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 Sundaysand it’s no good pretending you don’t have to pretend,don’t have to hitch up those gluefutured nags Hope and Helpand whip the sorry chariot of yourselftoward whatever hell your heaven is on days like these.I tell you it takes some hunger heaven itself won’t slaketo 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 hymnwe 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 tangentto reality. Some bit of the Gospel grueling out of you.I tell you sometimes mercy means nothingbut release from this homiletic hologram, a little fleshstepsideways, 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 leapsfrom person to person, year to year, like a holy flu.All these little crevices into which you’ve crawledlike 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 gutlike a bit of tin some beer-guzzling goateither 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 somehowthere’s the miracle meat, the aurora borealis blood,every last atom compacted to a graveand 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 faithand have all good hope that you all go helpuntold souls back into their bodies,ease the annihilating No above which they floatthe 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 agencythat 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.