Center

By Josephine Miles 1911–1985 Josephine Miles
How did you come
How did I come here
Now it is ours, how did it come to be
In so many presences?
Some I know swept from the sea, wind and sea,
Took up the right wave in their fins and seal suits,
Rode up over the town to this shore
Shining and sleek
To be caught by a tide
As of music, or color, or shape in the heart of the sea.
Was it you?

Was it you who came out from the sea-floor as lab into lab
Weightless, each breath
Bubbling to surface, swaying in currents of kelp plants,
Came in your cars
Freewayed in valleys millions of miles from the shore
To converge where the highways converge saying welcome to here,
And to where?
To tape and percussion, raga computers,
Rare texts and components of clay,
With the sea down away past the freeways and out of the town
To the blockbusting towers of learning and quiet
Shades of administering redwood,
Azure dome over all like a bellflower
And star above star.

Did you come
Out of borderlands dear to the south
Speaking a language Riveran, Nerudan, and saying
Aqui está un hombre; my first lesson?
And come as Quixote, the man of romance
In its new century, tilting
At windmill giants of concrete,
Slim lance at the ready? Woe unto them
That join house to house, that lay field to field
Till there be no place that they may be alone
In the midst of the earth.
Did you come
With a handful of questions
Leaping like jewels
To shock answers, to start
Sparks of inquiry into the evening air?
I came as a kid
From the Midwest all recognize
As part of home,
To this another
Which the salt sea answered in its time
And Viscaino mapped his ports upon.
You came
As concertmaster of hte Philharmonic
As mayor of Del Mar
As reader of magnetic messages in DNA
As archivist for the time’s poetry, or PTA,
As land-grant scholar
Holding his gray moon rocks.

What is this that we come to,
Its walls and corridors
Gaping in space, its north lights
Seeking the north, its substance
Concrete brushed by the grains of its boards,
Its boards reaching extension in all of their lenghts
In architectural solidity?
It is
A break in the galaxies of our imagination. It needs our lives
To make it live.

A building, a dark hole in space,
Compact of matter,
Draws into it buzzing disinterests,
Idelologies.
Incomplete being
Enters into the dense room, emerges
Another, further,
Compact of matter, this is the place that we enter,
It paints pictures here and plays drums.
It turns us around and we emerge
Out of old space into the universe.
This building
Between buildings as between galaxies,
Between fields as between flights of fancy,
Will reshape our ears and turn us,
Our work of art
Beating in the breast like a heart.

What are we here for?
To err,
To fail and attempt as terribly as possible, to try
Stunts of such magnitude they will lead
To disasters of such magnitude they will lead
To learnings of such magnitude they will lend
Back in enterprise to substance and grace.
What learning allows for is the making of error
Without fatality.
The wandering off, the aberration,
Distortion and deviation
By which to find again the steady center
And moving center.
What art allows for is the provisional
Enactments of such learning
In their forms
Of color and line, of mass and energy, of sound
And sense
Which bulk disaster large, create evil
To look it in the eye.
To forge
Villainies of the wars, to indispose
Villainies of petty establishment
To make them lead their lives in sound and sense
To no good end, that we may see them so.
To make mistakes
All of our own mistakes
Out of the huddle of possibilities
Into a color and form which will upbraid them
Beyond their being.

Give us to err
Grandly as possible in this complete
Complex of structure, risk a soul
Nobly in north light, in cello tone,
In action of drastic abandonment,
That we return to what we have abandoned
And make it whole.
Domesticate the brushed
Cement and wood marquee,
Fracture the corridors,
Soften the lights of observation and renew
Structural kindness into its gentler shapes.

Out of the sea
The kelp tangles, out of the south
The cities crowd, out of the sky
The galaxies emerge in isolation
One from another, and the faces here
Look one to antoher in surprise
At what has been made.
Look at the actual
Cliffs and canyons of this place,
People and programs, mass and energy
Of fact,
Look at the possibilities.
Irradiating all these possibilities.

Praise then
The arts of law and science as of life
The arts of sound and substance as of faith
Which claim us here
To take, as a building, as a fiction, takes us,
Into another frame of space
Where we can ponder, celebrate, and reshape
Not only what we are, where we are from,
But what in the risk and moment of our day
We may become.

Josephine Miles, “Center” from Collected Poems: 1930-83. Copyright © 1983 by Josephine Miles. Used by permission of University of Illinois Press.

Source: Collected Poems: 1930-83. (University of Illinois Press, 1983)

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Poet Josephine Miles 1911–1985

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Living, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Reading & Books, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture