cover image The Vigil: Poems

The Vigil: Poems

C. K. Williams. Farrar Straus Giroux, $18 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22653-4

A line of two-dozen syllables is, for Williams (A Dream of Mind, 1992), small potatoes. His stanzas extend to and from the book spine like knobby, elongated hands grabbing for God, for relief from pain and for love. A menagerie of woeful lives is explored, including those of a retarded woman, a metaphor-laden locust and a stroke victim. Williams wants to get miserable along with his subjects but continually finds himself too shell-shocked to be a player. In ""Hawk,"" his response to a dying bird reminds him of his father's dying: ""I was frightened then, too; then, too, something was asked and I wasn't who I wanted to be./ How seldom I am, how much more often this self-sundering doubt, this bewildering contending."" He writes that a lover's pain ""startled, then bored, then repelled"" him, that as his mother was dying there was ""Grief for my own eyes that try to seek truth, even of pain, of grief, but find only approximation."" The real heart of Williams is that he fears he might just be heartless. This consternation makes him eminently appealing. However, one gets the feeling Williams wouldn't mind being pitied, even if he is a fool for love, and his wife speaks French; even if, as this work reflects, he plumbs a life that is relatively tragedy-free. (Dec.)