"Wheels Turning Inward" is a is a rich collection of over fifty poems, following a poet’s mythic and spiritual journey that crosses easily onto the paths of many contemplative traditions. The artwork at the top of this page, is one image found in the Gordon Moore Memorial stain glass window at Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, by the artist Kim Clark Renteria. The image of these three circles, is emblematic of both the Trinity and the title for this new collection of poetry now available from Friesen Press.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Vassar Miller

Ah, Vassar, tell me that it
was only yesterday and
not twenty five years
ago nearly.

When we were sitting
in your living room together,
while you listened to me
reading my first poor verse.

I loved our time together then,
drinking Coca Colas in six once bottles, you with
a plastic straw because that was easiest. Sucking
up life as much as you could with quiet desperation.

And I loved how your little dog
Cricket, would look at us
with the kindest of eyes,
knowing how good the company

was for us both. He was wise in dog
years and understanding then, as I loved
how he reminded me too of Toto from
the Wizard of Oz. Which was always

more than appropriate, since to the
world you were and are still
a wizard with words, spinning out
verse like golden threads and

weaving together each phrase
carefully and thoughtfully as if
they were made of fire and light
that could both burn and enlighten our minds.

You taught me how to listen, oh so
carefully, haltered as you were
in your speech, grinding out each word
with such loving labor, milling them down

to the finest of flour. I could see how
quick your mind moved, and how slow
the words would come falling out of your mouth
frustrating you beyond measure.

Still, you continued, the work was
that important, wasn’t it? Passing on
whatever you could from one
generation to the next.

If heaven is as bright and wonderful as we
wish, then my wish is for you is to be an
angel of verse, whispering in our ears a word or
two that will continue to heal the world.

Our world needs such healing still, we need
words that will lead us into the deepest
places of our being, where the stillness
waits with compassion and wonder.

Pain was your steady companion
all your life, and you faced loneliness
each single day, like a back pew Christian
no one notices entering into God’s holy house.

And yet, I suspect now, with your many tongues untied,
that you are shouting out verses across all
the heavens. Stitching together lines like sutras
and weaving together a tapestry of brightness

and light, that causes all of creation to take note
of you, and your voice. You have come home you know.
You have come home to the cradle of Christ, holding
the Incarnate Word like an infant close to your heart.

You who loved words and poetry so well, and spoke
with eloquence I am still grasping for now. I wish
your words would enter my mouth, spinning out again
and again a peace to repair the world.

Ron Starbuck
Copyright 2010

I first met Vassar Miller around 1987, when I signed up for a poetry writing class she held in her home on Vassar Street (named after her mother, Vassar Morrison), close to the museum district of Houston.  She lived in a small cottage, in a neighborhood that her father as an architect and builder helped to develop back in the 1930's.  

Vassar suffered from cerebral palsy.  Her body was bent and her speech broken, you had to listen to her very carefully to understand each word as it fell out of her mouth.  She attended both St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and Covenant Baptist Church in Houston, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.  These two sacred communities were her lifelines to the world.  I took her to church once at St. Stephens, and she may have had some influence on me later becoming an Episcopalian.

The last time I saw her was in 1991 or 1992, when I stopped by her home just to say hello and to share a new poem.  She was always excited to have visitors, especially ones who were brave enough to share their poetry with her.  Life has this way of picking us and taking us on new journeys and new adventures.  I inevitably got caught up in my career at work and single life, until one day I met the woman I would one day marry.  So, sadly, Vassar and I lost contact with one another in her final years.  And that is something I still regret to this very day.  Still, she taught me a love of poetry, her poetry especially; instilling in me a desire to write good poetry.  Here I am years later, in another life outside the corporate world, trying my best to do exactly that and to write good poetry.

I like to think that she is smiling at my efforts and cheering me on still, as she once did when we first crossed each other's path.  My experience of Vassar as teacher and mentor was one of great patience and gratitude.  Not so much from me, although I was, but from her.  She loved the company and the chance to interact with others, to build relationships, for her that was a true blessing.

If you would like to read some of the work of Vassar Miller, here is a link that will take you to several of her poems.


Wiki link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vassar_Miller

One More:  http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0005&article=000531

A Vassar Miller Reader
Adam’s Footprint. The New Orleans Poetry Journal Press, 1956.
Wage War on Silence. Wesleyan University Press, 1960.
My Bones Being Wiser. Wesleyan University Press, 1963.
Onions and Roses. Wesleyan University Press, 1968.
If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1974.
Small Change. Wings Press, 1976.
Approaching Nada. Wings Press, 1977.
Selected and New Poems, 1950-1980. Latitudes Press, 1981.
Struggling to Swim on Concrete. The New Orleans Poetry Journal Press, 1984.
Despite This Flesh. University of Texas Press, 1985.
If I Had Wheels or Love, Collected Poems. Southern Methodist University Press, 1991.