Monday Jul 22

MillerAdrienne Leslie Adrienne Miller’s sixth collection of poems is Y (Graywolf Press, 2012). Her previous collections include The Resurrection Trade (Graywolf, 2007), Eat Quite Everything You See (Graywolf, 2002), Yesterday Had a Man In It (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998), Ungodliness (CMU, 1994) and Staying Up For Love (CMU, 1990). She has been the recipient of  two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the PEN Southwest Discovery Award, and a number of prizes from literary magazines, including the Anne Stanford Poetry Prize, the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner, and the Nebraska Review Poetry Award.   Miller’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, Georgia Review,Ploughshares, and Crazyhorse. She is Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.


The Manikins of the Castle of Saint-Fargeau

We like to think that given an aisle of wild asters,
given a landscape carved by the hand of God,
a lake or two, a pair of swans, a translucent cloud
of wings at dusk, even the poorest among us
could arrive at providence, but the truth is,
even the love of a green thing must be earned
with a leisure of looking, the four yellow apples
fallen on the mossy wall and lit by cerulean bars,
the brown inward curl of the fruits toward their cores
in the October afternoon, will not serve. We aren’t
the wasps to whom this feast is offered, the weak heat
igniting the yellow flesh into signal and plenty.
We are trained to the supermarket’s primary
colors, the rail thin woman in backless red
velvet who shoulders her fifty pound bag
of dog food and hunches off into her medieval
story. The manikins of the castle Saint-Fargeau
with their remarkably straight spines look wistfully
out over a kitchen courtyard, heavy white linens
draped on their arms, surprised, perhaps
that the world before them is suddenly
full of stone, wood smoke, butchering
and intricate varieties of mold, not
the vistas of jeans and better dresses
in Printemps or the Galeries Lafayette.
This peachy woman and her girl must hail
from some manikin factory in the north,
their portraits taken from women whose names
are left only on stones. A region cannot make
so many faces famous, and Puisaye’s blue repeat
comes at us from signs at every corner, the three pairs
of Colette’s celebrated eyes, half mast and lined
in kohl march above an arrow that points us
to her haunts. It was never that she was more
or luckier than her sister of the hideous
velvet dress, but that she knew how
to give herself to the eye’s hunger
for what might yield softly to any hand,
how to frame the girl of herself as available
goods, to manage the open hand, the slice
of bare thigh white as roasted pork, the wad
of her braid substantial as a loaf of fouaisse,
its lattice baked to the color of bourbon
and cradled in her arm like a scepter. Knowing
how to repeat oneself in necessities
is the epitome of assertion, not the lot
of the velvet woman wiping damp strands
from her gray neck before hoisting
her dog food aloft, but like the manikins
of Saint Fargeau who raise their impassive
gazes from the plenty of tables, linens and weapons
filling the museum rooms with an uneasy
sense of the too many of us, shoulder
to shoulder in the fortress’s private interior,
who are merely passing through.

Movement of Goods

White tulips on the table and the last
of the man in her hair, now mixed
with that of her son. Precious, yes,
white tulips always are, and the child
with his fears arriving like freight,
the fluency of his elementary years
fading behind him like jet trails,
white plumes of vapor, pure
and poison, apparent and covert,
dying along a scrim of blue
so unearthly forgetting becomes
as easy as turning toward light.

The slow disintegration of the boy's
ability to express the depths from which
tears come moves on the same rails
as desire for a man who wants
to save her from giving up on love,
who pushes against the rims
with the weight of girders headed
for the border. But the child

is the only movement of goods
she trusts. When the man reaches for her
in a public place, in the grime of the tunnel,
the sour air of the station lit by the flare
of crack pipes in the concrete caves
flanking the stairs, she dips toward
open space, backs toward whatever air
is not poisoned with need.

Hints from Medusa

Last night I tripped in the pretty metal twist
of my coffee table legs and spilled a Caesar salad
on my sofa. The very thing I feared some child
would do. Began my weeping though it wasn't pain

I felt, my toe stubbed up, blood beneath the ugly sock.
It was the fact that I myself had ruined the room,
crashed my private fête where I was the only guest
sipping Beaujolais and basking in the harmonies—

figurines and epergnes, light behind the fern, gold
scrolls on the Balinese temple doors. World I made
against the dearth of sensual pleasures, world
inside my head turned out, so I spent my evenings

drenched in swirling skirts of gilded light.
But who could really need such immutability?
I think of Keats, his bird and urn, autumn too,
all the figments of his mood through which he looked

at what? This? The idea of eternity—but as women
craft it, rooms where dust never murks the heirloom
German clock, and light never lifts the ruby from brocades,
where crystal perches permanently on étagère and mantle,

and living leaves shine green, neither dying nor growing.
There's no purpose to the perfect except to counter ruin.
Once I had a cat who leapt on tables, tipping lamps
and pulling lilies one by one from a vase of leaded glass,

bringing down the whole in shards and stains.
Now I have a family. My mother’s not a fan of Keats,
but followed Heloise for thirty years and knows
what vinegar can do to make one’s order last. Our war

on dust and breath isn't just domestic, but visionary
quest. Last she came, it was to see me married,
to say goodbye to my long apprenticeship in taste—
she plumped my velvet pillows, polished silver footed

bowls, and brought me Waterford as wedding gift.
We looked with satisfaction on the world I'd made
of what was left of hers. Now she sees her work is done:
we both know how to turn everything to stone.

Salt Meadow Lamb

The lovers regard themselves in a blur
of plate glass, sea grass and the blue bar
of the bay of Somme cutting across their backs,
sheep billowing like seeds over the marsh’s

refusal to be sea. Now you can look too,
at these lovers for whom your version
will obscure my urge to point out how the sheep
season their own flesh as they graze.

The lovers have turned their backs on the bay
for the first time all day, and though they appear
to be smiling at you from marsh and cafe at once,
they are drinking their own cameo-lit duo

from the window where moules au bleu
and filet d’agneau pré-salé erase them
and wander off the menu out among the lambs
browsing at low tide for salicorn, a kind of salt grass

from which glassmakers once reaped soda ash
for making clear glass. By the time you gather
all this into a single frame and decide which side
of the window you ought to be on, the cafe is closed

for the winter, and snow has quilted the window
over your desk, lighting the lap of your white nightgown
like an intertidal zone and bluing the hands
fallen there as if they were never your own.