Lydia Warner Miller’s policeman husband was killed when she was just 24. She wrote the poems collected in The Broken Badge to process her grief and give words to her sorrow.
In addition to expressing her own anguish at the loss of her husband (“Sometimes the pain/ Is just too deep/ Nothing helps/ Though I scream, yell and weep!”), Miller explores the territories of bereavement and comfort in myriad ways. She includes elegiac poems where nature participates in grief—“Tears rained down/ From the broken sky/ Mixing with those/ From her own eye”—and pictures her husband as an angel walking “a heavenly beat.”
Some of Miller’s most descriptive poems involve her child’s loss of a parent, and, imaginatively, her spouse’s loss of experience as a father. “Those weren’t my hands/ That tied his first tie/ My partner did it/ While I cried.”
Miller usually structures her poems with an abab rhyme pattern, and her lines, while varied in length, demonstrate a strong sense of rhythm. She devotes the last 20 pages of The Broken Badge to her artwork. These black, white and gray pieces depict policemen as ghosts or angels, usually standing before a memorial or in an ethereal mist.
Miller achieves a kind of timeless quality in these renditions, but the poems themselves, while utterly sincere, lack the impact that would allow readers to experience such sorrows as if they had felt a blow to the heart themselves. Lines like “I must say goodbye/ To my friend today/ Somehow I must turn around/ And walk away,” are poignant in the thought they convey, but miss the concrete, powerful imagery that would pull readers in more completely. Less abstract words and more fresh or startling imagery would greatly enhance their effectiveness.
While the poems in The Broken Badge require revision to attract a general readership, those in the throes of grief will find a kindred soul here.
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