I have a habit of writing down titles of books I might be interested in reading on yellow Post-It notes, and letting them accumulate until either I toss them all or transfer them to a single page. If they make the single page, I’m likely to buy them at some point.
I recognized the name. Wiman is the editor of Poetry Magazine. That is, until June 30, 2013, when he steps down to join the faculty of the Yale Divinity School.
I did order it, and then read it during the Christmas holidays just past. I didn’t know anything about Wiman other than he was editor at Poetry Magazine (and how I was often surprised to see some various obvious Christian poems make it into the magazine). But I found the poems haunting, sometimes riveting. They clearly spoke to an experience of serious personal illness, and a difficult spiritual journey. And they spoke of grace, and faith, and even hope. I made a note (another yellow Post-It) that said “find out more about Wiman.”
Within just a few days, the January/February issue of Christianity Today arrived, and as I’m thumbing through it I find a major interview with Wiman. Many of my questions were answered. I was so moved by the interview that I went back and read Every Riven Thing again. And knowing didn’t change understanding, but it surely enhanced it.
The second reading evoked the sense of a deep, deep silence. Not an emptiness, but a silence, a silence enclosed within a sharp wind, sand and
The interview was less about Wiman’s poems and more about his new book of essay, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. The day he turned 39, married less than a year, he was diagnosed with a cancer of the blood. One that’s incurable. According to the article, the essays came after the diagnosis.
I haven’t read the essays, but I suspect that, much like the poem of Every Riven Thing and what he talks about in the interview, they will be the story of a man who lived Psalm 23, and walked in the valley of the shadow of death. “Illness,” he says in the interview, “has brought a great urgency to my work. One speaks differently when standing on a cliff.” Yes, I will read the essays.
In the meantime, I will read the poems. Again.
Here’s the title poem, “Every Riven Thing:”
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.