Wayne Miller

Winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2004

Dear Sappho



In the vast history between us
so much has happened—the bones

of the dead kept turning
into hammers. And now I lift

myself into each day
as if into my body, go to work,

and then at night, my lit room
slips down into the glass.

The factories blow their smoke
up through the snow, the city

lifts our lights a little closer
to the sky. Long after you died,

Jim Dine narrowed his world
to a big fat heart—like a bomb

in a corner of a museum.
So much is in motion out there

beneath the page of dust
paling the television's screen!

Somewhere, folks are digging
a well, while elsewhere

the lit needles of gunshots
and fireflies—. I can assure you

that our lives keep fracturing
into notes, I can promise you

that a white fence without light
is like a sail without wind.

Please believe me: we haven't
forgotten you—we walk

on our syllables (these shadows
of footsteps), we land

deep in beauty at the expense
of ourselves. Like color,

the stars keep arriving
into their presence—arriving

from so long before you. Still,
we have nothing to give you.

Our world slips through you
like sand through the bones

of your fingers—sand
you lay dreaming on as a girl,

sand that today we melt
to fill windows.
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Terrance Hayes on Wayne Miller

This poet has given new dimension to what Sappho represents, what she means to the world we inhabit. The poet honors Sappho's style while simultaneously recasting it— explaining "our lives keep fracturing into notes"—in modern-day images of factories, televisions, and gunshots. The ladder of couplets, the sundry syntax and punctuation, the rich, visual juxtapositions—every facet of this wise and tender poem speaks to the present mirroring the past, the past mirroring the present.

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