Notes on home, notes on reticence
by a contributor
Steven Ray Miller
I won’t bother with the sky
It is indeed grand as the slogan
A New Yorker in the Midwest was horrified when I told her I crave the smell of forest fire. One day last summer there was a big wild fire in Minnesota. Its lovely, choking smoke had blown east and Milwaukee’s sky was hazy and hot. She, having heard the dangers to those with respiratory problems, was rightly taken aback at my comment. I struggled to explain how the smell evokes the best memories of home, certain concrete things, but mostly wispy images of my favorite qualities in the myths of the West. She had no idea what I was talking about. I’m not sure I did either.
Don’t be fooled:
the silence of the rancher,
and of the rancher’s son,
is like a butcher’s bleached apron.
Nevermind good fortune. Nevermind tacit schooling alongside mom, dad, brother, sister, neighbors, friends. Nevermind their instructive stories, their quilt work of comedy and intrigue, their invitations to stitch yourself to their warmth. A man only needs himself, for hardship tells its own stories.¹ When the land says No, there is knowledge. When the land says Yes, there is dialogue. When the land says Yes or No predictably, there is discourse. Learning. A way to make it through the world.
These hard men (and women) will occasionally remark on the vista. For some, when they say pretty things about the valley or the mountain, the gesture is perfunctory, a vexing inheritance from foolish Romantic forebears. For others, the gesture is sincere, albeit extremely impoverished. These hard types have a very difficult time with the idea of the lyric. When a metaphor takes root, it is stunted. When a musical phrase is a spark in their minds, it dims at once. It seems a lack of social experience limits their capacity for expressing beauty, which they, unlike others among them, at least appreciate. In company, they might want to talk beyond small talk, to relate with a flourish something of absolutely no consequence. They just don’t know where to begin.
The former wants to be a hero for enduring self-imposed loneliness, for eschewing all frivolity, for saying not a word—even on beauty.
The latter holds no hero fantasy. The latter enjoys his solitude, and perceives beauty as solitude itself, but he recognizes an appreciation of beauty depends very much on its expression. When the forest smoke floats his way, it appeals to him, but he can’t give it a name.
¹ Maybe I learned it wrong but that’s what I learned from so many stillborn utterances that don’t need explaining. A newcomer, a new idea . . . Pff.
Steven Ray Miller is from Colorado. A long time ago, he earned an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He and his super smart wife live in Milwaukee with their two dogs, Otis T. Pooch and Edgar Von HuffNPuff. Steve’s garden is small and sometimes successful.