[As of this month, Phil Miller joins the magazine as
Contributing Editor. He lives in Kansas City. Eds.]
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Winter we know them only as shadows
behind drawn window curtains,
as gunmetal flashes of cars fleeting,
in their come and go, as taillights
spilling vermilion on the snow.
Spring we greet each other
like swallowtails broken from chrysalides,
flying our best colors, in rayons striped
lime, canary, tangerine.
And in unison, all summer, we mow, weed, trim,
or we patio and pool, good neighbors trying
to keep cool, winking at each other for nothing,
watching as our bright leaves slowly grow
carmine, russet, boot brown,
gathering them up as they fall,
setting them aflame,
searching for each other through the haze,
You can't forget the feeling
when you pick up something strange:
a piece of luggage from the airport carousel,
how thick the handle, how light the weight,
it knocks you off balance and you drop it quick.
Or by accident you start toward a car,
you think is yours how fast you flinch away,
your hand almost to the door, on noticing
an odd tint of windshield shining in the sun.
Gazing down at items you would never buy
a jar of Ovaltine, a few fresh apricots
you back off from the grocery cart,
but wonder how such things would taste.
These little brushes somehow make you think
of when you're kissing someone else's wife,
for reasons purely ceremonial, pecking,
say at midnight on some New Year's Eve:
how cool her cheek, how tightly pursed her lips,
you feel the small strain of a firm reserve
that defers to prior ownership or fear
of giving something easily away.
You walk off, feeling like a thief,
wondering, however light,
if this was a fatal brush
but savoring the strange taste on your lips.
and the textures of a place
grow as familiar to your touch
as the ends of your elbows,
as the cleft of your chin.
and you dream of it
how dust gathers in gray corners,
how it sticks to windowpanes,
your hands traveling the curves
of wing chairs, your fingers
finding nooks, the minute crevices
of grooved woodwork.
Regular dusting and one day
you lean against a broom and watch
dust sparkling in a shaft of sun,
see it float and settle animate,
little dancing galaxies.
Or you notice in the warp and wave
of some old mirror, your own shape
shifting, your eyebrows thinning,
that you, too, are sifting slowly
before you pick up your scrap
of old undershirt
and begin dusting once again,
uncovering the same bright surfaces,
as if something may emerge
in the grains of polished wood,
or some design may lie
underneath the simple skin of things.
It's the way leaves seem
overnight to turn
from ochre to burnt umber,
to fall in little heaps
outside our windows:
the way you shut your book,
and sit up to take a look,
curling a little grin
which says, "That's finished."
The way I can't find a word
to hurl toward windows that turn
backward, inward, reflecting
outside inside, bringing dark.
The way we snap on lights
and start fresh books, crackling
their spines, putting on
brave smiles of "We shall see."
The way in windows we can see
ourselves stare at ourselves
in oblong panes of shadows.
The way we feel the chill
of something creep inside, hear
crystal sing, our fine stems
toast themselves: the way we
keep our eyes glued to the pages
as the whole house quivers,
the way we learn to settle,
the way we learn to read
clear to the end.
On His Own
He's toasting himself tonight,
winking at mirrors, lost
in secret conversations, donning masks
of past friends and foes, reenacting
some ancient quarrel or standoff,
getting even, having it all out again,
between short trips to the tiny kitchen
for another splash of vodka on the rocks,
muttering, keeping the thread of talk
back to the old couch where he holds court,
lecturing to the armchair facing him.
What a relief, to have found someone
who listens to his side of things,
who understands, agrees.
On his way back, this time,
a fresh drink tinkling in his hand,
he gets off track, forgets, a second,
where he is, where his friend has gone,
sits puzzled for half an hour,
making sure he's really by himself
just staring at an empty chair.
The Flesh Made Word
Ah, whisper of the breath
as uphill today I puff a ghost or two
into early frost,
and later, exhausted into my chair
with its own arms and legs,
the creaks and cracks of my bones,
the thud thud of my blood
and then a blue, skipped beat,
dropped for a moment as the flesh poises
before a world that almost overcomes
the synapses' silent snap,
and when I rise again
the popping sound my knees
and elbows utter,
the skin's slap or squeak or rasp,
all day this difficult discourse,
and oh, of course,
hiccup, belch, and fart;
yawn, sneeze, and snore,
now a humming in the brain
or ringing in the ears,
a nerve cell or two
giving up the ghost:
ah, murmur in the heart,
that flutter and flap --
the flesh publishing,
to break into words.
"Neighbors," " Strange Kisses," and "Dusting" apppear in Cats In The House,
Woodley Memorial Press, Washburn University, Topeka Kansas l997 (Second Edition)
Copyright 1987 by Philip Miller. "The Flesh Made Word" appears in Rattapallax No. 6.
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