by Jennifer Svendsen Delaney
Bodywearers, by Connie Colwell Miller, is divided into two sections. The first offers raw, visceral poems that describe the essence of being wedded to a body, to motherhood and a man. They are so intimate we can almost feel Miller’s breath upon our neck as we read. The second addresses the universal experience of being human and observing the world.
The title poem, The Bodywearers, begins by describing “an approximate us”, or who we are within are bodies: “the white girl who came of age/inside her Asian body”, juxtaposed with the second half of the poem that expresses why we wear our bodies: “to taste/the sweat in the valley between/her breasts”. Miller’s poetry rivets readers in the present moment, and we are urged into the territory poets know best: the sensuous. She invites us into a private realm: “see the mole on my back”, but, in the end, often steps back deftly, so that the reader might fill in the blanks: “So lay your body/over mind and use it. Use it and use it/until our souls spark like flints.”
The thematic contrast between Of Bedsheets and Underwear and The Distance Between accurately reflects how long time love can be simultaneously achingly beautiful: “I love this smell of male,/like fists of earth”, and utterly boring: “Even your panties are tired of their bureau”. Miller conveys the broad in the specific while employing delightful structural choices, such as internal rhymes: “Your body/contains you, a mite of sand/ in the tongue of a clam.”
Occasionally the flow of her poems resemble a funnel, beginning with a general or detached perspective, as in Life where she observes her “dog’s stippled belly” and “the upflutter of a heavy black wing,” leading us to observations of her son as he sleeps: “the tender quickening of his cheeks and lips as he suckles.” In this descent into the personal, Miller peels back the wall of defense, and we identify with her vulnerability as she conveys so eloquently life’s fragility: “His body is too new, too freshly part of me . . . I have created this roadmap of veins . . . this cohesive mess of flesh that balances gently on the cusp of certain death.” Life is followed by Milk, conveying the total immersion of breastfeeding: a woman’s body, mind and even dreams wholly absorbed by the creation of milk.
While Miller employs an occasional construct, like couplets in My Mother’s Ring, she primarily chooses free verse. Her trademark in Bodywearers are sentences that begin and end mid line, creating a melodic lilt when read aloud, and serving to draw the reader forward, like pulling a child through water; we don’t want to hurry through the rich, textural images, but too there is an irresistible rhythmic thrust.
Miller spins magic with intricate detail and by conjuring a mood. In Joseph’s Real Indian Stuff, the pueblo adobe store would be intriguing enough with “the tiger’s eye, the lined acoma pots,” but the mystery deepens as “his eyes are like thumbs on my/cheeks. I turn but they press against my back.” She sets the scene and tone, and furthermore, refers to collective historic guilt: “my words mend nothing: not this/soul-deep intrusion, not white fingers/playing over blood red clay.” While her ideas are universal, her images are unique, like the musician who “stomps his foot like he’s kickstarting/a bike.”
Each poem invites us into a self-contained world, but occasionally, like a rock skimmed across the surface of a lake, the same word reappears several poems later: “Blood smeared up/his thighs like clay” (Of Bedsheets and Underwear) calls to mind Joseph’s “blood red clay” pots. In the same way, symbols often recur in daily life when we are watching.
This collection is a testament to life and nature. We encounter red-tails and redwoods; scruffy horses and a cricket leg; The Sweet Spot where a cat is curled like a millipede and road trips. We traverse the internal and external landscapes and feel satisfied by the travels. While Miller crushes us with the idea that true love one day becomes Old Hat, and little girls grow up to break their Daddy’s hearts (The Heartbreak of Fatherhood), in the end, in the final poem, watching her son sleep in his car seat, Miller gives us hope that all the “glorious pain” of love and life is worthwhile: “All is warm and right in the only part/of the world that matters.”
Jennifer Svendsen Delaney is a freelance writer, a writing coach for Writer’s Arbor, and teaches poetry at Long Story Short School of Writing. Her manuscript Final Transfer won Colorado University’s Jovanovich Imaginative Award for best graduate thesis and was also a finalist in the Nidus Literary Journal competition. A chapter from her narrative nonfiction work Coyote Heart was published in Sojourn Journal.