Christian Wiman is an American poet and editor born in 1966. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and has taught at Northwestern University, Stanford University, Lynchburg College in Virginia, and the Prague School of Economics. In 2003, he became editor of the oldest American magazine of verse, Poetry, a role he stepped down from in June 2013. Wiman now teaches Literature and Religion at Yale University and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
A shadow in the shape of a house
slides out of a house
and loses its shape on the lawn.
Trees seek each other
as the wind within them dies.
Darkness starts inside of things
but keeps on going when the things are gone.
Barefoot careless in the farthest parts of the yard
children become their cries.
FROM A WINDOW
Incurable and unbelieving
in any truth but the truth of grieving,
I saw a tree inside a tree
as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.
I pressed my face as close
to the pane as I could get
to watch that fitful, fluent spirit
that seemed a single being undefined
or countless beings of one mind
haul its strange cohesion
beyond the limits of my vision
over the house heavenwards.
Of course I knew those leaves were birds.
Of course that old tree stood
exactly as it had and would
(but why should it seem fuller now?)
and though a man’s mind might endow
even a tree with some excess
of life to which a man seems witness,
that life is not the life of men.
And that is where the joy came in.
from ONE TIME
But the world is more often refuge
than evidence, comfort and covert
for the flinching will, rather than the sharp
particulate instants through which God’s being burns
into ours. I say God and mean more
than the bright abyss that opens in that word.
I say world and mean less
than the abstract oblivion of atoms
out of which every intact thing emerges,
into which every intact thing finally goes.
I do not know how to come closer to God
except by standing where a world is ending
for one man. It is still dark,
and for an hour I have listened
to the breathing of the woman I love beyond
my ability to love. Praise to the pain
scalding us toward each other, the grief
beyond which, please God, she will live
and thrive. And praise to the light that is not
yet, the dawn in which one bird believes,
crying not as if there had been no night
but as if there were no night in which it had not been.
What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone.
What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.