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About this poet

In 1936, C. K. Williams was born in Newark, New Jersey. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including All at Once: Prose Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Writers Writing Dying: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012); Wait: Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010); Collected Poems (2007); The Singing (2003), which won the National Book Award; Repair (1999), winner of a Pulitzer Prize; The Vigil (1997); A Dream of Mind (1992); Flesh and Blood (1987), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; Tar (1983); With Ignorance (1997); I Am the Bitter Name (1992); and Lies (1969).

Williams has also published five works of translation: Selected Poems of Francis Ponge (1994); Canvas, by Adam Zagajewski (with Renata Gorczynski and Benjamin Ivry, 1991); The Bacchae of Euripides (1990); The Lark. The Thrush. The Starling. (Poems from Issa) (1983); and Women of Trachis, by Sophocles (with Gregory Dickerson, 1978).

Among his many awards and honors are an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, and a Pushcart Prize. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Williams teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University and lives part of each year in Paris.

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The Gaffe

C. K. Williams, 1936
1

If that someone who's me yet not me yet who judges me is always with me, 
as he is, shouldn't he have been there when I said so long ago that thing 
   I said?

If he who rakes me with such not trivial shame for minor sins now were
   there then,
shouldn't he have warned me he'd even now devastate me for my
   unpardonable affront?

I'm a child then, yet already I've composed this conscience-beast, who
   harries me:
is there anything else I can say with certainty about who I was, except that I, 
   that he,

could already draw from infinitesimal transgressions complex chords
   of remorse,
and orchestrate ever-undiminishing retribution from the hapless rest
   of myself?


2

The son of some friends of my parents has died, and my parents, paying
    their call,
take me along, and I'm sent out with the dead boy's brother and some 
   others to play.

We're joking around, and words come to my mind, which to my 
   amazement are said.
How do you know when you can laugh when somebody dies, your brother dies?

is what's said, and the others go quiet, the backyard goes quiet,
   everyone stares,
and I want to know now why that someone in me who's me yet not me let
   me say it.

Shouldn't he have told me the contrition cycle would from then be ever
   upon me, 
it didn't matter that I'd really only wanted to know how grief ends,
   and when?


3

I could hear the boy's mother sobbing inside, then stopping, sobbing
   then stopping.
Was the end of her grief already there? Had her someone in her told her
   it would end?

Was her someone in her kinder to her, not tearing at her, as mine did, 
   still does, me, 
for guessing grief someday ends? Is that why her sobbing stopped 
   sometimes?

She didn't laugh, though, or I never heard her. How do you know when
   you can laugh?
Why couldn't someone have been there in me not just to accuse me, but
   to explain?

The kids were playing again, I was playing, I didn't hear anything more
   from inside.
The way now sometimes what's in me is silent, too, and sometimes, 
   though never really, forgets.

From Wait. Copyright © 2010 by C. K. Williams. Used with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

C. K. Williams

C. K. Williams

Born on November 4, 1936, C. K. Williams won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer for poetry, and served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets

by this poet

poem
Tar
The first morning of Three Mile Island: those first disquieting, uncertain,			
          mystifying hours.
All morning a crew of workmen have been tearing the old decrepit roof
          off our building,
and all morning, trying to distract myself, I've been wandering out to 
          watch them
as they hack
poem

          A young mother on a motor scooter stopped at a traffic light, her little son perched 
on the ledge between her legs; she in a gleaming helmet, he in a replica of it, smaller, but 
the same color and just as shiny.  His visor is swung shut, hers is open.
          As I pull up beside
poem

 

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