the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2008



Philip Miller

Racing Backwards

The train we ride
feels as if it's going backwards.
I'm watching the end
of the train out the window
where it's dark enough
I can see my face in the pane,
and I recall that old song,
"Me and My Shadow,"
should have been our song,
yours anyway.
And I look over at you,
deep in your book,
watch you turn back
to an earlier page,
re-read, then look up,
staring ahead, weighing,
realizing what you've just read.
Of course, I must interrupt:
"Look! Look!" I say,
for a train is passing
from another direction
with its bright coaches
filled with people,
all going backwards,
as our train must seem to them,
and then for a second—
and I could feel you watching, too,
this small law of physics—
both trains seem to stop,
and we can see faces staring out,
perhaps, at our faces
as we become, for one split
second, eye to eye,
before both trains pull away
in opposite directions,
and our train clicks along,
and we turn away, too,
you back to your book
(can't recall its name,
but a real thriller-diller)
and I back to my window
watching my face
and the shadowy landscape
running together, racing backwards.


Things to Come

We switch on the air in hellish summer,
the heat, when winter comes down hard,
and caught inside, stare at ourselves,
our red cheeks startled
from the cold we've just escaped
or chapped from dry desert air
whose dust we know sifts everywhere.
Hard edges of a dog day dawn
or dwindling November light
narrow our eyes,
turn them toward the window
to days that rise and fall
like the breaths we hold in,
counting a few careful seconds
before exhalation.

Then we make that drink
and watch our whiskey splash
over the rocks in small cascades,
and we may think of the age of ice
when we survived our first endless fall,
found new footing, held up the fire
we'd just discovered and dreamed
we knew the secret of,
inviting our neighbor into our caverns
to show off the bison we painted on the walls,
the reindeer with flaring nostrils,
and while we shared the warmth of the fire
we thought was ours,
we watched him rub his hands together
over the coals as if he'd steal the fire
away with his finger bones,
and we both smiled uneasily

as we still do when sleet ticks
at the storm windows, wind bumps the panes,
and we make another drink,
switch on the weather
to get the five-day
we know we can't trust much, either,
and later consult our aching bones
or turn back to the sky
to search for clearer signs.


The Ghost and His Shadow

There it is,
a shadow's shadow.
I stand still
as the sun
above me
and watch it
run until
it vanishes
behind me
like my past,
or scoots on ahead,
like my future,
to say the least,
which is all I can say,
I'm a man
when by suspension
of some old law
(that allows a moment
of the supernatural),
what's left of me
cuts into the light,
unfolding my flimsy
outline, a notion,
all I am now
or what might be
called a being
still being human
(more or less),
though bereft
of weight and girth,
of my very breath,
but trying to remember
what it felt like
standing stiff
and straight
breathing the sweet air,
and running
across the earth.



Back to Poetry