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
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.