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Maurice Manning

Maurice Manning

Maurice Manning's new book, The Common Man (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in 2011. He teaches in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and lives in Kentucky. In the fall he will begin teaching at Transylvania University in Lexington. He is currently a Guggenheim fellow.

No. 9 Wire

I go down close, to the first page
of anything, by God, like the hank
of wire I hung over the nail
in the barn. It's likely Mister Key,
careless and melancholy long
before my time, it's likely he
is the one who left the wire, perhaps
not long enough to hitch a gate.
But people have their visions, don't they?
Where everything inside has purpose
and nothing is cast out because
belonging to the vision is
the vision. I've seen a hive of bees
work mountain laurel trees, I've seen
them visit every blossom, and thought
to myself, so must it be in heaven.
The other man from the old days
I think about, Sylvanius Shade,
took a wild rose cane
and bent it to a shepherd's crook,
and when he died they stuck the crook
in the ground and roses bloomed upon it,
tresses of roses tumbled down,
as he had claimed they would. He said
there was no end to anything,
not even death would be an end.
His daughter, Sylvie, made a teacher
of the schoolmarm type, and she
taught Mister Key, back when the roads
were traces and tracks along the streams.
I've seen the way he made a 4,
marked backwards on a barn beam.
And he must have learned the philosophy
that disarray is beautiful,
and even a piece of wire is rare,
though what a man could use it for
is more uncommon still, and endless.
So he unknowingly taught me,
just as careless with my numbers
and with melancholy of my own,
who loves rose canes and bees
and the sweet of mountain laurel trees,
and all the unseen underneath.
The people who had this place before
it came to me were Graves, but the man
who built the barn was Mister Key—
I've heard he was a troubled man—
O, he was clever with his hands,
but sorely troubled otherwise,
like a man who's wandered out of a book.

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