Anesa Miller

The Ladder of Words


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith thanks for all recent messages of encouragement, I’d like to share a poem that was set to music by my dear friend Jane Click. Here is text, as well as audio, for “The Ladder of Words.” It addresses the writing process and the role that process can play in healing.

Looking back, my book of grief poems, A Road Beyond Loss, was an effort to capture the two essential motives that drive my writing overall: self-expression and communication. Maybe that sounds abstract or simplistic, but it makes sense to me. My need for self-expression is strongest when negative emotions overwhelm the mind. In a state of grief, those feelings can become so strong they threaten one’s identity, the foundation of mental health.

But the mind that speaks, or writes, can use language to reassert selfhood by expressing the inner pain. Language is a shared cultural medium, so  the possibility of connecting with others is basic to most forms of verbal expression. Connection is only words away. I tried to convey those truths in this poem.

For a recent update, visit “New Cover for OUR ORBIT” with information on a forthcoming novel, Best Regional Fiction


“The Ladder of Words” music by Jane Click, poem by Anesa Miller; performed by Clyde Kunz (vocal) and Jane Click (piano).



The Ladder of Words

When the world came down upon me,

and the sky closed like a door,

sounds filled my ears from far away.

I lay down on the floor.


And no one near could find me,

and nothing near was mine.

I sank into the floorboards

from the voices soft and kind.


It seemed like days, eternity,

that I could not be reached,

from sight and sound withdrawn

like a whale beached out of water

and thrashing like a fish.


Until one thought got through to me,

one image filled my mind:

a pencil and a paper, lying

close to hand, nearby.


Somehow I took them up and traced

one word and then the next,

until they linked together

in a chain that first perplexed

the darkness in my eyes—


Then, rowing on my paper barque,

I soon was far away

and saw the water trail I’d left

rise up into a chain


—a ladder reaching high above

to light and sound and friends.

And that’s how I climbed out

of the grief that has no end.


This poem is in memory of Tiina Shilts-Panksepp who almost became my step-daughter. Many thanks to Jaak Panksepp for giving me the chance to self-publish my poetry collection, A Road Beyond Loss. Special thanks also to Jane Click who heard such beautiful music.

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18 thoughts on “The Ladder of Words”

  1. Very nice poem. Writing is therapy & through happy times or sad, we poets find comfort in our pen & pad and through our words we express so eloquently as you did here. Great ink!

  2. Writing is extremely cathartic, and the notion of using it as a ladder to climb escape negative emotions is lovely.

  3. This poem conveys a deep emotion in me. I felt your struggle, you portrayed it beautifully with words. Sometimes I’ve been in that same hole, sinking, thinking there’s no way to climb up and out of it but just like you, writing has given me that ladder, that rope to get out and find the light of day. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work.

    1. Yes–It’s good to hear that you’re been able to use that same tool. I think writing is often overlooked as a therapeutic approach, or simply as a comfort in difficult times. Thanks so much, Kirsy, for stopping by and posting your thoughts.

  4. Loved the earlier post about the journey your book took in its lifetime… great to meet you on Twitter, and all the best for all your current efforts!

  5. Barbara White Daille

    Loved the images and especially the literal analogy of a ladder as a means to climb out of grief.

  6. What beautiful messages your relay….your words inspire and flow with amazing peace. Thank you for sharing with us.

  7. J. B. Chicoine


    I’m glad you posted the words to the song/poem. I saw your post about the woman who set your poems to music, and I’ll be honest–I couldn’t listen to it–I knew it would be heart rending and leave me crying (yeah, I’m one of those types that cries too easily–I can’t even watch the news).

    I’m so sorry for yours and your husbands loss–I get all choked up just thinking about it and reading your words ….

  8. Oh my how this takes me back, and I’m so glad i received it. (Found it on my old account as was cleaning it up. . . that’s how far behind I am. So sorry.

    You not only can build ladders out of words. You ARE language incarnate–always so absolutely true to it, whether it be definition or metaphor.

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