Wayne Miller

Winner of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award in 2005

The Book of Props

Then the hammer explained
the arm's strange gestures,

and the hanging frames
hinted at walls that served

as frames. The glasses
left out on the brownstone

stoop caught light
as we passed by, and so

we gave them great
significance—. Later,

in the unfamiliar dark
of a stranger's house,

I found the stairwell
by running my fingers

along the edge of a table.
Out back, people

were smoking, drinking
from painted bottles

as they pumped wood
into the chimenea.

Oh the songs they sang—
as still the fountain

poured water-sounds
out into the dark street,

and the bay lured travelers
to pause on its midnight

ferry—. All the saints
kept wringing themselves
through the contortions
of their names. Even

as the undertaker
undressed his childhood

sweetheart in preparation—,
even as the trenches

grew into monuments,
then the monuments

into disrepair,—we knew
about the body

and the soul that fills it
with its own idea—.

But what of the bed of nails,
the net of red marks

the audience admires?
What of the old man

lying there, counting
sheep in comradeship

with the shepherd? Now
the cup is held aloft,

and now the blood
comes pouring? Please,

come along to the garden,
we'll sniff the flowers,

let the birds chirp us
into romance. I'll put

a dandelion in your hair.
And when the cars

slip past like sharks,
we'll mock their glowing

ground effects; and when
the pistol is waved

in the air, we'll watch
the shimmering

of the runners shoes.
How we longed to be

those lovers in the cab's
back seat, unmindful

of the driver thumbing
his matchbook—.

—Those poor lovers
drifting sexward in a river

of lights; now even
their kiss has become

another object pressed
between them.
line

Vijay Seshadri on Wayne Miller

"The Book of Props" establishes a wonderful balance between abstraction and concretion— between random, sharply observed images and rhetorically and intellectually overdetermined insight—and maintains that balance with athleticism and acrobatic flair. The experience of reading the poem is kinetic, slightly disorienting, and always satisfying.

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