Stephen Paul Miller



On the Delta jet with my mother in the window seat,
a fluffy cloud hanging outside, she said,
“Steve, I think we stopped!”

She didn’t want us drowning like Icarus.
My mother didn’t know mythology but lived it.
She was a great and biblical presence.
That’s why she was so annoying.

Once I told her my dissertation was being published.
“But then,” she said, “people will be able to steal it. . . .
Steve, you’re not a baby anymore. When will you stop
doing baby things like writing books?”

Born to observant Russian Jews in East Harlem,
second youngest of nine,
                                          marrying my father at 25,
working all day in their drug store, widowed at 70,
she never gave up on anyone.

I thought all drug stores meant
medicine for everyone, no questions asked
except about your family.

My mother was a good person.
Kaddish is Aramaic for “holy.”
What could be more holy than a good person?
My mother put a magnifying glass up to God.

She set apart what is holy by making others big,
having the extraordinary power
to delight in everything about
you and your kids.
You could see magnification in her glow.

At 95 my mother was babysitting.
I came home to see she’d somehow found
my copy of Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish.”
Reading it for the first time, she was crying.

“Your mother was still charming at 102
when I sent her a bouquet,” recalled my friend Cliff.

A social worker in Stapleton told me,
“Everyone in the neighborhood applying
for benefits listed your mother as their first reference.”

But how can anyone make God bigger?
Ma’s name at birth was Rachel Melnikoff.
Yisgadal v’yiskadash shmay raba —
“magnified and sanctified be the great name.”
My mother made everyone big,
                                                  mostly me.


STEPHEN PAUL MILLER is the author of eight books of poetry including There’s Only One God And You’re Not It (Marsh Hawk Press). His scholarly books include The Seventies Now: Surveillance As Culture (Duke University Press). He is a Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York.


Read more by Stephen Paul Miller:

Poem in Jacket2
Essay on The Best American Poetry Blog