Hook (James Wright)

August 19, 2008

I was only a young man
In those days. On that evening
The cold was so God damned
Bitter there was nothing.
Nothing. I was in trouble
With a woman, and there was nothing
There but me and the dead snow.

I stood on the street corner
In Minneapolis, lashed
This way and that.
Wind rose from some pit,
Hunting me.
Another bus to Saint Paul
Would arrive in three hours,
If I was lucky.

Then the young Sioux
Loomed besided me, his scars
Were just my age.

Ain’t got no bus here
A long time, he said.
You got enough money
To get home on?

What did they do
To your hand? I answered.
He raised up his hook into the terrible starlight
And slashed the wind.

Oh, that? he said.
I had a bad time with a woman. Here,
You take this.

Did you ever feel a man hold
Sixty-five cents
In a hook,
And place it
Gently
In your freezing hand?

I took it.
It wasn’t the money I needed.
But I took it.

* * *

“Hook” describes the movement from isolation to communion through an unlikely and unexpected discovery of human connection. I have always admired how easily Wright seems to pull off such discoveries with a terse, sometimes raw, vernacular. How he packs such a tremendous movement into a handful of chopped up, skeletal lines. These strangers are sharing not just a cold night awaiting the arrival of a bus, but human suffering so deep and familiar that even the slightest, smallest gesture, brings it into view. So few words are necessary, shared scars being enough.

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