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About this poet

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was born in New York City on February 29, 1940 and grew up there and on Long Island. He earned his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College, a Master's from Colgate University, and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York.

He is the author of seven poetry collections: Epitaphs for the Journey (Cascade Books, 2012), Deaths & Transfigurations (Paraclete Press, 2005), The Great Wheel (W. W. Norton, 1996), Salvage Operations: New & Selected Poems (1990), Prime Mover (1985), Crossing Cocytus (1982), and Timing Devices (1979).

He has published numerous books of prose, including Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius (Viking, 2002), and God and the Imagination: On Poets, Poetry, and the Ineffable (University of Georgia Press, 2002). Other books include A Useable Past: Essays, 1973-1983 (1984), William Carlos Williams: The Poet and His Critics (1975), and A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1970), as well as four biographies: The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane (1999); Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell (1994), both named New York Times Notable Books of the year; Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman (1990); and William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked (1981), which won the New Jersey Writers Award, was short-listed for an American Book Award, and was also named a New York Times Notable Book of the year. His latest biography, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (Viking) appeared in 2008.

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009 he received the John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. He was Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he taught from 1968 until 2000, and currently holds a Chair in Poetry at Boston College. Mariani and his wife, Eileen, have three grown sons and live in western Massachusetts.

The Great Wheel

Paul Mariani, 1940
In the Tuileries we came upon the Great Wheel 
rising gargantuan above the trees. Evening 
was coming on. An after-dinner stroll, descending 
by easy stages toward the river, a bridge of leaves 
above us, broken here and there by street lights 
coming on. Our time here nearly over, our return

home a shadow hovering. Paris, city of returns, 
you said, for the pleasure of it, like the Great Wheel 
looming there above us, all steel & light
& music, daredevil daunting, against the evening 
sky with the tower in the distance winking. The leaves 
still held firmly, the unthinkable descending

of what lay ahead undreamt of still, death descending 
inevitably as the Great Wheel in its return, 
(a descent first through summer's golden leaves 
and then bare ruined branches), the Great Wheel 
turning & returning. As then, with the all but evening 
over us, our wives laughing by the entrance lights,

we rose above the mansard roofs, the trees, the lights, 
lifting in a vertiginous ascent before descending, 
as we chattered on against the coming on of evening, 
our seat creaking in the rising wind, anxious to return 
now to earth's solidities. Instead, the Great Wheel 
merely sighed and lifted, stopping at the top, leaving

each of us alone now with our thoughts. The leaves 
below, green, graygreen, gray, the dollhouse roofs, lights 
like diamonds winking, aloof & distant, the Great Wheel 
playing us, two middle-aged men, each descending 
toward the Wheel's one appointed end, the Great Return 
to earth, as the books all have it, come our evening.

For all our feigned bravado, we could feel the evening 
over us, even as we stared down upon the blur of leaves, 
our wives, our distant children, on all we would return 
to, the way shipwrecked sailors search for lights 
along a distant shore, as we began the last descent, 
leaving the tents and Garden with its Great Wheel

to return, my dear dead friend, to the winking lights 
along the boulevard, leaves lifting & descending, 
as now the evening air took mastery, it & the Great Wheel.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From The Great Wheel, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Paul Mariani. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Paul Mariani

Paul Mariani

The oldest of seven children from a working-class background, Paul Mariani was

by this poet

poem

for Charlie Miller

Late nights, with summer moths clinging 
to the screens & the shadows of the Old Great 
flickering across the tv screen, suddenly, 
there would be Charlie's inquisitorial head 
peering in the window, the shock of white hair, 
followed by the heart-stopping shock 
of greeting
poem
Beyond the moon, beyond planet blue 
and planet red, each day further 
from the sun she floats out toward

the empty dark of X. Having done 
what she was sent out years before 
to do, she gave up sending even

the faintest signals back to earth, 
to bend instead her shattered wings 
across her breast for warmth
poem
After so much time you think 
you'd have it netted 
in the mesh of language. But again 
it reconfigures, slick as Proteus.

You're in the kitchen talking 
with your ex-Navy brother, his two kids
snaking over his tattooed arms, as he goes on 
& on about being out of work again.

For an hour now you've