If you had walked into the Neiman-Marcus store during the Christmas season in Dallas in 1939, you would have found a beautiful little book for sale titled “A Letter from Texas.” The 20-page book, by the Texas poet Townsend Miller was commissioned by Stanley Marcus himself. He had the gifted printer Carl Hertzog publish an exquisite limited edition of the poem with the Neiman-Marcus imprint on the title page. Mr. Stanley, as Marcus came to be called, loved the Texcentric poem. He wanted to make it available in the store at Christmastime so that out-of-staters would have a unique gift to take back home or send to friends and family..
I happen to have a copy of Miller’s book. The poem is a letter to his friend, John. In it, Miller shares his passionate love for Texas with a kind of contagious exuberance:
John, it is a strange land. John it is hard to describe.
But perhaps try this. Hold up your right hand, palm outward,
And break the last three fingers down from the joint.
And there you have it. The westering thumb.
The silent bleak land, the silent mesas
Big Bend and the great canyons at its end
El Paso, the Northern Pass, and they came down through it.
Southward and east, the slow hot river moving
River of Palms, Grande del Norte, and over the wrist,
To Brownsville, and it empties into the vast blue waters
Miller describes each part of the state using the geography of his hand as a model of the Texas. He says “the tongue staggers” to describe the state’s size.
Miller was best known for the country music column he wrote for the Austin-American Statesman from 1972 to 1984. He was less of a critic and more of a promoter of the then-nascent music scene in and around Austin – his hometown for most of his life.
In his letter-poem to his friend John, Miller also writes:
Austin, the central city, and she is crowned with the sun
And twice-crowned westward with violet hills,
John, the thick roses swarming over the wall.
The moon in the white courts, the quivering mornings.
Of the Llano Estacado Miller writes:
And here I think is the heart of it;
Here you begin to sense it, the size, the silence;
This is the land, empty under enormous sky,
In wide enormous air, nothing of man.
Miller’s poem is the sort of letter we write when we want to convince a friend to move here.
He concludes this way.
So now tonight in the central city Texas lies around me.
All silent to the stars; so I write of it.
Remembering the slow dusk of the Rio Grande
Remembering the high hawks of the violet hills
Remembering the dark eyes in the Calle de Flores,
And the breeze comes up from the Gulf and in the court
Pink oleanders brush on the white wall
And the moon at flood over the westering hills
And my heart is full of it and I send it to you.
Mr. Stanley always had fine aesthetic tastes, especially for Christmas gifts. His offering of this book long ago still holds up nicely as a gift idea today, if you can find a copy, which you can with some ambitious searching. Might make a perfect gift for Tesla’s Elon Musk. Welcome to Texas, Elon.