the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2007



Philip Miller

The Particulars

Death hurries the wind back to its leaves,
strips the tree to its bare bones,
and where rains flood, rocks gain their polish.
The dust’s minute grains smooth mountain peaks,
cover the eras, layer by layer: what disappears?

Why nothing—all chars or sinks or broils,
every atom—-"mixing, separating"; falling, rising—
each particle, a particular, our bodies, husks,
left-over to break down, dissolve.
You and I sit beside the maple tree
we planted with our own hands, puzzling
what’s beyond what’s left behind, for our whole
history—our light years—blinks toward the stars,
our every uttered word murmurs through the ether.

But what of the thing that makes you and me ourselves:
not the parts that make us up—"eyes, lips and hands"—
but what makes us "see to see," that can’t disintegrate
into the dust that rides the air we breathe,
that dances with a bit of everything,
alive, dead, in between, visible, unseen?

I mean the part that parted unmakes us, the us
we will have been, the thoughts
we are, the brain’s engendering: minute charges
between gray storage cells. Where will we fly
when death hurries the wind back to the leaves?

Will the particles we are free-fall forever
or fall free, or will we dream
in leafy branches of that tree
where we first stole fruit?

Ghost in the Mirror

Is it my ghost I see inside the mirror?
When I look into his eyes,
he stares until I blink
as if he holds time inside his gaze.
If I turn, he disappears.
As I peer at a mole or a new gray hair,
the ghost is watching, too,
as when the razor rides my face
from ear to ear.
If I reach out and touch
his cheek: cold glass.
And yes, if I do a jumping jack,
he’ll make like Harpo Marx,
but if I dance, who leads?
And he can’t stop this game;
time’s not the same
for us, though I know he’s only light
captured and rearranged,
but he is the ghost of what I was;
I mean, he’s aged along with me,
and cannot tell a lie
except the ones I tell to him
face to face in the glass,
both of us looking curious as ghosts.

New Year’s Eve Day

They have felt all day like Charlie Chaplin
in "Modern Times"—caught in the spokes
of a wheel—a gigantic clock,
their arms bound to its hands,
pulling them slowly this way and that,
at time’s every angle. Now, at 10:10 PM,
their arms hover above them like wings,
one long arm in an hourly orbit,
the short one, snailing behind
as they wait for midnight,
when both arms will meet, stand
straight up as if to surrender
(or to dive in) to the new year,
the next cycle bringing them
(one arm like an oar, the other a rudder)
around the clock face, which is the world,
and since they can only stare ahead
without moving, they are moved
as the world moves, caught like Charlie
Chaplin, raising an eyebrow, mugging,
gazing wide-eyed at the way things are.


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