Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    detail, Anja Percival, Café Light XV

    The Habit of Lack Is Hell to Break

    Two Poems

    By Christian Wiman

    March 7, 2019

    “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 ChristianWiman Christian Wiman

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

    Learn More
    You have ${x} free ${w} remaining. This is your last free article this month. We hope you've enjoyed your free articles. This article is reserved for subscribers.

      Already a subscriber? Sign in

    Try 3 months of unlimited access. Start your FREE TRIAL today. Cancel anytime.

    Start free trial now