William Wenthe’s second collection of poetry is a personal amplification of a passage from Henry Thoreau’s Walden, “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” Beginning with the necessary dislocation and loss that accompany adulthood, these strong and moving poems tell a story of a man’s losing his way in the midst of personal tragedies — the death of his parents and the end of a marriage — only to discover the true depth of his connection with others and ultimately with the divine. In a variety of free verse, traditional forms, and sonnets, the poet begins to reassess his life and his art and considers the possibility that language may distance us from the real as much as bind us to it.
Both deeply personal and powerfully spiritual, Not Till We Are Lost strives toward the rediscovery of relations — to family and lover, to culture, to environment. Whether in a desert canyon or a high-rise hotel or wading waist-deep in a river, the poet, solid and honest, is always aware of his ties to history and its artistic representations. The destination, as well as the difficult means of arrival, is love, no mere word but a pain and sweetness in which loss and celebration converge.
It will happen sometimes, in a strange place:
waking surprises us — that rush
of surroundings, startled flush
of creation — for a moment, miracle.
Then, memory. We put on our stories
before our clothes: Oh yes, the motel in Beaumont . . .
Except once. Adam, that first morning,
with a mind only dust
and a divine breath, must have awakened
as no one’s woken since — continual
arousal to that warm, enormous light in the air
licking the river, spangled in leaves,
dangling its paws from the lianas.
Even Eve had to open her eyes
to that dubious mirror — his flesh
her history; his future
in her belly.
From “Water Dish ” published in Not Till We Are Lost: Poems by William Wenthe. Copyright © 2003 by William Wenthe. All rights reserved.
William Wenthe is the author of Words before Dawn and Birds of Hoboken. He has published widely in literary journals, and received Pushcart Prizes and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Born and raised in New Jersey, he now teaches at Texas Tech University.
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