The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Denise Miller’s “Core”

Denise Miller PicPhoto credit: Freshwater Photography

Song of Songs

I should have breathed you in. Should have flicked convention
from my mind, but the oil slicked pencil line image of you rockin’
sand from molds of iron thick as your thighs after your thighs
rocked me, melted all this man so deep into misery that these fingertips
forgot the trace of your breast as you breathed sleep deep after lovemaking.
Forgot you ever breathed “mmm, Johnny. My man” into this curve of neck.
Forgot you flicked eyes at me lust lidded and laced, lashes thick as fingertips.
Forgot that those yearning years sailed yawl-young in a line. Forgot those sweat
slick moments you were mine. Then, I melted into you, my thin-shouldered
Marcella. What I wanted was you, virgin thick Cella to always belly up behind,
trace your lace thin fingers along this broad, thick back. Girl, did you have to haul
and hoist like that? Did you have to? Did you forget I breathed next to you?
Marcella, you had to? You could’a rubbed fingers raw and melted our poverty
in the sterile smell of bleach and soapsuds, could’a been black and women and flicked
misery from our mouths while fitting white folks socks on twine twisted and hung into line. But you flicked away my soul fist-handed instead of pulling me in with your fingertips.

John, you used to be Johnny. But my Johnny got lost between the thumb and fore
of fingertips pressed into filter thick lips then crushed into the rough of cement
as we blew, smoke curved into line. But, what’s real had slipped from my geography
long before ingot got breathed into steel. Long before this brow bled sweat-red
into bandanna and men flicked my femininity into flecks of ore. I melted—

melted dreams into 12 days on 12 days off— melted fingertips into molten metal.
The job flicked identity from fingerprints. Still, I was hope thick that we still breathed
the huh-huhhhhh breath of first kiss. I still sauntered the line between bills and
everything is possible. But responsibility’s wrinkle already etched a line between us. I mirrored your manhood across cast iron molds, melted your memory of the first time we breathed together. Melted the melody of your fingertips the first time you touched the thick between my thighs.
My soft and sway and switch flicked.

John, while I struggled to dream without any pieces of good truth
to mix up hope with, you flicked the me still wanting to be your
song-drink, your long drink, your talking drum into the thick of failure.
Cella, we touched with bodies bruised by surviving instead
of tendering our sores with our fingertips.


This selection comes from Denise Miller’s book Core, available now from Willow Books. Purchase your copy here! 

Denise Miller is a poet and mixed media artist whose work reflects conscious survival for herself and for individuals living in an “ism” driven culture. Her poetry and art are practices that merge activism, spirituality and craft that draws from and re-shapes cultural currents. Currently, Miller is working on a collection of poems that identify and interrogate the ways that people live out how the body evolves in the absence of peace, how the body navigates when the fiduciary/fixed points are sound and violence, and what people reflect or sound back in its presence.

Her publications include poems in Dunes Review, African American Review and Blackberry: A Magazine . She’s the 2015 Willow Books Emerging Poet, an AROHO Waves Discussion Fellowship awardee, a finalist for the Barbara Deming Money for Women Fund, and a Hedgebrook Fellow. Her newest book, Core, released from Willow Books in November 2015 has been nominated for a 2016 American Book Award and a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Additionally, one of her poems from a collection in progress has also been nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize. More of her work can be found at

librecht baker. Dembrebrah West African Drum and Dance Ensemble member. Kouman Kele Dance and Drum Ensemble memeber. MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. VONA/Voices & Lambda Literary Fellow. Sundress Publications’ Assistant Editor. Poetry in Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices & CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape. Currently, birthing & manifesting.


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