Featured Poet: Matt Miller, Exeter
Matt Miller was born and grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. He earned a BA in Psychology at Yale University, where he also played varsity football, and his MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. He is a former Visiting Professor of Writing at New England College and has taught writing workshops at Stanford University, Harvard Extension, Endicott College, Cambridge College and the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. He has published work in Connecticut Review, PN Review, DMQ Review, Third Coast, Beacon Street Review, and Entelechy International. Nominated for five Pushcart Prizes, his first book, Cameo Diner: Poems, was published in 2005. He is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. Currently, he is an instruc tor of English and a football coach at Philips Exeter Academy. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with his wife, Emily Meehan, and their daughter, Delaney.
Of his poem, Matt writes:
This poem came out of a real event. On a Sunday afternoon in January last year in East Palo Al to, California my wife and daughter were in the front yard playing when a rapid burst of gunfire broke the quiet followed by the sound of a car racing past our front fence. My daughter and wife ran in the house. It turned out that two teenage boys had been gunned down in front of their apartment a block away from the house we were renting. It was a terrifying moment for me to know how close we were to it, how close my wife and daughter were to the killers as they drove past. Twenty two people had been shot in East Palo Al to in less than a month. It was a tough time for the whole city. A lot of anxiety, sadness and fear. It got me thinking about what a bullet could do and I started researching ballistics. Somewhere out of that terror and research came this poem.
What's true is that the greasy pop-pop
of a semiautomatic wrecks the air
before I can get off the couch, before
my wife can yank up our baby daughter
from the fallen flesh of a pomegranate
and get inside, before the car horrors past
our fence on Sunday morning.
That this year East Palo Alto has more bullets
than rain gets to the idea of the truth
but is not true. But the bullets are true.
That candles, rosaries, flowers shrine
the back of a carport where the two kids
were shot could be true. But that's beyond
the event, something to stare down all
the next mornings walking past the faces
that watch you watch. What's true is
the wound channel, that your tissue jumps
away from a bullet like water from a diver.
One boy bled out where he fell.
The other, on a table at the university hospital.
Drawn blinds are true. Checked locks are true.
Smiles have too much teeth to be true.
Even if this all were true what is vital
is the crush mechanism, the permanent
hole a bullet makes in that moment
where I'm watching my wife and daughter
each time they try to get inside the house.
Noises at night have now grown skin,
have grown fur, have fangs and scratch
at the windows. This is not true but it is.
It's not true that I wrote down their names.
But it should be.
What's true are the costs
of moving, of staying, new apartment
listings, the jump from a too early door bell.
Our fence is five feet from the street,
the house is thirty feet from the fence,
the front wall is two inches of California
bungalow and then there's her crib.
This is true.
What is horribly true:
Even if the human heart
is instantly destroyed
there remains enough oxygen
in the brain to support full
and voluntary action
for ten to fifteen seconds.
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