"There are circles you remember and circles you forget," begins a prose poem in Bryce Milligan's extraordinary new collection, Take to the Highway: Arabesques for Travelers (West End Press), setting out "patterns beneath patterns" in a lyrical tour de force across interior and exterior landscapes.
Interlacing short poems, "winding through the hills / an old and cherished habit," with moving and complex prose poems that lean "as Vergil leans against the mast intoning, 'the only road I could have taken was the road I took,'" Milligan serves as a beguiling witness to a world of timebends and timeless revelations on his own imaginary map, "no one to see you weep with the realization that not even your poetry could protect you from your desire for this freedom."
Author of numerous works of poetry, fiction and theatre, a legendary editor and publisher in Texas, Milligan is a literary master, a linguist and luthier of ancient languages and songs, whose new work places him and his Texas landscape in the front ranks of our nation's most respected literary figures. Take to the Highway: Arabesques for Travelers travels multiple paths with a dazzling, earthy and original ferocity, brilliantly crafted and vast in range.
Divided into three sections, Take to the Highway covers a lot of ground, both real along the highways in Texas and imagined, personal and accidental, though never unflinching in its observations "across the tangled landscape," where "only the path told how / this land had been loved." Beyond Milligan's Texas range, he travels to Greenland, where "newly calved, the shards of ancient glaciers / ride toward deeper waters, darker waters," in an exploration of "this riot of life."
In "Earth-bound," Milligan sizes up the view, chronicling the environmental and human ruin, forever entangled in the presence of memory:
They're ripping out the rusted rails:
the gravel track-bed snakes away
ribbed with troughs of absent ties
that catch the stormy night's remains
to burn as mirrored rungs at dawn
as if Jacob's ladder had come
asunder with some wild desire
and fallen blessed with angel's fire.
The second section, "prose poems written at speed," riveting in pace, whimsical at times, and "fugue sans fin," scurries across the "perpetual mysteries" of his childhood, the "tiny stage" of adolescence, and the unanswered questions of family, the loss of his mother, the travails of his father, that "last like Persephone's story, as good on one spinning planet as on any other."
In "A Desert Mountain Love Song," Milligan writes:
You knew the place for what it was the first and only time you saw it--below the tree-line stand of aspen on the summit of Mt. Livermore, where from a den of red-skinned madrones a clear eight-mile sight line across the valley of the Limpia (dry for decades but a chirping little stream in your earliest memories) revealed the gleaming twin domes, now a trio, atop Mt. Locke--a place you knew no one but a lost coyote would ever find you so you put an "x" on a map and took the coordinates so that years later, which is to say yesterday, you could send postcards to your daughter and your son on opposite ends of the country saying simply "Look here when you have to. All my love."
"Some social join, and leagues combine," Scottish bard Robert Burns once wrote. "Some solitary wander."
With his powerful new collection of poems, Milligan reminds us that both lives are possible, and inevitable, and full of wonder, in "arabesques for travelers" on any highway.