Light for the Orphans

In Wilmer Mills’ book, Light for the Orphans, he examines two basic groups of people.  In one, he tells of those who, for various reasons, are frustrated and in some cases quite discouraged with life, and yet, for a while at least, retain a sense of hope that things can once again be put back in order, in the order that they long for.  The other group evident in Light for the Orphans consists of those defending a disordered life, a disorder that they have either come to prefer to order, or see as the only remaining possibility.  These have, in most cases, simply lost hope, hope in the world in which they live and hope in other people.  Mills’ characters all exhibit, either openly or in some cases quite secretly, a desire that things were once again made whole, that the world was more in order even while some seem to prefer disorder and though many seem to doubt that this order can ever again be achieved.

Many of those in the second group seem to despise any semblance of order as they see it in the world around them.  Not only can they not live with order in their own lives, but also they have a general disdain for anything that resembles order in the lives of others.  For example, in “Diary of a Piano-Tuner’s Wife, annoyed at the way her husband works “keeping the world in tune,” the piano-tuner’s wife becomes satisfied upon throwing his garden into disarray.  “What a waste it is/That everything in life is made of lines.”  For the tent delivery woman, it is her “tit for tat” attitude that keeps her from the fullness that those around her so desire for her.  She is challenged “to be/A sweeter person for [her] daughter’s sake,” but responds: “I like the way I am just fine.”  She says that she feels “pulled out, unraveled,” but repeats: “I like it fine.”

In contrast to these, the first group identifies a certain disorder in their own lives or in the life of the world in which they live; they see that something is not as it should be and desire that it be made right.  A steeplejack, disturbed at how his former vocation has turned from something of value into something merely artificial, explains how he once believed that “His calling wasn’t just vocational.”  He tells what care he took with his handiwork “dangl[ing] from the lightning rod of faith,” how even the pigeon had a place.  And while he has lost faith in his former vocation, he still believes that “Jesus has a special place for him,” that “God is partial to the steeplejack,” that is, partial to those whose work is not merely toward an end rewarded with dollars, those whose work is “a holy calling.”

The collection of poems presented in Light for the Orphans is characterized by the constant search for order in the world.  In one group are those that see order, an order that has in many cases been lost, and want to reinstate it.  They want it back.  Then there are those who for various reasons cannot stand order and shun any semblance thereof.  They are annoyed by it and are made by it to see their acute disorder in contrast to it.  They want, or think they want, to rid it from their own lives as well as from the lives of those around them.  Also present are those who see an existing order and want to preserve it, even as everything seems to fade and “wear[] in, familiar.” Those who “don’t trust time to keep the days/In place,” afraid that once this sense of order is lost there will be nothing left of any meaningful value, afraid that they will “never have the chance/To see a red that deep again.”

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