Saturday, November 22, 2008

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers

Joseph Mills

Winston-Salem: Press 53

86pp $12 (paper)

Everybody who enjoys wine often enough and long enough ends up being something of a poet. Winedrinkers just naturally seem to connect each facet of the splendor in the glass with everything in their universe. This is a reaction that’s only occasionally provoked by beer and not at all by spirits.
What’s up here? Is it the way wine focuses the attention as its flavors unfold? Is it wine’s curious ability to provoke the appetite as it quenches thirst? Is it the twelve per cent alcohol? Maybe it’s the way that winemaking has of reminding us of ourselves, of seasons and aging, hopes and rituals.
Given the poetifacient nature of wine it’s surprising that there’s not much wine poetry, at least not poetry on paper and without slightly slurred speech. Joseph Mills, who seems to have kindred spirits in Billy Collins and Robert Frost takes on the business of making the connections between wine and the rest of life and making the words sing in the process.
From the way microscopic debris in the champagne glass provides the birthplace of bubbles, Mills finds praise for our impurities, hoping that they make us sparkle. From the champagne flute molded from Marie Antoinette’s breast, he fantasizes drinking-each of us-from the shapes of our beloveds. In his tiny daughter’s mimicry of his behavior with a wine glass, he conjures the hundred fears that parents live with and reminds every parent of the fears they live with.
A few of these poems are startling, more tell truths that we may have forgotten. One or two, like The Ordinaries and Riddle are heartbreaking: some others like American Beaujolais are wry. It’s hard not to love his suggestion that a great first date activity is watching your date open a bottle of wine, praying for a broken cork or his reminder about a full wine rack:

A full wine rack
is a Saturday morning,
the first day of summer vacation
a tank of gas,
a promise of good dinners
and future celebrations.

Look, the shelves say,
There’s plenty,
Don’t worry.
You’re safe.

I know-you’ve had that feeling. Me too. But Joseph Mills had that feeling and wrote these poems and I think they’re worth a toast.