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Six Poems by Miller Williams

The revered Arkansas poet died Jan. 1.

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  • MILLER WILLIAMS

The year is off to a rough start with the news that Miller Williams, renowned poet and former Arkansas Times contributing writer, died New Year’s Day in a Fayetteville hospital. He was 84 and had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for several years.

Born in Hoxie, Williams studied at Hendrix College and later earned a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Arkansas, teaching at various small colleges for a number of years until he joined the UA English department in 1970. He went on to co-found the University of Arkansas Press, which he directed for two decades, and remained a professor emeritus until his death. Miller was the father of musician Lucinda Williams, and famously read his poem “Of History and Hope” at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. In addition to his own poetry, he published translations of prominent poets like Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra.

For our 40th anniversary issue in September, Arts and Entertainment Editor Will Stephenson reached out to Williams to see if he remembered anything about his association with the Times. He wrote back to say that by then, unfortunately, he didn’t. “At 84, I probably don’t have a lot of this frustration ahead of me, but there’s plenty now,” he said.

As a tribute this week, we’re reprinting six poems Williams originally published in the Times in the 1970s:

SPEEDING PAST THE I-40 EXIT TO BASCUM HE BEGINS TO THINK ABOUT TACKETT’S STATION AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND PEGGY HOOPER

Where the Woodrow Wilson School was once
squat blocks of pastel siding
slap back at the sun.

Why should it be there? Who was Woodrow Wilson?

We had a Dodge. When we hit a chicken
we had chicken.

Milton Tackett fixed tires and sold the rubbers
you had to have in your wallet
like a badge
You’re under arrest. Take off all your clothes.

Milton gave a package of rubbers free
for any pair of panties.
When you told him her name and he believed you
you got a dozen.
No sir I said I guess not.
Well he said if I said
pussy I could have one anyway

A woman off the Titanic
talked Sunday night.
She said that all she heard them play
was a waltz.

I bought a Nash
for 97 dollars.
Sunday afternoons
cotton rows running up to the road
flicked by like spokes.
The cropdusting plane put down its pattern
back and forth across the field
like a shuttle.
I was drunk on speed
and metaphor. The world
was a weaving machine.

But on the other hand
said Alexander the Great
bringing down the sword on the Gordian knot
fuck fate

Didn’t you used to live here?

Don’t do that you’re going to tear something
Look if I take off my clothes will it make you happy

I’m sorry. What did you say?

Nothing. Never mind.


THE FRIEND

I hadn’t seen him in twelve years.
He could put his hands between the wall
and a light and make a rollercoaster
a kidney machine a split T
running a double reverse.
I heard he was in town so of course I invited him.
I took down a picture to have a blank space
on the wall.
Everyone gathered in a semicircle.
I turned off all the lights except one lamp.
Go ahead I said.
He made a dog.
Then he made a rabbit. It only had one ear.
The elephant didn’t have a trunk and looked like a cow.
Jesus Christ I said What happened.
I could hear someone across the room
mixing a drink in the dark.

FOR A FRIEND WHO COMES TO MIND AT THREE IN THE MORNING

This place where love began
is diminished as much
as Bill Sloane was a man.

Well, as you would have said,
It’s finished as such.
Meaning Hell, I’m dead.

We talked and drank one night
a while till dawn;
you told Jim Beam and me
There’ll come a time you might

happen together, you two,

when I’ll be gone.
Toast him that used to be.
So. Now you are. So now we do.


FOOTNOTE ON THE INVENTION OF SMALL PLEASURES

Young Adam surely must
being newly from dust
the only human life
and with no word for wife
have been somewhat perplexed
to find himself so sexed.

THE JESUS WOMAN STANDING AT MY DOOR

came with a bible in the middle of what I do
How are things in Porlock I asked her
No she said I’m from Joplin Missouri

EVERYTHING IS FINE HERE HOW ARE YOU

She blinks above her sunglasses at the man
putting the letters up on the movie marquee.
Along the wire he slides an S, an N.
His sleeves are cut away. The marguerita
she presses against her mouth. She feels her mouth
suck in against the salt. She watches the man
test his way descending the step ladder
and jerk it spraddled across the sidewalk.
The sound has her in front of a shingled house,
her mother pushing the screen door open, calling
always. She watches him climb the ladder again.
If she passes that way and speaks to him
he will go off and leave her in a grove of oaks,
the twisted bra knotted about her wrists,
the panties stuffed in her mouth, the eyes

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