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Susan L. Miller reads from Communion of Saints

I read on September 9th at the Lunar Walk Poetry Series with Susan L. Miller; Lynn McGee, one of the curators, was kind enough to ask us. She runs the series with Gerry LaFemina at Local 138 at 138 Ludlow Street at 4 PM on the first Saturday of the month. What could be easier to remember? I’ve been to many of these readings and they’ve all been a pleasure. There is no passing of the hat either because Lynn and Gerry want the patrons to tip the bartender well. Lynn’s decision to put Susan and me together turned out well; I am more profane, a devil’s advocate, and the spiritual quality of Susan’s work was a good complement. Anyway, the audience seemed to like us.

Susan is a convert to Catholicism and her book, Communion of Saints, published this year by Paraclete Press, is about that transformation. Looking for Catholic models—she’d been raised a heathen in Virginia with nothing much to go on—she did something a poet would do; she turned to her friends and colleagues and looked for the saints in them. This gives each poem a tender empathetic quality that makes them beautiful, and each is a vision too. The world seems particularly awful nowadays, but when I listened to Susan read from the Communion of Saints, I heard and knew that peace of mind through faith exists. Her gently thoughtful poems are saints, offering light after the dark night, bearing witness to the good in others (including you and me), and if not hope at least she lets us know that when we look we see.



I am going to type out few of the poems that Susan doesn’t read so you can get a closer look at the visionary quality of her work. Pax et bonum. Enjoy.


A Vision

Last night I dreamed the church in winter.
Crowds of people filled the pews, laden
with armloads of roses and larkspur,
each with a tray of lit candles. St. Clare
loosened all her blonde hair in a pew
in the front of the sanctuary, and I knew
St. Francis nestled between friends somewhere.
The priest told us In this dark hour of the year
we light candles to dispel the vision of evil,
which shadows us whenever we forget to turn
towards the light.
Directly I could feel
beside me the grey one on his ashen horse,
his face obscured under his tattered hood,
and felt the the wind of his galloping, but
my candle’s flame did not flicker.
You must make your own light, the Father said,
and as I raised my head I saw every man
and woman, every child, clean and naked,
brighter than the glow of a thousand candles


Self-Portrait as St. John of the Cross

The world is small, a five-foot cell
with damp stone walls and not enough room to lie down.
And still I love you Lord though you have gone

from my thoughts like a hart that shoots
through the forest on the way to its own panicked future.
I have seen that deer. I know its pace,

the fleeing toward somewhere the world might offer grace.
I have been that deer. It sees only sky and feels
only the air howling in its ears, and then

darkness, and a sleep that does not rest
its sweat-chilled body trembling. My God
I know that even Christ

doubted his Father
for a moment, in his suffering, and cried out My God
why hast thou forsaken me?
without

feeling your hand in his chest, that hand
that wraps itself around the human heart and presses gently
two times every second.


Nina Simone Holds a Note

Late afternoon in a Paris apartment, she watches the sun
filter through the room. Dust motes float in the shy rays

like notes on a staff. She tucks a stray hair
into her bun, leans back into the cushions, her kimono sleeves

dragging. Remembers playing “Love Me or Leave Me”
in a high-necked dress to an all-white crowd when she was

twenty-five, posture erect, fingers sure on the keys
as they glided into a Bach riff, her eyes fixed and wide:

I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else, a phrase as snappy
as a lime in gin, as tart. She remembers that girl, young gifted

and black, already suspicious of polite admiration, striving
to show that she was perfect in form, sharp as the black keys. Not

smiling. Not there to please, but to stun. And after years
abroad, settled into this solitude absolutely, there is still

a sore sense in her of casting those notes into a sea
of indifference. Inside her a swamp of sore.

She tilts her head forward, hums a little, finds the spot
inside her chest where that deep voice resonates,

cradling the sound, the buzz of a chord that plucks the noise
of the empty street, the dust rising in the room, the withheld tears

of decades, and it bursts from her throat in a low lament,
scratched from her like the itch scratched from the scalp of a child

by a mother’s gentle nails.

Susan L. Miller


Communion of Saints is published by Paraclete Press:

https://www.paracletepress.com/

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