E-Note From Poet E. Ethelbert Miller
The following guest post by E. Ethelbert Miller is published by Daddying with his permission.
The men of my family were men of small rooms. I think of this as I begin another week of social distancing. My brother and father navigated space in a way that I now wonder if I can learn something from. I never had conversations with my brother about why he decided to become a Trappist monk in the early 1960s. How do you prepare to live a life of continued silence and constant prayer? What type of note-taking must one's soul undertake? I think of my brother sometimes while staring at the Buddha in my yard. The Buddha never speaks. There are moments however when I hear the sound of grace.
My father spent most of his life in his bedroom. He came out to wash, eat and then go to work. My father only went into the living room to play the piano. He couldn't read music but he had an ear for jazz and for maybe 30 minutes, he played what came out of his head. Like Monk, my father wore hats, many kept on the top shelf in his closet. My father was the West Indian father – distant from his children but loving them more than enough to keep a roof over their heads. The small room in the back of our South Bronx apartment was where he spent much of his life. He was often asleep when he was not at work. On weekends, the television gave off a silent glow, and maybe he stayed awake long enough to watch the Ed Sullivan Show.
From my brother and father, I learned the meaning of the blues long before I became familiar with the music of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, or Howlin' Wolf. The two men in my life walked the tightrope of loneliness and sadness. Maybe their small rooms were places of exile. Where does one go when the door closes? My brother took to prayer while my father often talked to himself. Mumbling my mother called it. My father held conversations with himself. I don't think I ever saw him pick up a telephone and call someone. When the phone rang in the house, he would never answer it.
He knew no one was calling to talk to him unless it was a relative wanting to inform him about a death in the family.
It is my father's house my poems often return to. They knock on the door holding
their longing and despair. My poems know about small rooms. The lost tenderness
and the bewildered heart. The heart a small thing beating alone in the world. A heart
looking for the room where love perhaps has fallen asleep.
The Washington Post once called E. Ethelbert Miller, "arguably the most influential person in Washington's vast and vibrant African American arts community. And perhaps its most unappreciated." Miller is a poet, writer, teacher, and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs, including Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a reprinting later this year, and several books of poetry, including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, which celebrates more than 40 years of his work. For 17 years, Miller served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. His poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities. Miller hosts the weekly WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and is a producer of The Scholars on UDC-TV. Miller was inducted into the 2015 Washington, DC, Hall of Fame, awarded the 2016 AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature, and presented the 2016 DC Mayor’s Arts Award for "Distinguished Honor." In 2018, he was inducted into Gamma Xi Phi and appointed as an ambassador for the Authors Guild. Miller’s most recent book, If God Invented Baseball, earned the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.