Stephen Paul Miller

Honest Hope: Stephen Paul Miller



on teaching and music, for David Shapiro Justin Lerner, and Regina Avner

Everything inside me insists,
resists, and goes under.

You can’t change the past
but everything else does.

Dreamy against a moment’s skin,
like a building upside-down,

Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin meet
and the Great American Songbook opens.

I tell you this class is going nowhere
and you say that’s what you like best about it.

Sometimes Joplin drops in,
but the connections are loose

and lie between two flowers
among other insecure texts.

Suddenly everything feels left to right
sliding sideways making me

forget all the chest pains
settling in.

Captive roses with their blooms cut,
we swing on each severed downbeat

becoming so nothing
it’s hard to hear.

Chopin keeps his notes tight
And Brahms bubbles up

Through the milky Sergio Leone film.
shaping us. What we do is where we are.

I’m excited about not being excited.
Love’s tirade is enough already already and

I’m just blazing it.
No one in this class knows how or when

Franklin Roosevelt was elected
but I feel warm spring air.

Do you want to say something
with my pen
because all I do is take attendance.

To me that means
Putting more and more

quarters in the washing machine,
setting different cycles,

rinsing and drying,
softening and folding.

I don’t invent fine distinctions
to make some better than others.

When I’m wild, the class controls me.
This is such a good class

it doesn’t notice the teacher falling asleep.

The class is calm and controlled
Yet warm and spring like.

Maybe life won’t be okay

but I won’t know it.
If Shakespeare was the father
and Keats the son of negative capability

Trump is the spirit
providing just enough

vacuum to maintain the universe
but in back of it

Bach and I collaborate
in a free health dispensary

playing late Joplin that’s more like jazz
then segueing into a very proper 1890s

Joplin waltz that’s
really jazzy Chopin.

I have to concentrate
to get this right.
One two three. One two three.

Flourish and stroll. Flourish
and stroll. Flourish and stroll.

You charge twice for “extra guacamole”—
once for “guac,” twice for “extra.”

What kind of sophistry is that?
Guac is always extra.

As Benjamin talked of buildings and architecture
these words are just somewhere

for your heightened attention to hang,
for I aim to hang-out

and like you being here with me.
Could you unblock my valves?
That would be terrific.

Socialism is nothing
but a human face.
You know, some lovely
Brahms and dialysis.

Like everything else
you’re made in a camera.

When you get the dailies back
your eyeballs animate,

they move back—
giving them some air.

Taking in each other’s wash
is only secondary,
The city’s only real industry
is shoplifting.

Horace said literature informs and delights
but when you inform you also delight

and delight brings balance
and dancing.

Stephen Paul Miller is a Professor of English at St. John's University in New York City. He is the author of several books including The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance (Duke University Press) and The New Deal as a Triumph of Social Work: Frances Perkins and the Confluence of Early Twentieth Century Social Work with Mid-Twentieth Century Politics and Government(Palgrave Macmillan) and eight poetry books including There’s Only One God and You’re Not Itand Any Lie You Tell Will Be the Truth (Marsh Hawk), Being with a Bullet (Talisman), That Man Who Ground Moths into Film (New Observations), and Art Is Boring for the Same Reason We Stayed in Vietnam (Domestic). Miller also co-edited Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture (University of Alabama Press), and, The Scene of My Selves: New Work on New York School Poets (National Poetry Foundation). Publication in which his work had appeared include Best American Poetry, Salon, Publisher’s Weekly, Columbia Review, New American Writing, Barrow Street, Posit, Lit, Jacket, Columbia Review, William Carlos Williams Review, Zeek, Black Clock, Scripsi, Shofar, Boundary 2, American Letters and Commentary, Another Chicago Magazine, Paterson Literary Review, Eoagh, Poetry New York, Mudfish, St. Mark's Poetry Project Newsletter, Appearances, New Observations, Otoliths, Tribe of John (University of Alabama Press), Burning Interiors, Marsh Hawk Review, The Contemporary Narrative Poem (University of Iowa Press), and The New Promised Land: An Anthology of Contemporary Jewish, American Poetry. He was a Senior Fulbright Scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.