Empathy and experience, with poems about love, war and blindness, from The Solitude of Memory by Michael Miller.
During December, we’re featuring writing from books that Passager published over the past year. Michael Miller’s book The Solitude of Memory is just coming out this week!
At the beginning of his book, Michael says, “War, the search for love, and the courage of the blind occupied my mind and heart. Through the years these subjects have become the focus of my poetry. At eighty, I hope this new volume becomes a distillation of war, love, and blindness.”
Here are a few of his poems . . . in that order. First, two poems about war.
The Bearded Men
He kills them every morning,
Sometimes one, often two,
The brown spiders
The size of quarters
Crawling up the wall
From his dirt floor basement.
In his bedroom, in his living room,
He kills them with a fly swatter.
Killing comes easy now.
He kills without hesitation,
Cleanly when possible,
Wiping the crushed bodies
Off the wall with a wet napkin
Leaving no remains.
But sometimes at night,
At the end of a dream,
The spiders change into men,
The bearded men he killed in Iraq.
“The Bearded Men” Michael Miller. And one more poem about war, “A Different Man.”
“Salaam, salaam,” he said, leaning toward
The stricken faces, the cowering bodies
Pressed into a shadowed corner,
And he wanted to put down his M-16,
To leave his rifle behind with the missions,
The death, then return to his wife
And say those words for peace.
He was a different man in Afghanistan,
A man intent on killing to stay alive,
A man with invisible blood on his hands
That could never be washed away.
How can he touch his wife again.
“Salaam, salaam,” he will whisper,
Praying to return to the man he was.
“A Different Man,” Michael Miller. A second subject of Michael’s book The Solitude of Memory is love. Here are three poems. First, “Variations.”
I was dreaming that I entered
An old bookstore where dust
Separated the books on the tables
And a small group gathered
For a Sunday reading.
Then you appeared,
Taking off your tan rain hat,
Your short hair a rusty brown,
Your nails with green polish
Surprising me as you have
Always surprised me
With the variations
Of your singular truth.
You began to read
A history of our marriage,
The tenderness, the anger,
The warehouse of forgiveness,
And I listened, leaning forward,
Not knowing how it would end,
Not knowing what to believe.
“Variations” by Michael Miller. And here’s his poem “The Small Island.”
On Patmos we climbed a hillside,
Stood upon the rocky summit,
Spread our arms and gulped down
The light, swallowing its unearthly
Clarity, letting it feed our spirits.
On Patmos the lemon trees
Held drops of the sun,
Goats stood like sculpture,
Bread was a bleached piece
Of earth baked for the gods.
On Patmos our marriage thrived,
The hot sun led us into
The cooling Mediterranean:
I became addicted to you,
Addicted to light.
Michael Miller’s “The Small Island.”
And one more about love, “Morning Song.”
Leaving the darkness
I wake from undisturbed sleep
To light streaming through
The opening in the curtain
And the shrill call of the jay,
Nothing melodious except
The flow of my lasting love
Carrying me from
That unforgotten bed
Where we joined decades ago
Without a dream of the future.
Shall I wake you,
Touch your arm folded beneath
Your head, your long hair
The color of silver?
I let you sleep.
I enter the day
Lifting my gratitude
Into a song.
“Morning Song,” Michael Miller. The third subject of his book, he said, is blindness. Two poems, numbers four and three.
As he drifts toward sleep
He remembers his sixth year
And his blind neighbor’s garden.
“Would you like to help me?”
She asked and he, quietly, said yes.
She told him to water
The orange daylilies first,
To feel their strong petals,
Their long stems.
He wondered how she knew
Where they were.
Sitting at his cluttered desk
He begins a letter to blindness,
Letting his large, looping cursive
Flow freely across the paper.
His questions begin with why.
He ends with his name.
Reaching for an envelope he stops.
He has no address.
Two poems about blindness by Michael Miller from his brand new book The Solitude of Memory. Michael said, “Empathy has been the core of the poetry I most admire.”
Before we close, this from Passager’s co-editor Mary Azrael:
“Passager is a small literary press dedicated to bringing you the voices of older writers, men and women of a generation truly vital to our survival. As a Passager editor for over thirty years, I’ve come to know remarkable people, from ages 50 to 103, through their poems, stories, memoirs, and letters. What they say has enriched my life, and it’s a joy to be able to share them with you, our readers.
“Please join me in celebrating the season’s tradition of kindness and generosity. Even a small donation can go a long way to sustaining us. Every time you read Passager journal or one of our books, you’ll know that you’ve been part of it. Go to passagerbooks.com and click on “donate” at the top of the page.”
Passager’s co-editor Mary Azrael.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.