by Chloe Yelena Miller
Finishing Line Press, 2013
Review by Eric LeMay
Once, when I was a young, a well-known poet whom I spied floating through New York’s Penn Station, as though on her way up the slope of Parnassus, inscribed her book to me, “Although we are not of this world, we must live in it.”
At the time, I loved the inscription. I still do, but in the decades I’ve spent since then with poems, I’ve come to question the Romantic commonplace that poets and poems are airy things, poised somewhere between everyday life and the eternal verities. Poetry, after all, is the most concrete of all the genres: it insists not only on words as meaningful signs, but also on words as sensual experiences. We sound words, rhyme words. We arrange them into rhythms, so they roll off our tongues. Poems remind us that, although we may glimpse the divine, we’re inescapably physical creatures. We think and feel with our fragile, wonderful, finite bodies.
This truth struck me anew as I read Chloe Yelena Miller’s lovely chapbook, unrest. In twenty-two lyric poems, Miller gives us a vision that reckons with loss and love, desire and distance, all the while aware of the very human acts that make us who we are. In “Dying at Home, 1937,” the poem opens with a bedside scene. A father is about to die:
His daughter massaged his eyelids with careful thumbs,
as if petting a goldfish.
That goldfish grounds the experience, lets us grasp it as readers. And it’s Miller’s awareness of how we moor our greatest concerns in the small touch that gives her collection its power. As the speaker in “Cubist Spring” says:
Some people believe in god, the words we gave him
so he could speak to us. I believe in the physical:
Your knee raising to step into the shower.
The excuse of night to press fully against you. p>
So it’s no wonder that food runs throughout Miller’s poems. True chefs know a good meal does more to comfort us when we’re mourning than a preacher’s platitudes. We’re fed and we feel better. Perhaps not well, perhaps not healed, but cared for and, however modestly, uplifted. Food, in sorrow, lets us share our grief, just as in joy it lets us share life’s sweetness. When the speaker of Miller’s “Color of the Sea” confesses, “I spoon seasonal mint gelato into my poems,” I'm grateful for the taste.