Christian Wiman, Once in the West, My Stop is Grand, The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians

I have now finished the second of three parts of Christian Wiman’s book of poetry, Once in the West, published in 2014. I want to now preview these poems by choosing my favorite in this second part (entitled “My Stop is Grand”).
The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians
I tell you it’s a bitch existence some Sundays
and it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,
don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Help
and whip the sorry chariot of yourself
toward whatever hell your heaven is on days like these.
I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slake
to be so twitchingly intent on the pretty organist’s pedaling,
so lizardly alert to the curvelessness of her choir robe.
Here it comes brothers and sisters, the confessions of sins,
hominy hominy, dipstick doxology, one more churchcurdled hymn
we don’t so much sing as haunt: grounded altos, gear-grinding tenors,
two score and ten gently bewildered men lip-synching along.
Your’e up, Pastor. Bring on the unthunder. Some trickle-piss tangent
to reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.
I tell you sometimes mercy means nothing
but release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstep
sideways, as it were, setting passion on autopilot (as if it weren’t!)
to gaze out in peace at your peaceless parishioners:
boozeglazes and facelifts, bad mortgages, bored marriages,
a masonry of faces at once specific and generic,
and here and there that rapt famished look that leaps
from person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.
All these little crevices into which you’ve crawled
like a chubby plumber with useless tools:
Here, have a verse for you wife’s death.
Here, have a death for your life’s curse.
I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon
– maybe especially this – sharks your gut
like a bit of tin some beer-guzzling goat
either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.
I know what you’re thinking. Christ’s in this.
He’ll get to it, the old cunner, somewhere somehow
there’s the miracle meat, the aurora borealis blood,
every last atom compacted to a grave
and the one thing that every man must lose to save.
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you two things today.
First, though this is not, for me, one of those bilious abrading days,
though in fact I stand before you in a rage of faith
and have all good hope that you all go help
untold souls back into their bodies,
ease the annihilating No above which they float
the truth is our only savior is failure.
Which brings me to the second thing: that goat.
It was real. It is, as is usually the case, the displacement of agency
that is the lie. It was long ago, Mexico, my demon days:
It was a wager whose stakes I failed to appreciate.
He tottered. He flowered. He writhed time to a fraught quiet,
and kicked occasionally, and lay there twitching, watching me die.
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3 thoughts on “Christian Wiman, Once in the West, My Stop is Grand, The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians

    • I don’t think I can provide what you want. I do not feel able enough to give you a commentary. I do have thoughts about it that I can share. I think this poem is (very generally) about dealing with the repetition, the stagnation, and the monotony of life. Or at least the repetition, the stagnation, and the monotony that we perceive about life, and even the Christian life. Even if the Christ grants us joy in the present, there are still times were we feel stinging pain, or even more terrifyingly we feel a lack of feeling. These feelings may not always be good in themselves. But acknowledging the emotions we have is a good thing (e.g. the Psalms).

      The crux of the poem seems to be the two points “Wiman” has to say: (1) failure is our only savior and (2) the story of the goat. Perhaps what the poem means by (1) that we wouldn’t need a savior unless there existed some failure in us. And by (2) I think he is giving us a scene of irony when a dying goat is actually the one that notices that “Wiman” is dying. Perhaps this is an image of the cross: the dying Christ, he takes his final breaths, glances on dying humanity. Yet, because he died, man can now have freedom from death because of the cross. But this latter thought about the cross is just a thought, and could be unfounded.

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