Christian Wiman, Once in the West, Sungone Noon, We Lived

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Currently, I am reading a book of poems written by contemporary poet Christian Wiman. He has titled the collection, Once in the West. This is my first real experience with contemporary poetry, and I am glad I have entrusted myself to Wiman. The book of poems, with the exception of the introductory poem entitle “Prayer,” is separated into three parts: “Sungone Noon,” “My Stop is Grand,” and “More Like the Stars.” I have just finished the first part, and I wish to quote one poem from this group of poems:

We Lived

We lived in the long intolerable called God.

We seemed happy.

I don’t mean content I mean heroin happy

donkey dentures,

I mean drycleaned deacons expunging suffering

from Calcutta with the cut of their jaws

I mean the always alto and surely anusless angels

divvying up the deviled eggs and jello salad in the after-rapture

I mean

to be mean.

Dear Lord forgive the love I have

for you and your fervent servants.

I have so long sojourned Lord

among the mild ironies and tolerable gods

that what comes first to mind

when I’m of a mind to witness

is muriatic acid

eating through the veins

of one whose pains were so great

she wanted only out, Lord, out.

She too worshipped you

She too popped her little pill of soul.

Lord if I implore you please just please leave me alone

is that a prayer that’s every instant answered?

I remember one Wednesday witness told of a time

his smack-freaked friends lashed him

to the back of a Brahman bull that bucked and shook

until the great bleeding wings the man’s collarbones

exploded out of his skin.

Long pause.

“It was then,” the man said, “right then…”

Yes. And how long before that man-

turned-deacon-turned-scourge-of-sin

began his ruinous and (one would guess) Holy Spirit-less affair?

At what point did this poem abandon

even the pretense of prayer?

Imagine a man alive in the long intolerable time

made of nothing but rut and rot,

a wormward gaze

even to his days’ sudden heavens.

There is the suffering existence answers:

it carves from cheeks and choices the faces

we in fact are,

and there is the suffering of primal silence,

which seeps and drifts like a long fog

that when it lifts

leaves nothing

but the same poor sod.

Dear God –

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