“When you go crazy, you don’t have the slightest inclination to read anything Foucault ever wrote about culture and madness,” the poet Mary Ruefle said. When I read Miller Oberman’s poem “All These Beloved Books,” that is what came back to me. The speaker is surrounded by texts about death, but what they want is to reach their father, who is dead. Aboutness is a perimeter; it may help them perceive the field or meet others who gather around its edges, but it won’t get them closer to what rots there. What they crave is transgression of the borders between life and death, the intimacy of an impossible address: “I have so much to / ask you, Papa, so much to tell.” Later: “Talk / to me.”
If the poem is an act of composition, it is the moments when composition fails to contain its subject that it comes closest to the sought-after “decomposed one.” “You are nothing / but chambers of unblocked light,” Oberman writes, and when the line lands after the break, resolving the fullness of the image, the clear bounds of the sentence have been punctured; what I can comprehend is agitated by something I cannot: a nothingness, a formlessness, the terrible miracle of plant growth through “what was once your hands.”
– Claire Schwartz
Listen to Miller Oberman read "All These Beloved Books."
All These Beloved Books
gently strewn around me are about death. Ilya Kaminsky is writing about death and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor is writing about death. Pamela Sneed is writing about death and Kiese Laymon is writing about death. Wendy Xu is writing about death and I want to wedge a candle in a slot of air just so to make a gap for my father to come through tonight, just this once. I have so much to ask you, Papa, so much to tell. I have cooked you a fat steak and you don’t have to worry, being dead, about your cholesterol. This is a heart-healthy meal, decomposed one. You are nothing but chambers of unblocked light. Talk to me. You’ve got acorns all over you, Virginia creeper grown up through the soil above what was once your hands.