Excerpts from Daniel Carter’s poetry manuscript, Miller’s Ridge, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
“TIME IN A BOTTLE”
Before he became Miller, Miller
saw a movie that faded out on lovers
falling through the sky, turning end
over end and pressing their blurred bodies
close. The image comes back to him,
like a prophesy, when O’Connell
shakes his hand. Tall, O’Connell
is, in handsomeness, Miller’s
twin—he pulls the star to him,
holds him close like a lover:
“Miller,” he whispers, “somebody
will always be with you in the end.”
Their first shared episode ends
on a tropical tarmac, O’Connell
and Miller exhausted, their bodies
protecting a crate of the cure. Miller
lists off exes but leaves out a lover.
The camera zooms in, frames him,
loves him as O’Connell says to him,
“Imagine a show with no ending,
every episode a model of lovers
meeting.” Miller weeps as O’Connell
goes on. “I wasn’t there, Miller,
when you stood over her body—
but there are shows that bodies
never leave. The star gives to him-
self a chance to go back, Miller,
again and again. The show will end
and begin.” A wink from O’Connell.
“And begin again. For every lover
an episode and every episode a lover.
Miller, imagine a woman whose body
is always new.” Miller hates O’Connell
for giving these poor fantasies to him—
what he likes about film is the end,
the pleasure of a black screen. Before Miller
was Miller, he loved shows, loved the end
each body held for him. Before O’Connell
was O’Connell. Again, O’Connell
comes on, and Miller’s still Miller,
but now his past’s reflected back to him,
his missteps and lost lovers—
and always Marilyn’s body,
that shot from season one’s end.
In season two each episode ends
with a monologue from O’Connell,
a shot of Miller’s eyes. Some bodies
never leave some shows, but Miller’s
been searching, and his ex-lover
must be in some plot without him.
Ghostly Marilyn was always, for him,
a body disappearing toward an end.
“That’s mercy,” he thinks, “to see a lover
and then her end.” It’s O’Connell’s
voice that brings him out of it. Miller
becomes Miller: Miller with a body:
Miller with plagued memory. Her body
grew thin and pale in front of him—
and then, ghostly, she came back to Miller,
first in a dream and then again. The end
Miller dreamed of died when O’Connell
stepped onto that tropical tarmac; his only lover
became the show, and shows need lovers
to begin again, each kiss embodying
the will to go on. The lines O’Connell
whispered seep in and grow in him:
“Episodes may close, but they never end.”
Form is always a return—this Miller
knows and has learned to love. Yes, Miller
had a lover once, and that lover
was his to hold. He held her in the end,
in the hospital, and watched her body
go. And now she’s walking toward him,
out of the jungle—her return O’Connell’s
gift. O’Connell looks to Miller, says to him:
“A lover’s new body. A new episode. No end.”
“DEAD MAN’S TALE”
Critics have described season six, titled Hunting Season, as a madcap sprawl over the English moors, a cross between Looney Tunes and Sherlock Holmes that veers, at times, toward The Pink Panther. And despite its comic affectations and slapstick plays for ratings, the Los Angeles Times has declared the season’s heart “pure Miller’s Ridge,” its core struggle “a personal grudge match with emotional roots that trail back five seasons.”
Yes, the season has human drama to spare, but the writers are taken with the idea that evil also needs an inhuman face. “Miller must finally look into the void,” they say to each other, although “overarching theme” is how they sell it. Like a rabbit floating alone in space or a detective who learns it’s not a killer he’s after but just the way the world works. Like a finale that ties off every string but leaves a layer of dread.
The problem of pollution is proposed, and early storyboards from the period show dark clouds advancing over the Ridge, sick trees with black bark and a dark machine, vague hints of eyes coal red in the woods. But the year is 1988, and environmentalism has yet to take its upward swing. Instead, the season will speak to emotional regression, the feeling of feeling a loved one grow old and slip away. As Miller every season becomes more Miller, in season six, every day he sees his father become less himself. Like a bad joke that comes to be expected, each episode, from a bear on a stage, the audience knows Miller will find a way to step out of the hunt and into the hospital, to hear his dad misremember a story about when he was young.
In an episode titled “Dead Man’s Tale,” Nurse Jane’s staked out the hospital entrance, but Miller slips past on a gurney, disguised as a corpse. Under the blanket he’s battered and blue, ashy-faced and green at his gills, some of it makeup and some the marks of a hard season on the foggy moors. Inside, he wanders the halls, a zombie on the night shift trailed by a nurse with a needle and a prescription to kill. And somewhere there’s an old man in a wheelchair—the problem with visiting Alzheimer patients is you never know where you’ll find them. Or when. Alone in the ward, each hears footsteps and voices in empty rooms, and each imagines for the episode a different theme. For Jane it’s revenge, for Miller regression. And for the old man, it’s the experience of having to put two and two together, again and again. Miller may see his father as slipping away, undergoing a steady season of coming undone, but for the older man every moment is its own episode, every sensation a clue, and each mystery a show in its own right, ready to go spinning off.
“If the Ridge is, historically, a show that sees Miller lose himself only to always find his way back,” one critic remarked, “season six might be read as instructing us to prepare for a time when the return ticket is found too dear. Or as asking the audience to accept a future in which something strange and alien, something not-Miller, is all that can be offered.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daniel Carter is the author of two chapbooks: Here Both Sweeter (Kent State University Press) and This Apparatus (Furniture Press). His poems have appeared in Salt Hill, Barrelhouse, Mid-American Review, Crazy Horse, The AWL and elsewhere.
Form, and especially the sestina, is, for me, about getting up and doing it again. Figuring out a trick to make the next line come off OK. And then the next poem and the book. Miller’s Ridge is a love song to serial TV—to Twin Peaks and The X-Filesand Gilligan’s Island. It’s a way to think about characters who go through the motions for seasons on end and the writers who get up and write episode #542, figure out a way to make a catch-phrase new again. It’s an attempt to think about form, repetition and creativity in relation to life and to soap opera. Read more excerpts from Miller’s Ridge.