Christian Wiman’s Every Riven Thing

After reading Andrew’s Reflections From the Abyss: The God Quest of Poet Christian Wiman in July I was intrigued enough to search the web for Christian Wiman. Although Andrew was responding to Wiman’s latest book of essays, when I discovered he was also a poet I opted to buy his latest book of poetry instead of the memoir since I generally prefer poetry to essays. As it turned out, that might have been a mistake because after reading two of his essays online I think I prefer the essays to the poems themselves, or, more specifically, I preferred the poems when they’re imbedded in his essays. Although I struggled to find an earlier poem that I really liked in Wiman’s Every Riven Thing, except, perhaps, for the title poem, I found considerably more that I liked in the second half of the book. This one captures the kind of moment that I often try to record here:

IT IS GOOD TO SIT EVEN A ROTTING BODY

for W S. Di Piero

It is good to sit even a rotting body
in sunlight uncompromised
by God, or lack of God,

to see the bee beyond
all the plundered flowers
air— stagger toward you

and like a delicate helicopter
hover above your knee
until it finds you to be

not sweet but at least
not flinching, its hair—legs
on the hair of your leg

silvering
a coolness through you
like a soul of nerve.

What more can one ask for than to bask in sunlight, bees buzzing about? Even better if the bees recognize you only as part of nature, unthreatening, unafraid.

I did mark this poem when I read it at the beginning of the volume, but I appreciated it more after reading it in the context of Wiman’s essay where he ties the poem in with the modern problem of anxiety, calling modern American life a “collective ADHD.”

ALL GOOD CONDUCTORS

I.
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

toward money.

Although I loved Seattle most of my life, I decided to leave at 25 when the work commute became overwhelming. I ended up moving hundreds of miles south so I could get to work in less than 10 minutes. Few things are more mind-numbing, soul-defiling, than hours spent backed up on a freeway trying to get to a job that probably already is stressing you out.

Another online essay Gazing into the Abyss convinced me that I needed to add his My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer to my Amazon Wish List. Although I don’t agree with all of what Wiman has to say, I find plenty that makes me think, and that’s all that I demand from those that I read. For instance, this quotation:

I was brought up with the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God. My experience has been just the opposite: a love of the earth and existences so overflowing that it implied, or included, or even absolutely demanded, God. Love did not deliver me from the earth, but into it.

made me wonder if that’s one of the reason I decided I’d rather spend my Sundays out enjoying nature rather than listening to a preacher lecture on the world’s many sins. It’s well worth your time to check out the online essays, if nothing more than to remind yourself once again that there is great stuff online for free if we can just stand to wade through all the other stuff to find it.