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detail, Anja Percival, Café Light XV

The Habit of Lack Is Hell to Break

Two Poems

Christian Wiman

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“Meaning Is Not Man’s Gift to Reality”

Another morning of mist.
How many do I have left?
Another morning of missed.
The habit of lack is hell
to break. The German girl
had a little black abyss
between her two front teeth
that flashed – if you can imagine
blackness flashing – through everything
she said. She said,
pinning back her turbulent hair
and cheerfully chewing English
like a sonnenblumenbrot,
that she was “tensed”
about the poetry in my class,
since it comes – the little abyss! –
from the, how do you say,
“breath-crystal” of a language?
There had been for both of us
a boy – American, obviously,
and Midwestern, I would guess –
who raised his hand like a clean
stalk of wheat and asked
in a way that was already an answer
shouldn’t an experience of God
bring us, I don’t know, peace?
It rained while I was writing this.
It rained, and my father died,
and it stopped, and it rained,
and I leaned down close to a flower
for which I had no name, and it stopped,
and my great-great-granddaughter
tried to think what it might mean
to pray and it rained
and it burned and I found myself
in front of faces talking less
about connections than the seams
between things because it seems
no matter the knowledge or vision
there is this need, this void, this
mist. “The poem is lonely,”
the poet says. “It intends another
and it goes out toward her.”
You come downstairs
wearing what you wear
and moving as you move
up to the glass beside me, where we see,
mostly, what we do not see:
neighbors and playthings, tree limbs
one tick past implicit.
Even the sun’s in trust.

Anja Percival, Night Light VI

Anja Percival, Night Light VI

 

“We Pray God to Be Free of God”

Avid the vastness to eat everything in sight:
bone mule, dun man, westward leastward grow the trees,
even the clouds irradiated into blue.
Here in cucumber Connecticut it reaches even me,
hard land, hard light that I without seeing see.
It would be a mercy not to name it God.
It would be assent and assertion both to stand,
human, in a final light feeling nothing
but light, as from the land, and from the mind,
it fades, and cedes to even greater space.
It would be nerve and star, nowhere, near.
It would be creeping and it would be teeth.
It would be darkness, darkness, darkness.
And it would come morning.

Anja Percival, Café Light XV

Anja Percival, Café Light XV

 


Images reproduced by permission of the artist.

Contributed By Christian Wiman Christian Wiman

Christian Wiman is a distinguished American poet and former editor of Poetry magazine.

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