Cheri L. Miller, Trying My Wings,, Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, Kentucky, 2022 ISBN 978-1-64662-845-2 33 pages $14.99/ POETRY
If Cheri L. Miller’s book of poems Trying My Wings had to be characterized by one word that word would be beautiful. She uses the charms and wonders of nature as her language to probe human emotion, which is also nature but often thought of as something that transcends nature. She unifies those categories. She possesses a sincere religious sensibility and writes from the good and wondrous side of it. The Christian tradition is in harmony with her deep feeling of being a part of nature. Though there is at least one poem in the book of her betraying her usual feeling of harmony in nature, it is a minor fault that produces an amusing but also understandable self-consciousness expressed in a witty poem. “Show Bones Villanelle” is serious in its recognition of personal imperfection but the poem itself is a purging of that feeling. The poem is a satire as well as a personal confession. The sincere and very real beauty of the other poems in the book swallow the alleged imperfection noticed. The poet is serious about more weighty matters and those poems reveal her true vision that is the electric spark in most of her poems—at least in this book.
Two masterful poems embody grief in nature. The first poem is the recognition of loss and the hurt. The second poem displays empathy, the understanding of other lives’ misfortunes and loss. Notice the hope, and maybe the realization of grief’s transformation. It is expressed beautifully I think.
Leaving the Lilacs
For Ma (1939-2002)
Cool and wet in early spring, the cut grass haunts me.
It reminds me of her hair,
Of how the funeral director
Cut three small locks for my brother, sister, and me.
Sorrow woven into lilacs, into the green hair of graves,
Worries me like a song.
How will I, while the sky is weighted
With the Lenten purple of spring,
Leave the magnolia-like clouds, the irresistible fragrance of rain?
I have seen her in her casket.
I have gone into the ground to watch her become the earth.
I have felt the cold drop, ascertained the false stasis.
Today I will move beyond the graveyard.
I’ll leave the lilacs, take nothing for my table.
Whatever it takes for a body to become a flower,
That is what I want.
The second poem that has an equally miraculous expression of grief and is expressed in terms of nature is this poem:
Upon my neighbor’s loss of his wife
There is nothing mysterious
About a garden gone to grass
Within a circle of stones,
Watched over by a statue of Mary.
That there were flowers here last spring,
All the neighbors know.
Her sun slipped through the hyacinth blooms,
Lit the golden wings of butterflies,
And was gone.
Both the neighbor’s wife’s care for the garden and her presence are expressed in such a simple but creative way.
The book itself is a joyful book, though grief, of course, plays a part as it does in all human life. However, on balance, joy predominates. Joy begins in the first poem in the book “Trying My Wings”, and through her meeting her future husband expressed in a rondel “Destiny.” It continues on in the poem “Pining.” “One River” is an erotic poem expressed in a naughty but chaste way, and is filled with a sensuous joy. The poet also has another side, a devotion to Mary which is expressed in the poem by that name. This is a quiet, religious joy. Both the sensuous and the religious joy are harmonious as they should be. Her integration is natural.
Sun slants across the floor
Strewing flowers of light.
On my window’s ledge,
A cluster of birds
Peck briefly, scattering seed,
Then hurry off, a flurry of thumping feathers
To the trees.
My room is an empty loft.
All that matters is the love in her face
Pouring over the wooden cross on the wall
Warming to life the small beads
I hold in my hands.
I think I know her in the corner of my heart
I feel the soft plume of veils dropping away.
These poems are not sentimental, nothing false in the genuine joy and love and grief and wonder expressed in lyric after lyric in this intimate book. There is a poem titled “September.” At first glance it is a description of a time at the shore, but it captures a mood, a feeling. It consists of 5 three-line stanzas. It doesn’t dazzle with exotic words or with metaphysical poet-contrived metaphors but speaks in simple terms. Beautiful and quietly spectacular is the flow of this poem.
Nights are cool,
As melons in the field.
The sun is subdued,
Soft and slanted,
And sinks early into the trees.
At the shore
The rush of summer recedes
Like a long wave going out.
The swimmers have all gone off to school,
The towels pulled
From balconies and chairs.
Few cars cruise along the coastal road,
As the sea continues to move with the moon,
Shape her sand and call.
The poem not only projects its images but sounds like the time it describes visually. Notice the s words in stanza 2. In stanza 3 “The rush of summer recedes” and so it sounds that too. The short lines, the blend of sounds—lyric poetry at its best. In the last stanza notice the half-rhyme of “cruise”, “move” and “moon.” There are many wonderful contradictions in Cheri Miller’s work. I don’t know what she will explore in future work, but here she has achieved the expression of balance and harmony. Such a welcome voice in the time of Putin and Trump, and a world so dominated by sociopathic personalities. This book is a refuge from that and points the way for all of us.
© Cheri L. Miller and Dan Cuddy
Cheri L. Miller was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She has been writing poetry since childhood. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and a Master of Arts un Writing from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in numerous journals including Rock & Sling: A Journal of Witness, Assisi: An online Journal of Arts & Letters, The Baltimore City Paper, Poetry Pacific, Welter, and Smartish Pace. In addition to writing a second book of poems, Cheri is working on a collection of short stories, A String of Pearls, about coming of age in the 1970’s.
Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review, Madness Muse Press, Horror Sleaze Trash, the Rats’s Ass Review, Roanoke Review.