Three Poems by Benjamin Miller

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As this is not the land of ice packs
and regenerations, of spent glue guns

or antiseptic counters—since shy
reminders filter through the streets all night

(mountain streams that city fountains sip)
absconding with old disappointments—

because the powerlines are wet with flames
that spill their music into shallow halls

devoid of short-term motives, I am lost
and cannot say what may have led me here

to watch the girls unwrapping fiberboard
from miles of burlap while the waitresses

tattoo their angry daisies on my arms.
What is this place that leaves me so unmoved?

A hat I’d never worn or wanted worn
is now my prized possession; tissues packed

into abandoned zipper pockets breed—
I had forgotten that the small glass cups

were hidden in my socks and that my hands
were laced with fine red scratches

long before the advent of arrival. Now I feel
the heat of my illusion dim to tremble,

a dull intrusion into some romantic
basement of unknowable books. And so

forgive me if the water left for tea
is steeped in silt and valentines; forgive

the unexpected token undisclosed.
Last night I thought I wanted tragedy,

a chance to wick away the morning’s
donut, bagel, muffin, scorn. But to span

the gap from night to night, from night
to some hello, is more than I can yet

achieve: a phone that rings without response
and without end or empathy.

Belief is a raft tossed out on a thirsty plain.
Were I that lonesome, I’d never have left.




The making of ideology, of how stories learn,
ends in bone. Thus, facts without lives are trouble.
Even squall, the art of, must learn to scramble hours

as the scribblers do; and so some argument electric
in its innocence arrives to silver fictions
out of mauve and maudlin discipline.

All worthy hearts embark. But who returns
from such a journey—who could tent beneath
that zoo and cairn with time’s fool law

and still press on unscathed? (The lathe, the nick,
the cutting tree remembering the cutting.)
On the margins of the portable country,

a stranger compendium lands its craft
of pleasure and scorn, a balloon
in love with a wood, a turtle fallen

from the subjunctive into the academy.
I’ve started marking up a manual of dangers.
You have not all been selected.




What little remains is clear: it is over.

The first and the last having gone
and returned, come and returned,

we have learned to welcome those
who make the place feel welcoming.

A guitar in the corner hoards the light,
says: you, in a collapsing world,

your eyes such sharp, undarkened things.





From Without Compass (c) 2014 by Benjamin Miller.
Reprinted with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.
“In the Wake of Avoidable Tragedy” was first published in The Greensboro Review.



Without-Compass-front-Cover In this debut collection of lyric poems, self-doubt becomes sacrificial offering. Through recurring dreams of grandeur, self-sabotage, and defeat, Benjamin Miller’s collection Without Compass explores the desert margins between faith and emptiness, between “desire and its counterfeits.” Carved down, elliptical, the poems seek “the perfect flaw” with which to “cruel you to thought.” From behind the “veil and doubt” of the lyric voice, they lead us in pursuit of the possibility of belief.

Read more at Four Way Books