Winter Walking Home

Poems published by March Street Press, 2010


I Run My Son to the Men’s Room in the Milwaukee Airport

but it’s too late. En route to Seattle,
he air-dries in the stale wind
coming from the nozzle over seat 4C.

Something in the way his feet dangle
over the edge of the seat, or how his wispy
blond hair dances in the static electricity—

I see a vision of a beautiful woman—beautiful
to him and that’s all that matters—
it’s his wife, and she refuses my boy.

And soon, he is eating at a café in a foreign city—
foreign to him—and he is eating
a slice of peach pie by the window.

I am not at the table. Maybe
I am not even alive. But I will enter the café
and hold him and kiss him.

We will walk on the wrinkled surface of the earth.


With precise economy but abundant grace and unaffected feeling, Brian McMillan depicts diverse American landscapes, but the contours of psychic terrains form his true subjects, as he traces the subtle movements and changing seasons of the heart. Like Wallace Stevens, McMillan is a poet of climate and temperament. Using sharp images and figures drawn from nature, he evokes shifting emotions and states of mind. McMillan's beautifully crafted lines conceal their artfulness. With a few, expertly executed strokes, he sketches growth from childhood to maturity. The poet is particularly adept at conveying the ties that bind parent and child, as in "Stick Figures of Me," where the father watches over his young (and loudly snoring) son:

...I could
listen for hours while he sleeps. I cheat the day
by getting up--just for a moment--to jot down
some notes for a poem, to keep this moment
for another day when I'll need it again.

McMillan's work is filled with fine moments of perception and pleasure. These notable, necessary poems will continue to resonate long after first reading.

--Joseph Parisi, former Editor-in-Chief of Poetry (1983-2003)

In his first book of poetry, Brian McMillan dazzles us with little moments, things we usually miss. His poems urge us to analyze a microphone as if it were a sin or a fire in front of Miles Davis. He watches his wife brush her teeth, and he wears a collar ringed with loneliness. From a painting by Winslow Homer, McMillan offers us a chalk-faced school mistress who takes us on a journey of chalk, her hand wrapped mysteriously around her back. In shadows that “chain-link the sidewalk”on a winter walk home, he celebrates art in the presence of a wolf, “lean as a fence.” Through his figures of the human—and I am reminded of David Ignatow telling us something we have neglected to see—we are made more human.

--Russell Thorburn, recipient of an NEA fellowship, author of Father, Tell Me I Have Not Aged

Brian McMillan is the tender father of all of us. He sings from a mouth ringed in holy water and light. I have passed his poems around at diners and libraries, left them on a pillow next to my sleeping son that he might breathe in the grace come morning. Tear a page from this book and you hold in your hands a distilled bouquet of spirit wind and heart. Not words on a piece of paper but living embers. How can such graceful rivers of language live inside the diamonds and prayers in this collection? The poems in Winter Walking Home are leaned down and mystical. They stir the great seas frozen inside all of us, and maroon us in that tender lifeboat we call hope.

--John Rybicki, author of We Bed Down Into Water

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