There was a time, a few years ago, when I lived on the side of a wooded hill, in an old wooden house, with a wooden attic, a whitewashed fence, and an old stone wall. Three of us, sometimes five. Or six. Depending. It was winter, then spring; first it was snow and the cold lingered. Then it was just cold; and the frozen ground stayed frozen without the snow – more like smog than fog. In Iowa winter lasts. It is persistent, then just annoying.
Finally, from somewhere deep under beds of brown and gray cracked leaves, flowers began to emerge. And while the snow had it’s moments, its beautiful haunting moments, those flowers were like manna and I was like a Hebrew child. And I would sit on the side of that stone wall and I’d watch, most days, as everything changed and real colors returned, slowly but surely. Eventually. It beautiful to see dirty grays and browns turn into greens and pinks and blues and yellows. They were decorations being put up at a party.
A party to which we all were invited.
I remember Easter that spring. It was April – the cruelest month, as He said. Finally, it was feeling warm. Finally, it was smelling warm, rich and sweet like perfume, like a beautiful girl at a cozy dance when the lights are low and she and you are close and moving not much at all. The kind of warm smell that fills up your pores and ears and feels like it would be wonderful if it just flowed out of your eyelids like tears.
It was a long weekend and we had a house full. For Easter lunch we made Turkey. And mashed potatoes. And we set up the table in the living room and celebrated new birth with a bottle of something I can’t remember. Spring.
My dear friend Riley Miller was there that day and for the weekend. Well, more precisely, he was around. On Saturday, he ran off into the woods; he sat by the wall I presume, as we all did, and wrote poetry. A regular Thoreau. Or a tree nymph, maybe.
At any rate, whether he was Mr. Walden or a tree nymph, he showed up again in the house that evening with a couple of poems, recently penned, and a heart full of joy at what all the Spring meant, and the meaning of Easter and how he’d been made new and how it would happen again and again because he has a God who welcomes home even the most prodigal of sons.
He read his poems to us, in his typical, lyrical, sing-songy voice, barely stopping to breathe at all; like a runner so fast he barely touches the ground, like a runner flying. He would come to that key place in the poem, where all of his thoughts were coming to a head, where the inference and the context met, and his voice would rise and fall – and he would lay bare his soul, wounds and all.
I remember how I was moved that night as we all sat on the roof and watched the sun set and we all marveled at our dreams and our hopes and how they all became meaningful because, as Riley so often reminds us to this day, we are here for a reason — in this specific time and place. And we knew, on the eve of our Turkey meal, when the flowers were finally blooming and their smell ran down our cheeks in tears, that the One who decides and molds and remembers it all is the same who forgives and forgets and celebrates our return, the return of the prodigal sons.
When I read Riley’s poetry this is what I remember. Like Graeme Pitman’s photo’s, T Clair’s songs and fiction, and Justin Phelan’s love and compassion (and the art and love of so many other dear, beautiful friends), they are icons, windows through which I see the face of Christ.
And now, Mr Miller, newly married, has new poems up at his blog.
Take a look at some excerpts:
From On Understanding Letting Go:
You grant life to the seed,
coax unraveling buds to their need
of eruption from stems,
pull threads, and loose the pregnant hems
of blossoms, crowns, polleneous pits,
whose wide mouths are rapt
with any number of lips,
screaming until blushed unto Heaven-high
with pink hands raised out far as death is nigh
to the Spring until Winter through the Fall that will lie
them lost to their season.
But I, lost in an earlier drop;
budding, young, and unfortunately stopped
of the loss of a thread,
never untied the life that was dead
eventually, but’d have been a loveliest stead.
And from Talky, Talky:
Say you’re deep like ocean,
Wet me like the sea;
But I’ve been so damn thirsty lately;
Please, talk to me.
A little drip in the desert, Honey;
Soul’s chapped and dry.
I don’t want to die,
And time ain’t on our side;
Just talk to me.
They say love is a current,
A channel changing with the tide;
They say that sun and moon’s a steady circle
Through the lows and highs,
But I don’t care what they say, Lover
You said you were mine,
Time ain’t on our side
Come on, talk to me.
And finally, check out these stanzas from Forgiveness Song:
I’m a lost son of God on my way back home;
Gonna carry my burden from when I’m young till I’m old;
Gonna hold on tight to what it is that I own,
I’m a fool.
Gonna lie in wait in the crefts of the rock
For the devil to see me, for the devil to stop;
For that old serpant to speak what he talks,
I’m a fool.
Gonna run on off like a scaredy cat
Screaming, Father, Father; Oh, Daddy Dad.
Please tackle the lion that I got mad
When I’s a fool.
But He knows much better and he knows His hand
Gonna tie my fetters in a bountiful land
Where I’m tied to the trees with the fruit and the breeze
I can drink.
And here are few stanzas from The Bored and the Miraculous:
Things are waning, lady;
Young and yet you’re hoaring; baby,
The angels take to soaring; lately
Flying seems a little less than
You worry I could leave
Like it’s ocean burnt and drowned trees;
When you’re using all you’re energy
To close. Leaving ain’t so
Head over and check it out. He is a man with a voice and one worth hearing.