serve both beauty and justice. Robert Pinsky wrote, “His fearless inventions, with their big long lines, quest after the entirety of life: he will include every emotion, every bit of evidence that has a natural claim on our attention. Contemporary life is so rich and vivid in his poetry that by contrast many of the movies and poems we are used to seem pale, spaced-out and insipid.”
We’re going to miss Charlie, and our thoughts are with his family.
The following poem, “Again,” appears in his Selected Later Poems.
One of my grandsons is running through the park towards me to show me something he’s found—a long white feather—I can see it from here —probably from one of the herons that come at dawn to fish in the pond.
It doesn’t matter which grandson it is: in my memory, it could be one, or another, or all—I’d prefer it were all, each in his brilliant singularity, each in his union with the rest.
There’s a broad plane tree between us, and for some reason my grandson as he runs keeps moving left and then right, so he disappears behind the trunk of the tree, appears again, disappears, appears, vivid in the brilliant sunlight, again is gone, again is there, all the while beaming with pride at bearing such treasure to share with me.
Also he calls my name each time he appears, and as I stand waiting, listening, watching him materialize again, it comes to me that if that old legend of having your life flash before you as you die is true, I’ll have this all again, and again.
C. K. Williams (1936–2015) published twenty-two books of poetry including, Flesh and Blood, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Repair, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and The Singing, winner of the National Book Award. Williams was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2005. He wrote a critical study, On Whitman; a memoir, Misgivings; and two books of essays, Poetry and Consciousness and In Time: Poets, Poems, and the Rest.
Photo by Tom Grimes