Sandra Lim, The Wilderness

The Wilderness
Sandra Lim
W. W. Norton, $15.95 (paper)

The Wilderness, Sandra Lim’s second book, marvels at the long winter. Studded with a few conceptual poems and others engaged with form, the majority of the work is sparsely lyrical. The book primarily embodies the spiritual challenge of the dark night of the soul—a phrase that has entered popular culture as shorthand for deep reflection, but that denotes a journey in pursuit of total union with God. A sincere and spiritual adventure, these poems take as much joy in “snowdrops looking tatty” as in the “spate of thundershowers in spring,” not merely waiting for spring but accepting each day on its own terms. Stakes are high, but Lim saves room for moments of comic relief; one ends, “Let me be like a mouse in an enormous cheese / excited by how much cheese there is to eat.” This poem, “The Concert,” begins as a dialogue on rage, which has no shortage of fuel, and it considers the relationship between “melancholy” and “comedy,” finding pleasure in that tension. Freeze and thaw are worthy opponents, and daily survival drives the collection. Harsh weather figures prominently, but the arrival of spring is not the book’s resolution. Images of frozen winters invite thoughtful consideration of ultimate questions, and the work sustains depth through endurance. Lim writes, “feelings keep opening their myriad dark / flowers for you, their thousand petals of thought.” She offers the reader not lamentation, but perseverance, a kind of guarantee that tomorrow will come.