Every Riven Thing is Christian Wiman's first collection in seven years, and rarely has a book of poetry so borne the stamp of necessity. Whether in stark, haiku-like descriptions of a cancer ward, surrealistic depictions of a social order coming apart, or fluent, defiant outpourings of praise, Wiman pushes his language and forms until they break open, revealing startling new truths within. The poems are joyful and sorrowful at the same time, abrasive and beautiful, densely physical and credibly mystical. They attest to the human hunger to feel existence, even at its most harrowing, and the power of art to make our most intense experiences not only apprehensible but transfiguring.
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Every Riven Thing
By Christian Wiman
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2010 Christian Wiman
All rights reserved.
Mystical hysterical amalgam of earth and wind
over and of
dust you go
through a field I know
by broken heart
for I have learned this art
wherein to live
is to move
wild untouchable toy
called by a boy
in a time when time stopped
AFTER THE DIAGNOSIS
No remembering now
when the apple sapling was blown
almost out of the ground.
No telling how,
with all the other trees around,
it alone was struck.
It must have been luck,
he thought for years, so close
to the house it grew.
It must have been night.
Change is a thing one sleeps through
when young, and he was young.
If there was a weakness in the earth,
a give he went down on his knees
to find and feel the limits of,
there is no longer.
If there was one random blow from above
the way he's come to know
from years in this place,
the roots were stronger.
Whatever the case,
he has watched this tree survive
wind ripping at his roof for nights
on end, heats and blights
that left little else alive.
No remembering now ...
A day's changes mean all to him
and all days come down
to one clear pane
through which he sees
among all the other trees
this leaning, clenched, unyielding one
that seems cast
in the form of a blast
that would have killed it,
as if something at the heart of things,
and with the heart of things,
had willed it.
FIVE HOUSES DOWN
I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
with its oilspill plumage, tools
cauled in oil, the dark
clockwork of disassembled engines
christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
and down the steps into the yard the explosion
of mismatched parts and black scraps
amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
in luck, he would look up stunned,
patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
and saying, Son,
you lookin' to make some scratch?
All afternoon we'd pile the flatbed high
with stacks of Exxon floormats
mysteriously stenciled with his name,
rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
of rusted fencewire that stained for days
every crease of me, rollicking it all
to the dump where, while he called
every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
he catpicked the avalanche of trash
and fished some always fixable thing
up from the depths. His endless aimless work
was not work, my father said.
His barklike earthquake curses
were not curses, for he could goddamn
a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
but one bad word from me
made his whole being
twang like a nail mis-struck. Ain't no call for that,
Son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot,
knot from which no man escapes —
prestoed back to plain old rope;
whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
worms like the clutch of mud:
I wanted to live forever
five houses down
in the womanless rooms a woman
sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
It was heaven to me:
beans and weenies from paper plates,
black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.
TO GRASP AT THE MERCURY MINNOWS ARE
To grasp at the mercury minnows are
in childhood's kingdom
lord of boredom
is to see
through an intimate, ultimate clarity
that galaxy shatter
and like a mind of matter
resolve itself star by slow star.
To grasp at the mercury minnows are ...
SITTING DOWN TO BREAKFAST ALONE
Brachest, she called it, gentling grease
over blanching yolks with an expertise
honed from three decades of dawns
at the Longhorn Diner in Loraine,
where even the oldest in the old men's booth
swore as if it were scripture truth
they'd never had a breakfast better,
rapping a glass sharply to get her
attention when it went sorrowing
so far into some simple thing —
the jangly door or a crusted pan,
the wall clock's black, hitchy hands —
that she would startle, blink, then grin
as if discovering them all again.
Who remembers now when one died
the space that he had occupied
went unfilled for a day, then two, three,
until she unceremoniously
plunked plates down in the wrong places
and stared their wronged faces
back to banter she could hardly follow.
Unmarried, childless, homely, "slow,"
she knew coffee cut with chamomile
kept the grocer Paul's ulcer cool,
yarrow in gravy eased the islands
of lesions in Larry Borwick's hands,
and when some nightlong nameless urgency
sent him seeking human company
Brother Tom needed hash browns with cheese.
She knew to nod at the litany of cities
the big-rig long-haulers bragged her past,
to laugh when the hunters asked
if she'd pray for them or for the quail
they went laughing off to kill,
and then — envisioning one
rising so fast it seemed the sun
tugged at it — to do exactly that.
Who remembers where they all sat:
crook-backed builders, drought-faced farmers,
VF'ers muttering through their wars,
night-shift roughnecks so caked in black
it seemed they made their way back
every morning from the dead.
Who remembers one word they said?
The Longhorn Diner's long torn down,
the gin and feedlots gone, the town
itself now nothing but a name
at which some bored boy has taken aim,
every letter light-pierced and partial.
Sister, Aunt Sissy, Bera Thrailkill,
I picture you one dime-bright dawn
grown even brighter now for being gone
bustling amid the formica and chrome
of that small house we both called home
during the spring that was your last.
All stories stop: once more you're lost
in something I can merely see:
steam spiriting out of black coffee,
the scorched pores of toast, a bowl
of apple butter like edible soil,
bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass,
my plate's gleaming, teeming emptiness.
ALL GOOD CONDUCTORS
O the screech and heat and hate
we have for each day's commute,
the long wait at the last stop
before we go screaming
underground, while the pigeons
court and shit and rut
insolently on the tracks
because this train is always late,
always aimed at only us,
who when it comes with its
blunt snout, its thousand mouths,
cram and curse and contort
into one creature, all claws and eyes,
tunneling, tunneling, tunneling
Sometimes a beauty
cools through the doors at Grand,
glides all the untouchable
angles and planes
to stand among us
like a little skyscraper,
so sheer, so spare,
gazes going all over her
in a craving wincing way
like sun on glass.
There is a dreamer
all good conductors
know to look for
when the last stop is made
and the train is ticking cool,
some lover, loner, or fool
who has lived so hard
he jerks awake
in the graveyard,
where he sees
coming down the aisle
a beam of light
whose end he is,
and what he thinks are chains
IT TAKES PARTICULAR CLICKS
spit on the concrete
like a light slap:
our dawn goon
ambles past, flexing
his pit bull. And soft,
and soon, a low burn
lights the flight path
slowly the sky
a roaring flue
Here's a curse
for a car door
stuck for the umpteenth
time, here a rake
for next door's nut
to claw and claw
at nothing. My nature
is to make
of the speedbump
scraping the speeder's
and the om
of traffic, and somewhere
snarls — a kind
from which all things
but it takes
to pique my poodle's
with her nose's
squirrel. Good girl.
the little burn
in an odd spot
he can neither see
nor reach; after
over him like
reading his billion
of insight, cures
crawling through him
so many surgeries
a wrong move
leaves him leaking
like overripe fruit;
after the mountain
aster and ice
the Four North
shrink to a room
where voices grow
hushed as if
at some holy
place, and even
in the kindest
eye there lurks
to which he's been
even the instinct
to eat are gone,
and he has become
a collection of quiet
tics and twitches
as if something
of his riddled
bones, the carious
maze of his brain;
as the last day
glaciers into his room,
glass and chrome
he lives inside
a diamond, he breaks
into a wide
smile, as if joy
were the animal
in him, blind,
up from God
knows where to stand
on distances, gazing
dead into the sun.
In the waiting room, alive together, alone together,
bright hives humming inside of us, in spite of us ...
* * *
Radiated, palliated, sheened gray like infected meat,
he takes my hand, gratified, mystified, as if we'd met on the moon.
* * *
Needle of knowledge, needle of nothingness,
grinding through my spine to sip at the marrow of me.
* * *
To be so touched, so known, so beloved of nothing:
a kind of chewed-tinfoil shiver of the soul.
* * *
Animate iron, black junk, seared feelerless, up crawls
my cockroach hope, lone survivor of the fire I am.
* * *
In the world the world's unchanged to all but you:
iodine dawns, abyss of birdsong, a friend's laughter lashes invisible whips.
* * *
How are you? Pity soaks the moment like wet bread.
Do I spit it out, or must I gum this unguent down?
* * *
Philosophy of treatment regimens, scripture of obituaries:
heretic, lunatic, I touch my tumor like a charm.
* * *
Prevarications, extenuations, tomorrow's tease of being:
we are what we are only in our last bastions.
* * *
And past that?
Now, near me, not me, a girl, shameless, veinless, screams.
Excerpted from Every Riven Thing by Christian Wiman. Copyright © 2010 Christian Wiman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
After the Diagnosis,
Five Houses Down,
To Grasp at the Mercury Minnows Are,
Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone,
All Good Conductors,
It Takes Particular Clicks,
Every Riven Thing,
This Mind of Dying,
1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona,
2. 2047 Grace Street,
From a Window,
Voice of One Head,
Country in Search of a Symbol,
The Wind Is One Force,
Do You Remember the Rude Nudists,
Bombs Rock Cairo,
Not Altogether Gone,
1. Dipped into Frenzy,
2. Like a Dog Existence Is,
3. Not Altogether Gone,
4. Fuck Dominoes,
5. American Cheese,
6. As in a Freak Nook,
7. Now, When There Is No Now to Burn,
A Good Landscape for Grief,
And I Said to My Soul, Be Loud,
Hammer Is the Prayer,
When the Time's Toxins,
Small Prayer in a Hard Wind,
I Sing Insomnia,
Then I Slept into a Terror World,
Lord Is Not a Word,
So Much a Poet He Despises Poetry,
Given a God More Playful,
Lord of Having,
It Is Good to Sit Even a Rotting Body,
Gone for the Day, She Is the Day,
ALSO BY CHRISTIAN WIMAN,
PRAISE FOR CHRISTIAN WIMAN'S EVERY RIVEN THING,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,