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About this poet

E. Ethelbert Miller was born in New York City, New York, in 1950. He received his B.A. from Howard University. His poetry collections include How We Sleep On the Nights We Don't Make Love (Curbstone Press, 2004), Whispers, Secrets, and Promises (1998), First Light: New and Selected Poems (1994), Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators? (1986), Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain: Poems 1975-1980 (1982), The Migrant Worker (1978), and Andromeda (1974). He also is editor of many anthologies, including the highly-acclaimed In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African American Poetry (1994) and Women Surviving Massacres and Men (1977). He is also the author of the memoir Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (2000). His awards include the Columbia Merit Award and the O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize. In 1979, the Mayor of Washington, DC, proclaimed September 28, 1979 as "E. Ethelbert Miller Day." Miller is the Founder and Director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, one of the oldest literary series in the Washington area, and the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, a position he has held since 1974. He and his wife live in Washington, DC.

Looking for Omar

E. Ethelbert Miller
I'm in the school bathroom
washing my hands without
soap but I'm still washing my hands.

I turn the water off
and look for a paper towel
but paper towels have been gone
since the first day of school
and it's June now.

I start to leave the bathroom
with my wet hands but then
the big boys come in talking
loud and cussing like they
rap stars or have new sneakers.

I hear the one named Pinto
talking about how someone
should get Omar after school
since he's the only Muslim they know.

Pinto talks with an accent
like he's new in the neighborhood too.

I don't have to ask him
what he's talking about
since everybody is talking
about the Towers and how they
ain't there no more.

My momma said it's like
a woman losing both
breasts to cancer and my daddy
was talking at the dinner table
about how senseless violence is
and Mrs. Gardner next door lost
two tall boys to drive-bys

Bullets flying into
both boys heads
making them crumble too.

Everybody around here is
filled with fear and craziness
and now Pinto and the big boys
thinking about doing something bad.

I stare at my wet hands
dripping water on my shoes
and wonder if I should run
and tell Omar or just run.

I feel like I'm trapped
in the middle of one of those
Bible stories but it ain't
Sunday.

I hear my Momma's voice
saying

Boy, always remember to wash
your hands but always remember
you can't wash your hands from
everything.

         Nashville, TN
         10/12/01

From How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love by E. Ethelbert Miller. Copyright © 2004 by E. Ethelbert Miller. Published by Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Dist. Reprinted by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved.

E. Ethelbert Miller

E. Ethelbert Miller was born in New York City, New York, in

by this poet

poem

When was the last time you mailed a postcard?

My mother kept the ones I sent her. My sister mailed them back

to me after my mother died. I had forgotten I had written

so many small notes to my mother. The price of stamps

kept changing. I was always mentioning on
poem
Everything
Each eye exists embracing exceptional emerald evenings
Evolution explains Eden's evil
Earth's ecology equates exploitation evaporation
Errors ending evergreen elms
Escort elephants eagles elks eastward
Enlightenment echoes Ezra Ezekiel
Enlist Esther Eugene Ethan Edward Ellington
Enough English
poem

       (for Me-K)

It was the language that left us first.
The Great Migration of words. When people
spoke they punched each other in the mouth.
There was no vocabulary for love. Women
became masculine and could no longer give
birth to warmth or a simple caress with their
lips. Tongues were overweight from