Miller, Tim. Bone Antler Stone. The High Window Press, 2018. Paperback, 92 pp.
—–Tim Miller’s excellent Bone Antler Stone is a book of poems about prehistoric Northern Europe. However, more than that, it is an act of powerful sympathetic imagination that forges a connection between lost cultures and our own and that reminds us of our commonality as a species. Miller divides the book into four sections: “Landscapes & Rituals,” “Burials,” “Artefacts,” and “Orkney,” this last section being essentially a pilgrimage on which the poet is joined by the spirit of the ancient Greek explorer and geographer Pytheas.
—–The book spans vast reaches of time and space: time periods range from 35,000 BC to AD 200, and locations range from Denmark in the north, to Spain in the south, to Russia in the east, to Ireland in the west. Appropriately, the poems’ voices display range as well: from tribal first-person plural, to voices of the individual dead, to third-person objective, to first-person in which the speaker is the poet himself. The book also includes maps and an informative two-page “Note.”
—–The poems themselves are mostly short, unrhymed, and as sturdily built as their subject matter. The tone is reverent and full of awe for the people, their artifacts, and the landscape itself. Take these lines from the impressive multi-sectioned poem “Chauvet, Lascaux, Altamira”:
———-And to this light I mix my colors with cave water,
———-I mix my colors with blood and vegetable oil—
———-and from the sweat of the stones and the heat of my light
———-an animal appears beneath my hands,
———-all surrounded by juniper green and unforgettable song.
Here, the depiction of a prehistoric cave painter can serve as a metaphor for all creation.
—–Indeed, throughout the book, there is a marked awareness of art’s magic, strangeness, and immortality. Many of the people in the poems live (and die) as outsider artists within their cultures: the “hobble-headed,” lame-footed smith in “Song to the Smith”; “The Seeress of Vix,” with her “crooked look” and “knobbled walk”; and, among the “Bog Bodies,” the Haraldskaer Woman (“They didn’t dare to cut my hair / and I was thrown in alive under their envy”), the Kayhausen Boy (“But my bog dreams amid all that dead matter / were to me a song I will never leave”), and the Grauballe Man (“perhaps special, perhaps a source of shame / perhaps feared and gifted in my defect”), to name a few. Fittingly, in the book’s final poem, “The Wanderer II (Flight from Orkney),” the poet, using Pytheas as his mouthpiece, envisions his own work as a continuation of art’s regenerative power:
———-And so the motive was to make meaning and memory
———-a kind of barrow burial in bloom
———-a garlanded grave underground
———-forged with turf and stone and fire and then forgotten,
———-until a propitious step or a sudden storm
———-blows open this book’s binding
———-and lays each line out in the light again,
———-shells of syllables dotting the sand.
26 Dec. 2018