Brenda Miller, The Daughters of Elderly Women

THE DAUGHTERS OF ELDERLY WOMEN, Brenda Miller. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, $205, Seattle WA 98105, 2020, 41 pages, $10, paper,

Not only are these poems I wish I had written, but they are poems I should have written. It’s a meditative, almost spiritual collection, but busy, too—like a care-taking daughter—with minutiae. Doctor appointments, dust, hospital rooms, post-it notes nudging a failing memory, loss.

I knew of Brenda Miller because of her brilliant essays, and her book on writing, co-written with Holly J. Hughes, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World (Skinner House Press, 2012). She teaches at Western Washington University and is the author of several books of essays. An Earlier Life won the 2017 Washington State Book Award.

The Daughters of Elderly Women won the 2020 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. And even though it took me on a trip down the rabbit-hole of memory, I read it hungrily. I lapped it up. These poems (several of them titled “The Daughters of Elderly Women”) made me remember that I, too, was a member of this strange tribe. I am happy to recommend it to you.

The Daughters of Elderly Women

are planning ahead.

They print it all out:
Advanced Directive, Power
of Attorney, Last Will and Testament.

In hospital rooms,
at the edges of beds,
they hold a neon form

in their palms
as if it were an oracle—
Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment,

beneficent and dangerous
all at once. POLST—almost
pulse, what we look for—

faint throb, Morse code of the heart.

If the body
wants to go, watch it go.

They use the simplest words
possible. They say
it’s up to you

knowing nothing is up to us,
that the body does what it does,

fierce flesh that keeps living

no matter the circumstance.
They explain how CPR damages:
crushed ribs, deprived brain.

The daughters remind
their mothers about the fathers,

the ones who had heart attacks, ended
up in nursing homes, so frail
they couldn’t turn over in bed.

The daughters try not to speak
so fast, words a scatter
of birdshot that dissipates

before reaching the target.

That’s not what you’d want, right?
the daughters say, looking their mothers
in the eye, voices soft
as they’ll ever be.

—Brenda Miller

To learn more about Brenda Miller, visit her website. I found several essays on-line, including this one, “The Blessing of the Animals” (a favorite of mine) at The SunIf you want to purchase the book, you can find it (perhaps on sale) at Floating Bridge Press.


Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

THE GIRL WHO GOES ALONE, Elizabeth Austen. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010, 40 pages, $12 paper,

I was excavating shelves, looking for a more recent Floating Bridge chapbook—which I know I purchased last year—and I turned up this one. Yes, I read it a long time back, with pleasure, but it hasn’t ever made it onto the blog. So, here we are, another book about a poet, walking.

The Girl Who Goes Alone won the Floating Bridge chapbook award and was Elizabeth Austen’s poetry debut. Since 2010 she has gone on to write several books, including the full-length Every Dress a Decision (2011). She served as Poet Laureate of Washington State from 2014-2016. She is an acclaimed teacher and speaker. Her poems capture the “trance-like tidal pull / of sweat and flesh” (“For Lost Sainthood”), while at the same time eluding any grasp. Dave Meckleburg described The Girl Who Goes Alone as “an excellent feminist manifesto,” that “becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.” Exactly.

In the title poem, warnings abound, “girls outside aren’t safe,” “Girls must be chaperoned”:

Tell someone you’re going into the woods alone
and they’ll fill your ears with every story they’ve ever heard
about trailside cougar attacks, cave-dwelling misogynists
lightning strikes, forest fires, flash floods
and psychopaths with a sixth sense of a woman alone in a tent.

But, this girl? She goes everywhere. (You can hear Austen read this poem at her website.)


In case the river calls me, I carry
two stones. But this is a lie, Virginia.
I have only enough courage to carry on.
These stones are nothing more
than pocketed threats. I am not
anyone I expected to be.
Give me some message, dreamer
or give me back my sleep. Are we here
by grace? Virginia, you knew
the consequence of silence.
This page is the only prayer I know, the line
I follow into darkness. Is there anything
the body, the breakable body
can say or save?

—Elizabeth Austen

Learn more about Austen’s awesomeness at Pictures of Poets,, or her website. Be sure to check out some of her videos!

Crysta Casey (1952-2008)

GREEN CAMMIE, Crysta Casey. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010. 47 pages, $12 paper,

Many years ago now, when I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, I enrolled in an evening class to study the writing of poetry with Professor Nelson Bentley. It was not the usual sort of class. Beginning, intermediate, and advanced poets were all thrown in together, along with a few graduate students. And there were some former students who wandered in and out. Crysta Casey was among this latter group. An unforgettable human being. Poetry, she said, was saving her. Reading her book today took me back.

The Sane and the Insane 

My thoughts are more exciting
when I’m not on meds.
On medication, I think
of vacuuming the carpet
to get rid of any bugs
Bonnie may have left
when she curled into a fetal position
on the rug last Sunday.
At three a.m., she lit
three cigarettes at the same time,
put them in the ashtray
and watched them burn,
said, “Kaw, globble,”
so I called 911. The medics were nice
when they took her to the hospital.
She put on her boots
without socks, did not lace them–
I had to give a poetry reading
the next night. “Don’t rock,”
I reminded myself, “that’s a dead giveaway.”
I think it was Robert Graves who wrote
in The White Goddess, “The difference
between the insane and poets,
is that poets write it down.”