Miller’s “Story Problem”

I still have a few poems left to read in Everywhere Was Far but so far this is my favorite:

Story Problem

How far is across when you remember
three bridges out the front window all your life.
How strong is magic that turns checks
into cash when need is collateral.
How distant is away when the Olympics are morning,
the Cascades night. How new is bravery
after the woman learns to walk at fifty-seven,
praises the cool linoleum, then takes her pain
straight up, neat. What’s common about common
when a man dresses in a suit for six months
to leave for a lost job. What stage of grief runs
a flat line of miles across Montana.
What good is addition when an only child
sixty-one years later dies an only child.
What equals one story told six ways.

I just love the poem‘s title. Nearly everyone remembers how hard it was to solve “story problems.” Of course, it turned out that real life problems are a hell of a lot harder to solve than those story problems, like how to make a living, how to be brave in the face of immense pain, or how to deal with the loss of a job.

There’s also a natural progression from “interesting“ problems to “heart-wrenching” problems in the poem, from natural curiosity like “how far is across” to “What stage of grief runs/ A flat line of miles across Montana?” The same kind of natural progression that most of us face in our lives as we age.

Miller may not offer any answers, but simply recognizing the problems may make them more bearable.

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