Wait finds C. K. Williams by turns ruminative, stalked by “the conscience-beast, who harries me,” and “riven by idiot vigor, voracious as the youth I was for whom everything was going too slowly, too slowly.” Poems about animals and rural life are set hard by poems about shrapnel in Iraq and sudden desire on the Paris Métro; grateful invocations of Herbert and Hopkins give way to fierce negotiations with the shades of Coleridge, Dostoevsky, and Celan. What the poems share is their setting in the cool, spacious, spotlit, book-lined place that is Williams’s consciousness, a place whose workings he has rendered for fifty years with inimitable candor and style.
In his first new collection since his monumental Collected Poems, Pulitzer-winner and septuagenarian Williams delivers his best book in a decade, and one of his best outright. Like W.S. Merwin's late-career masterpiece The Shadow of Sirius, this is the kind of book that only a lifetime-- of experience and writing--can yield. As the title implies, these poems, which often return to Williams's trademark long lines, find the poet anticipating his end and reflecting on what came before. "How do you know when you can laugh when somebody dies, your brother dies," Williams recalls asking a bunch of other boys at a funeral from his childhood. Over and over, Williams tries to compute the math of loss, the bottom line of what death means in life, and finds there is no answer: "Shouldn't he have told me the contrition cycle would from then be ever upon me,/ it didn't matter that I'd really only wanted to know how grief ends, and when?" the poem continues. Even experience can't provide solutions for the most persistent human problems, these poems attest, as in a meditation on a wasp frantic to escape window glass: "That invisible barrier between you and the world,/ between you and your truth... Stinger blunted/ wings frayed, only the battering, battered brain...." (May)