Four Poems

Poetry Feature

Lyric poetry can feel at home among prose memoirs. Both genres are fundamentally autobiographical and, as Ann points out in her introduction to this issue, “privilege the individual point of view.” How something is said is just as important as what is said. The author of lyric may sometimes operate through a fictionalized persona, but even then his or her purpose is to express a singular voice with its own unique concerns, experiences, and desires. As such, lyric, like memoir, is temporal. The passage of time provides the framework for both genres, whether measured in decades or, more likely for lyric, in minutes or even seconds. I wrote the four poems below after graduating from Goshen College and moving to Salem, Oregon, where I still live. They are certainly not a record of life since college, but they bear traces of the changes in geography and perspective that have accompanied the past two and a half years. I hope you enjoy them. -- Peter Miller


I spent a week painting varnish

onto the poem in long strokes,

sanding until it glowed like butter.

I cut notches in the poem’s sides

and joined them like hands praying,

glue seeping from dovetailed corners.

Here the finish ran before it dried,

raising itself into a mound

like a thorn pushed under skin.

Your family when they visit

will run their hands along the poem

and praise my devotion,

ignoring scratches smoothed

or lumps of varnish sanded.

I know the weaker joints,

the splotches of stain beneath.

I have felt with bare hands

where the wood warps

and won’t cross squarely.


On the brightest day in December

my grandfather beams through the windshield

of the passenger side, neck craned

to glance the flits and flicker

of a wren looping circles above.

We skim the highway toward the airport,

mile-markers stretching behind us

like an old trail through a wide plain.

The silver bottoms of planes flash overhead.

His eyes are fixed on dancing wings

that churn and lift a feathered soul higher

like chosen words finding meaning.

In February

And now shadows of snowflakes

are wisping across the walls of my study

like confetti thrown in a parade.

Never before have I seen winter so erratic.

In Oregon today, after early snow

and rain and hail, and then clear blue skies,

the snow returned again, rubbing shoulders

with the brilliant sunlight, intruding

on the scene like a noisy unexpected

guest, blind to custom, who leaves

and leaves you sorry for her passing.


February again.

No broad rim of snow

to dust the earth,

but rain beating triplets

on the windshield.

No howl of wind—

only the ostinato hum

of the dashboard,

bright sedative of gauges

and the radio turned low.

Then you in scrubs walking

through sliding doors:

the rest is prelude.

About the Author

Peter Miller

Peter Miller is a 2009 graduate of Goshen College, where he studied English and cello performance. He published a chapbook of poems entitled Writing Home during his senior year through the college's Pinchpenny Press, and his work has also appeared in Folio, a literary journal out of American University in Washington, DC. Miller now lives in Salem, Oregon with his wife, Leah, where he works in fundraising for Willamette University.