Off My Desk

Christian Wiman‘s book, Hard Night, has been sitting on my desk for months, wedged open to “Reading Herodotus” and I have been able to set nothing on top of it—or nothing stably—for that whole time. Perhaps I can exorcise the need for the poem’s presence by sharing some of it with you folks.

It opens:

Sadness is to lie uneaten
among the buried dead, to die
without feeling a fire
kindled in your honor, that clean smell
of cypress rising and the chants, heat
increasing under you, into you, an old man
whose name the feasters weep and sing.

and closes:

Close your eyes
just this side of sleep and you can almost hear them,
all the long wonder of it, the lost gods
and the languages, the strange names and their fates,
lives unlike our own, as alien and unknowable
as the first hour on this earth for a womb-slick babe
around whom the whole tribe has formed a ring,
wailing as one for what the child must learn.

and dies the entire time in between. So powerful.