The June breeze will tell you:
the middle of things is where the juices are;
where the years bulge best with desire
though nothing worth desire can be defined—
I have known this so long and wanted to tell you.
You are the servant of something about to happen.
You were never meant to be young—a dreadful mistake
on the verge of correction.
I am only your carpet, your coat, a soft pillow,
a good place to file—those things you miss only
in their absence, like teeth, like water.
When your heart has that afternoon hurt,
breathe deeply the comfort from those you have harmed.
We have all failed in all things that matter
and excuse ourselves even better than gods.
Think of clean nights under the stars,
the way light startles the water,
other beds and hair dark on the pillow,
of what I am like with another
his hand massaging my heart,
how dangerous I am loving you better
and rocks rinsed by waves
on shores where cranes wade at dawn.
—Mary Ellen Miller
This poem is from Mary Ellen Miller’s collection The Poet’s Wife Speaks. She is the wife of the late Jim Wayne Miller, an incredible poet. She is also one of my former professors and will always be one of my mentors. I always loved to write, but her words of encouragement are what pushed me to be serious about myself and my writing.
I think what I love best about this particular poem is how the line works as a unit. There are some fantastic lines in this poem: “the middle of things is where the juices are,” “You were never meant to be young—a dreadful mistake,” “a good place to file, those things you miss only,” “breathe deeply the comfort from those you have harmed,” and “how dangerous I am loving you better.” Those all work as a single line and pack such a punch, but them when you read them in context, with the stanza and poem as a whole, it’s like a double-whammy. I love it!
And I love the imagery in this poem, the years bulging with desire, the carpet, the clean nights, and the cranes, these are all hooks that draw me into the poem and make me feel the words. I think that’s part of why I love MEM’s collection so much: like her gentle prodding, her poems also ground me and bring me home to writing.