E. Ethelbert Miller

Postcard from Japan

How different our world would be if

Little Boy and Fat Man had a fear of flying.


How many times does the word baseball
appear in this poem?
Count the number of lines
in which I removed the word baseball.

Is this still a poem about baseball?
What is a baseball poem?
What is a baseball poem without the word baseball?

I ask O’Hara about oranges and he gives me baseballs.
I decide to write a poem about oranges.

In a supermarket as big as a ball park
I walk down the aisles looking for oranges.

I run into Ginsberg in left field.
He chants something about Baraka trying to steal home.
I ask him if he was carrying oranges.

How many Black poets are published every year
because they only write about oranges?


Why did Ellington say music was his mistress
and not baseball?

Somewhere between swing and bebop
Satchel Paige took the mound.

Fingering the keys is as beautiful
as fingering the ball.

Cool Papa Bell believed he was cooler than jazz.
Turn out the lights and grab the bass by the bed.

Did Dizzy Dan ever wear a beret?
Dizzy did.


When did I stop warming up, sending poems
to journals, doing workshops, readings
and conferences? When did I no longer write
for the page? Why do I no longer have a desire
to buy a ticket or watch a game?

I pass the metro station that would take me
to the ball park. I’m in the same train car
as Clay in LeRoi’s play The Dutchman.
Lula is sitting next to me. She’s the type of woman
who only dates jazz musicians and ball players
for money and good seats.

I tell young writers to read box scores
and not headlines. Romance is like the weather –
difficult to predict and always changing.
Let me live in a small room with a television
and a few more years to live.

Please take my clothes to the cleaners.
Clean my suit before I die.
Baseball has no arms.
It can only hold you for so long.


(for Marie) Four years ago I sat in Providence Hospital
watching three nurses working behind
a counter, the station, the place where you stop </br >and ask someone for information when you need
to know the room of the person you are visiting
or the restroom.

I had been here once before, the time when
my sister collapsed and an ambulance rushed
her here. I thought she was going to die that
day but she is dying now in a nearby room.

The nurses are kind to me the way my mother
would be is she had not died, the way a friend
or lover would be if I was not alone the way
my sister was alone for most of her life.

Now death visits and my sister is almost dead.
Where have you been death? My sister was
a nurse and she watched people die and she
helped people live. Blood was water to her
and after work she relaxed with a cold brew.

She drank Heineken because I drank Heineken
and she would often say “Gene – let’s have
a brew” the way one slapped someone on the back
or the way you greeted someone who happened
to drop by and you have nothing to offer
but a drink.

A doctor is trying to resuscitate my sister
having failed to read the documents I signed
saying not to. “Just let me go when it’s my time”
my father often said and maybe I wrote his
words down somewhere. And once –
pulled his words from my wallet along with
credit cards, medical cards, business card
and random receipts as I sat holding a clipboard
and filling out medical forms for my sister –
checking boxes of what to do if death
came knocking and knocked her down.

The nurses are gathered like fans
at a boxing match. They see me, mistake me
for my sister’s trainer and not her baby brother
but the man, the person responsible for throwing
in the towel.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He was born in 1950 and grew up in New York City. A graduate of Howard University, he was one of the first students at that institution to major in African American Studies. He is the former board chair of IPS and the former editor of Poet Lore.

Today, he is the board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank located in Washington, D.C. Miller served as Director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University and is the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. In 1996, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College. A Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow in 2004 and 2012, Miller is the founder and former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. The author of several collections of poetry, he has also written two memoirs, Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (2000) and The 5th Inning (2009).

Miller is the host and producer of The Scholars, which airs on UDC-TV. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, German, Hungarian, Chinese, Farsi, Norwegian, Tamil and Arabic. A recent core faculty member with the Bennington Writing Seminars, Miller has taught at UNLV, American University, George Mason University, and Emory and Henry College. Inducted into the Washington, D.C. Hall of Fame for 2015, Miller is also a regular on National Public Radio.