The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.
For years I misremembered it as The heart of another
is always a dark forest, believing the wilderness a given,
a problem to solve before we’re let in. That once you find
the way in, it’s a wood you can know, with beasts
you can name if not outwit, even when they try
to take you by wonder. Above all, that the getting close
would unravel a path in the undergrowth, beat back
stinging snarls, so we’d arrive at some degree
of recognition, then have every reason to expect
improvement, even comfort thereafter, the screaming
and slithering thinning over the years
until it’s more Hyde Park than Yellowstone.
But there’s no accounting for the loneliness
of a journey we expected to share and ended up
taking solo, and though we knew there were
tunnels everywhere underfoot, that everything
living beneath the surface was as afraid of us
as we were of it, fear kept tarnishing our way,
and the grizzly of hope was always somewhere ahead
just off the path, unaccountably cute in its hunger,
swatting berries toward its giant smiling maw
as if there were years to accomplish the task
of fattening the chance of survival.
But Cather knew what she was doing
when she moved that insipid always due east.
That the region of the heart is impenetrable ever,
that knowing the beast doesn’t shame him,
that proximity invites peril, that even
with his snout smeared in huckleberry juice,
his eyes too tiny to detect you in the bramble,
he is the intimate who stumbles toward you,
navigating by smell alone, with damage in mind.
Leslie Adrienne Miller’s sixth collection of poems, Y, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2012. Her previous collections include The Resurrection Trade (Graywolf, 2007), Eat Quite Everything You See (Graywolf, 2002), Yesterday Had a Man In It (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998), Ungodliness (CMU, 1994) and Staying Up For Love (CMU, 1990), as well as several chapbooks of poems: No River, chosen by William Stafford as the winner of the Stanley Hanks Chapbook Award from St. Louis Poetry Center, and Hanging on the Sunburned Arm of Some Homeboy, (Domino Impressions Press 1982).
She has been the recipient of a number of prizes and awards including the Loft McKnight Award of Distinction, judged by Alice Fulton, two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the PEN Southwest Discovery Award, two Writers-at-Work Fellowships, a Pushcart Prize, the Billee Murray Denny Award in Poetry, and a number of prizes from literary magazines, including the Anne Stanford Poetry Prize, the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner, and the Nebraska Review Poetry Award. She has also held residencies and fellowships with Le Château de Lavigny in Morges, Switzerland; Fundación Valparaíso in Mojácar, Spain; Literarisches Colloquium, Berlin, Germany; the Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat in Lasswade, Scotland; the NALL Art Association Vence, France; and with Arts International in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Miller’s poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Best American Poetry 2007, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, and Crazyhorse. A Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, since 1991, she holds degrees in creative writing and English from Stephens College (B.A. 1978), the University of Missouri (M.A. 1980), the Iowa Writers Workshop (M.F.A., 1982), and the University of Houston (Ph.D., 1991).
Read Caper Literary Journal's interview with Leslie Adrienne Miller here.