A couple of years ago I ordered a book by Jen Hadfield on the strength of a vividly disgusting couplet I came across somewhere or other: “Under the broiler / turned sausages ejaculate.” (That’s turned as in forgotten and rotting—Hadfield’s idiom is Scottish, as are her eye and ear.) The book was strong, but Byssus (Picador), her new collection, is even stronger.
My sorrow's flower was so small a joy It took a winter seeing to see it as such. Numb, unsteady, stunned at all the evidence Of winter's blind imperative to destroy, I looked up, and saw the bare abundance Of a tree whose every limb was lined with snow. What I was seeing then I did not quite know But knew that one mite more would have been too much.
Dawn is a dog's yawn, space in bed where a body should be, a nectared yard, night surviving in wires through which what voices, what needs already move--and the mind nibbling, nibbling at Nothingness like a mouse at cheese:
Sometimes one has the sense that to say the name God is a great betrayal, but whether one is betraying God, language, or one's self is harder to say.
Gone for the day, she is the day opening in and around me like flowers she planted in our yard. Christ. Not flowers. Gone for the day, she is the day razoring in with the Serbian roofers, and ten o'clock tapped exactly by the one bad wheel of the tortilla cart, and the newborn's noonday anguish eased. And the tide the mind makes of traffic and the bite of reality that brings it back. And the late afternoon afterlight in which a much-loved dog lies like a piece of precocious darkness lifting his ears at threats, treats, comings, goings . . .
* To love is to feel your death given to you like a sentence, to meet the judge's eyes as if there were a judge, as if he had eyes, and love.
This poem appears in Wiman’s Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Kamienska, who died in 1986, is well known in Poland, where her two volumes of intensely focused, intensely religious diaries have many admirers. A selection of these diaries is included in Astonishments, and they are indeed astonishing. The poems are lucid and moving, especially one called “A Prayer That Will Be Answered.”
Are we condemned to be always anxious in our belief? Insofar as our efforts are directed inward, at appeasing or pacifying our own anxieties, the answer is yes. But when we allow our anxieties to become actions, when we perform concrete things in the name of faith, then we gradually begin to find ourselves inching forward on a rope ladder of action strung high over the abyss of unbelief, and our gaze becomes focused on what is ahead of us rather than forever staring paralyzed down.
Then I looked down into the lovely cut of a missing river, something under dusk’s upflooding shadows claiming for itself a clarity of which my eyes were not yet capable: fissures could be footpaths, ancient homes random erosions; pictographs depicting fealties of who knows what hearts, to who knows what gods. To believe is to believe you have been torn from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim. I come back to the world. I come back to the world and would speak of it plainly, with only so much artifice as words themselves require, only so much distance as my own eyes impose. I believe in the slickrock whorls of the real canyon, the yucca’s stricken clench, and, on the other side, the dozen buzzards swirled and buoyed above some terrible intangible fire that must scald the very heart of matter to cast up such miraculous ash.
2. 2047 Grace Street
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 cells out of which every intact thing emerges, into which every intact thing finally goes. I do not know how to come closer to God but 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.