New York City skyline at night

12

 

 

Poems by Philip Miller

Philip Miller

Philip Miller

Photo by
Bonnie Walker

About a year ago, Philip Miller's widow, Nancy Eldredge, sent me a box of Phil's poems in manuscript (and a few in print). It would have taken ages to determine how many of these were original versions of published poems and how many were not published. The poems are mostly unpublished work—a mixture of old and more recent work, the former originating in Kansas City and the latter in Mount Union, Pennsylvania, where Phil spent the last seven years of his life. Finding all of these newly uncovered poems fascinating, accomplished, and original, and without using any particular criteria, I have chosen thirty; some are in formal verse (villanelles and pantoums were often perfect for Phil's expression), but most, whether crisp little poems like "Heirlooms," "Spiders," and "Praise for Wickedness" (!) or longer, more ambitious pieces such as "Like a Movie" and "A Child Locked in a Closet," are in free verse, often with inherent rhyme, to accommodate the author's universal yet personal concerns.

Having written the forewords to two of his collections, I have already shared my appreciation of Philip Miller's unique voice, amazingly wise and witty as it always is. Like the poems in his books, the poems that follow here will be recognizable and distinct. Enjoy them, as I am sure that you will.

Martin Mitchell
Guest-Editor

Eye to Eye

Without sex we might all love each other—
though we probably wouldn't—without the strain
of rivalry, the need for flesh
under cover of sheets, stars, lies, etc.,
but this incentive, innocent
by itself, wouldn't you say?,
brings us even in its most antiquated positions
face to face, this quick need that keeps coming
back to us during our latest hours
until most of us find it hard to resist,
to hold on to prenatal habits of staying
alone in our rooms, nursing old wounds,
when the prospect of mending, of reconnection,
brings us out in our lime rayons, our summer
seersuckers, in hats and patent leathers,
in minis and Bermudas and see-through blouses,
as we strut in sunlight, fanning our feathers.
And sometimes, you have to admit, friendships
develop also, the one-night stand lasts
a week or two, or even a couple of decades,
off and on, of course, as ours has,
though we still must raise our eyebrows
at each other, groom, fix our hair—
I've combed mine today into a Prufrock
pompadour: we must get into the right temper,
but every now and then
there's a hitch in the conversation,
a word or two dropped like crumbs for the birds
hopping around our table,
and when one flies off
and finds a leafed-out branch to sing upon
we are left staring at each other,
ready to restrike a friendly bargain
eye to eye.

 

Weighing

The way she looks at him
he feels her eyes could lift him
until the world disappears beneath him.
When he reaches her lips, he sees a red
satin bow opening to reveal a mountain's face
of pure white teeth, her eyes the size of looking glasses
where he sees his small face in duplicate,
two wan smiles.

"My god," she thinks,
if his eyes grow any wider
all that will be left of him will be
those sad pools,
the gray-green disappearing
until all that's left is pupil,
and she hears this in her ear:
"Until there's nothing there."

But now they're both brought up short
of breath, his eyes, she notices, have acquired
a new shine, and now they're kissing,
and with their eyes
open, and later each set will focus
on the other, hold their fire with long gazes—
eyeballing—as they weigh these weighty moments,
which will soon weigh hard and heavily upon them.

 

Nevertheless

Would the words never end?
How they rattled, snapped, and spit
into the air he would have cooled,
hardened, for one moment, one breath,
but always her breath made more words,
never less than too many for his poor ears,
syllables, every morning, up and down the scales.
"She's tuning up!" he would always say
to himself, trying to feel safe behind his paper,
avoiding the blurt of headlines,
the catastrophic chorus, but deep
as he was in the cozy back pages,
want ads, personals, obits, nevertheless,
they were made—he always realized too late—
of words, too, dull or dolorous,
but still little packages of sound,
arriving to disturb his peace as her words did,
even in the middle of the night,
bringing him up like a corpse at judgment
when she would pause, let him open his eyes,
terrified, a second, then sleepy like a kid's
as she began again her high harangue,
and he tried to think of anything or nothing
as, nevertheless, her words kept coming
as if they might find where he really lived,
and he might rise with open eyes at last
and listen. But listen, he knows he'll never
turn to her, that less is more, that silence
is the only music to his ears, that one day
she'll run out of words, speak nevermore,
and let them both turn into stones.

 

Dreaming

The world could end tomorrow,
just as last night's dream
ended this morning,
though it seemed eternal,
you and I searching
for each other
in between encounters
with sirens, sycophants,
tilting landscapes,
fiery skies.

And our worlds could end tomorrow,
yours or mine, I mean,
though we've lived so close—
almost two as one—
and watched the fiery sun
sink into landscapes
that moved beneath us
(or seemed to),
and we wonder if our demises
will be like dreams,
ending or beginning,
if we'll rest in peace forever
or just wake up.

 

The Day after the Day After

September hums all day
like my old grandmother,
crickets clicking off
the seconds, everything
going to seed, leaves
curling up, flowers
unraveling, spiked tufts
splitting, pods spitting
dust, air heavy with pollen,
alive with the residues
of summer, sifting
and settling.

Two days ago I got drunk,
made the weather stop,
held the autumn back,
the hiss of cicadas,
the coming of dark.
I got drunk and grinned
like a child, watched
the moon roll around the sky.
The next day I sipped
through my hangover,
felt the embers of drink
stuck in my veins.

Now I'm dry as a gourd,
and light widens my eyes
as I watch the earth's
easy death, the fluttering
down of things, the wobble
of a gaudy swallowtail,
its elegant tiger wings
losing their color,
slowing their beat,
and I give into time,
let its shadows grow,
give up killing it.

 

Getting Old

When it first hit me, I blamed the weather,
heat pressing against my temples, a conspiracy
of clouds pushing down:
too much whiskey, beer, and wine,
I thought, had let the past explode into
the present, let a niche open in my brain
until where I was and where I stood then
(rubbing my sore eyes) were two points—
between which stretched a shadow:
"Too damned much work," I said out loud,
muttering like my old granddad always had,
cussing the government, the weather,
at clocks that ran too fast or slow,
that broke mainsprings, ran down, stopped.

When it hit next, I was ready
with a quick drink, a dream, another vision
of the future, planned rearrangements
of the furniture for decades ahead:
"What's plotted, stays," I said
to myself without moving my lips.

Then it hit me: I was still alive,
but my body, bless it, was betraying me—
the me of me that was still intact:
my flesh was shedding cells,
fresh tissues growing back thinner,
but my spirit kept up the same old issues:
my mind still pictured the figure of a man
I'd become the ghost of,
my brain losing bits and pieces
of old scenes I'd lived through,
refining them to tinctures,
sour or sweet or bitter,
for me to savor on my tongue
as I stood and faced the weather,
listening to the sizzle of fall leaves,
seeing trees stripped to bare bones,
watching everything transformed
while it remained the same,
and I said to myself: "This is how it feels,"
and spoke in a calm, new voice.

 

Like a Movie

You see it in movies all the time:
demon possession, like one October night
I was walking home, a little wind pressuring
me along, and then some old man in his yard,
raking dead leaves, turned, leaned on his rake,
gave me the bad eye, like he was on to something.
I kept walking, opened my own front door,
watched my mother, father, kid brother
all glance up at the same time,
looking funny, and I was pretty late,
but they'd been talking and had to cut it short
as I walked in: I wanted to say,
"Hey, I got things on my mind," but just said
nothing, made it upstairs to my room,
where I could still hear their voices, snatches
of laughter. Then I remembered demon movies,
how devils got hold of souls of perfectly
innocent people. I thought of my parents' smiles,
of my damned little brother, grinning like he knew
something I didn't: the way their eyes slanted
back after I'd given them the bad eye, myself,
and the murmur of voices rising from downstairs
sounded like a chant, and I really felt scared,
like they were ganging up, but I felt mean, too,
as I stomped across my room to give them something
to think about, then clomped downstairs
where they all sat staring at TV,
huddled like conspirators, all right,
as I walked past them, heading for the door—
to get some air, to make some outside contact—
and I didn't say a word, kept my eyes hard
and straight ahead, though I knew in my heart,
all they were doing was watching some dumb movie,
and I realized I couldn't tell who the demons
might have gotten—them or me—that maybe I was
the one possessed. Outside wind blew cold
and a big white moon had risen.
And I knew even if I had knocked three times
on some old tree that the way I felt wouldn't
go right away, that it would stay with me,
tracking along behind like a shadow.

 

Heirlooms

I'll leave my children fading snapshots
of crazy relatives—not one marked
with whom or when or where—
old records too, scratchy,
never to be listened to,
bric-a-brac: brass ashtrays,
figurines, sprung clocks,
a veneer sideboard,
a quartet of chairs,
bottoms missing,
and to remember me by:
my mackinaw and stocking cap,
an umbrella, minus a rib or two,
my oak bar stool.
For all of this they'll have only me to thank,
though not exactly,
and nothing in the bank.

 

The Man in Black

The man in the black suit
twitches his eyebrows,
and when he speaks of heaven
or hell he smiles broadly;
his eyes twinkle from the pulpit,
and the boy of nine walks up toward
the altar to be saved, lets the man
in black touch his head, which hangs
as the boy stares at his shoes, at the laces
he remembers tying this morning
with sunlight spilling in his room,
the window open with a breeze blowing through,
open to the outside he would rush toward
right now if he had the strength of the man
whose hand has just blessed his new
birth, who has asked him if he accepts
Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
And he stands there wondering why being born
again makes him feel like running,
but still roots him to the ground,
why if he's been set free
do his wings feel closely clipped
like the way the barber trimmed around
his ears quickly, confidently,
grinning broadly like the man in black,
then powdered, rubbed on thick tonic
that stank so sweet.

 

Spiders

I loved the smell of boozy breath,
grandma's gin-scented grin when she
opened her arms, almost hugged me to death,
father's beer baritone singing to me
in my swing way down in the basement,
where we all had to live safe from the eye
of father's old mother upstairs, bent
on reforming father, though on the sly
she nipped cordial herself—how could
I resist sipping a spider or two from
father's empties, stuck everywhere you would
look?—it made me merry like father on
his good days—tasting it under my breath,
though some days it scared me to death.

 

The Gods, the Gods

Tonight the way our old-fashioned
lamp shades diffuse and color
the light they spill makes every
piece of bric-a-brac in the house
shine and glimmer:
the bronze cat on the mantelpiece,
the jade Buddha atop the stereo,
the cut-glass figures frozen
in mid-motion dancing, skating,
poised in suspended animation,
these bits of mineral
that capture an occasion or lost era,
each one catches the amber-tinted light—
and the fat Buddha blinks and sparkles:
all these deities that we've collected
gleam from their appointed places,
where we glimpse them from over
our left shoulders or pick them up
to caress a moment with our fingers,
to get to know their crevices and contours,
to feel cool stone or the brittle edges
of cut crystal angels
that refract tiny scraps of rainbow:
these are household gods
we purchase at Pier I and the World Bazaar,
graven images
we never pray to but must possess
(as they finally possess us)
and set somewhere to greet us
from their shelves and tabletops
after the wind has followed us to our doors;
like the tiny bird of paradise
hanging in a gray window,
these inanimates are survivors— as we are—these are what we live
to come back to,
things we can hold in our hands
or inside our gaze,
that can reconnect one passing hour
to the next, the beginning
with the rapidly approaching
end.

 

Home

Leaving to come back we want to stay
where, leaving, we didn't really want to go
before we departed our silent house,
and looked back, risking bad luck:
its cool, closed blinds, the familiar
brick path to our door, dead-bolted,
and it was homesick blues until our home
away from home opened its exotic arms
and we grew to love the teal-blue sea,
the parrot-green wilderness as if
we'd always lived where the seasons
are stuck in eternal Eden and almost forgot
back home, cold and orderly, its seasons set,
demanding reasons for everything we did:
leaving to come back we want to stay
and we must look back, risking more bad luck,
the familiar brown beaches and basking bodies,
the little trail of footprints,
so we secretly hope we'll be changed to statues,
as we hoped before we began
the journey, to gain solid ground,
one little space, never again to disembark,
always to end up where we are.

 

Wedding: 1963

They were barely twenty, too young
to reason with, too old to forgive,
in an unairconditioned Methodist church,
three months before JFK flew to Dallas,
and thirteen years before their divorce,
and as the temperature rose to 106,
an electric organ played weak strains
of Tchaikovsky's Fifth and people poured
in resolutely, despite heat, to bear witness
while little hotdog ushers and groomsmen,
hungover from the bachelor's party,
wandered around and wondered whether
to stand or sit, horsed weakly
with the bridesmaids as tuxedos,
crinolines drooped in the heat.

The groom faced the congregation guiltily,
caught his mother's sweet smile—the one
she reserved for funerals: her mother looked
sad and hot, like his father, nerves shot,
gray at the gills, looking over his
shoulder as if he hoped a waiter might
magically appear and bring him a drink—a drink
her father could have used, too, coming
slowly down the aisle and looking scared
as the groom while the heat pressed, the air
stiffened and they said vows without knowing
they would never keep them all, that maybe
no one ever did, repeating what the smiling
minister intoned, not knowing if it was
sweat or tears running down their cheeks.

 

Praise for Wickedness

So much depends on wickedness:
cat holds mouse in close sights,
eyes narrowing; mouse freezes
to floor, waits as we do, initiate
to a lesson always learned too late,
and cat pleasures in this foreplay,
loves not kill or any meanness save
swallowing what wants swallowing:
a quivering nose sets cat's teeth,
lights his eyes like candles whose
wickedness lights any dark, exposes
any quivering innocence, animal
or human, and as we see ourselves,
our eyes narrow with wicked laughter.

 

A Child Locked in a Closet

After the locking of the door
and the stomping and echoing away of footsteps
at first I screamed and hammered at the door
until I discovered that inside
that closet—at least there it was quiet,
and it didn't take long to learn
to eat the scraps from my plate
and to set aside enough for the roaches,
so they'd have their corner
and I would have mine, a corner
I one day realized I could not have had
outside: I slowly came to understand
I could learn more inside the closet
than outside, where the surest, safest things
were fists, where I'd forget to ask
anyone anything: inside I could answer myself
and learn what sounds meant—
what the tiny maze inside a padlock
looked like by studying each click:
I knew what was coming by the quickening
footsteps at the door, pictured the expression
on a face by the way
the voice shrieked or growled,
and soon I could tell by smells—which died
a slow death—if I'd have food or no food;
my breath taught me what every stink was,
and touch showed me the shape of things
and the shape of what touched me:
my fingers discovered where I was,
but what I saw in the dark
I learned belonged to me only,
that my mind and all its rooms
were mine, too—
closets with locks on them
for which I had the keys—
one little room for father
another one for mother—
so when the door shut
one day and I thought it might
never open again, it was not so bad;
I'd already learned
that when the door shuts
it shuts both ways.
And when one day the door opened,
first there was a white blur
that hurt my eyes until I finally
took in a room I'd never seen,
and when I heard someone say,
"Are these your parents?"
my eyes widened while all the closets
in my brain crashed shut,
and all I could see was a pair of strangers,
their wrists locked together,
and all I could wonder was—
who had the key?

 

What You Become

The person you talk to when you talk to yourself
still speaks of better weather,
is forgetful as you are,
cannot conceive
of your bones growing cranky
and your skin gaining a sheen
polished by the air it's traveled through,
of your heart beating deeper:
this old associate still gives
directions, feels like any age,
remembers and forgets,
thinks that you've become
what you always wanted
to become
according to a plan,
and beyond that will not
speculate, grows silent,
waits with you for some other,
closer aquaintance to join in,
to let you both know
what's next.

 

What They Said

Never again,
she said to herself,
and he did, too,
and at the time,
they meant it,
but it was as if two secret selves
winked at each other
behind their good intentions
of washing their hands
of ever falling again,
and although they never looked back,
and kept their eyes straight ahead
and peeled for trouble,
yet they didn't look where
their feet were marching,
and neither of them prepared
for the time
when a glance, the touch
of a hand, the closing
of one eyelid,
would make them forget
never again
quick as a wink
as if they'd never
said it.

 

Mount Union, PA: 1991

Here we are again,
in the little mountain town
we come back to every summer
and hear the lilt of voices
asking questions that turn up
at the end as if we were in
London instead of Pennsylvania.
We have made it again,
having driven a thousand miles
across the Midwest, looking out
for landmarks as if to prove
that things stay put
where our memory stores them,
like the St. Louis Arch
furnishing an entrance to the East
or the West, depending on which way
you're going, and the rows and rows
of fattening Illinois corn
that blurred past, and the oasis
of the hot, dry road we found
ten years ago: Richmond, Indiana,
where we stayed over, dipping through
Glenn Miller Memorial Park,
where the grass looked painted green,
its streams minnowy slivers
of running silver we watched
while listening to a local
DJ play fifty-year-old swing.
Next morning, after rows of Ohio
corn and its dusty towns
out of Sherwood Anderson,
suddenly the Monongahela
snaked below in a valley
falling away on either side
as if we were airborne, flying
toward the East, and then tops
of mountains jutted heavenward
as if reborn.
Everything fit back in,
and where we were before
and where we were then—
past and future merged
beneath our spinning tires:
the land (also spinning)
and the landscape in our brains
jibed just as they do now
that we've found Mount Union
still sitting quietly at the end
of a maze of mountain roads,
and now the sun that followed us
from dear old Kansas City to where
we've rearrived for a micro-second
stands still, here where we've
ended up, and will begin again.

 

These Old Photos

In these old photos from the late 1800s,
handed down from my great-aunt,
children pose solemnly, facing the camera
as if the photographer behind his black curtain
had been an executioner, his hand held high
to make a small explosion
that in this sepia shot may have narrowed
the young girl's eyes as she stood and stared
in a long coat with big, shiny buttons,
a china doll held loosely in her arms
as if someone had stuck it there.
In this one, two brothers hold sailor hats
and frown suspiciously as old men
like the little boy in this one with thin,
arched brows staring down the years
as if he's seen everything
before and would like to see no more.
This girl leans against a statue of an angel—
or is it a tombstone?—and gazes hard
enough to see through to her future fate:
a strange relative examining her picture
as if she were a ghost,
and I think of my billfold full of children,
and grandchildren of the late 1900s,
in full color, grinning, caught
in some unrehearsed romp or giggle,
windblown hair, unposed, white teeth exposed
in mid-laugh, photos, I culled, of course,
from a dozen shots that lacked in glee
and spontaneity that sometimes come
from pictures taken of children begged
to smile, to be themselves, to say "Cheese"
and look natural while behind them grinning
grownups snap and flash their Yamahas.
These are old photos I don't carry
even deep in my billfold, shots where my son
mugs a grotesque leer I don't want to remember
or my lovely daughter sticks out her tongue,
eyes crossed with a look I imagine my own great-great
grand-relatives would have loved to give
the camera had they not hated more
the itchy business of another hour of pose
and chose to hide their irony
behind a look as stiff and stern
as the grownups wanted to capture there
on children they hoped to keep
forever and ever in a frame.

 

Not Such a Long

Not such a long, long time
from October to October
each year the time from gold to gold
goes quicker, the blue and green
in between blur, Christmases and sweet
rosebud springs get mixed up
but always autumn is where I can come back
to the cold blue October skies,
the gilt-leafed branches burning
against them—stay imprinted—
though it's number fifty-four or five,
so this year when I wake to smoky air
and the bleed of gold and blood-red leaves
to this moment come round again
when seasons meet, kiss, collapse
into an end—the moment seems
familiar, comforting, a cool relief
to begin to know the shape of things again—
as if it had happened just last week.

 

An Old Letter

One red stamp sits brightly
on the corner of this old,
black-edged letter from the trunk:
the engraved face of Washington
stares out like a Roman Caesar,
eyes cool and lips acurl.

The address has faded,
the grim report inside
concerns some unknown great, great-aunt
past living memory:
the extinct news
surfaces like debris
from a sunken ship
suddenly exhumed:
how long the fever, how sharp the pain,
how hard she fought,
her eyes steeled fiercely,
her body shuddering against
each wave of an illness
neither faith nor nerve could stop,
and with no last words recorded,
only funeral details.

Outside the attic window
snow blankets the afternoon,
still quietly sifts down, billowed and edged
in shadow.

 

Hello and Goodbye

We're always strangers when we meet.
Then we must say goodbye.
What we do we can't repeat.

We see ourselves through fresh eyes,
every passing day;
then we must say goodbye

to what we were and turn away,
the wind against our faces,
into another day,

visiting new times and spaces,
losing bits and pieces of ourselves,
the wind against our faces,

and in our brains a few old cells
rearrange. We're never quite the same,
losing bits and pieces of ourselves,

and later we call out each other's name,
always strangers when we meet—
rearranged and never quite the same—
and what we do we can't repeat.

 

The Question Begged

I can't find words to let you know
it's time for me to go.
Sunlight streams into the room and blinds
me momentarily; a housefly finds
the window, buzzes against the glass.
The air has hardened, won't let him pass
into the frame of summer day.
You can't find words to make me go away.
Thus we sip our coffee and remain
together and feel no pain
or pleasure, hearing a fly's slow hiss,
letting the day crawl by like this,
putting off the question time will beg.
The fly gives up, begins to clean a leg.

 

In the Back of My Mind

I still dream of my father as one does,
thinking him still alive, then remembering
as I watch him disappear out a door,
waving, dissolving, waking me up.

He's always in the back of my mind,
but in a few short years, I'll be older
than he ever was, ever will be,
though he'll live as long as I have a mind.

Yet the longer I live, the younger he grows.
Once he was older than I would ever be
until he left the world—as they call it—
to live in the back of my mind.

And some days he weeps, some days he roars,
growing wilder as I grow wiser—warier anyway.
Imagine, if we ever meet again, father and son,
neither of us knowing which one we are.

 

A Little Bird

That morning a sparrow
on a bare branch
was singing a small tune
loud enough to penetrate
my skull,
sweetly, sharply
delivering me from dreams
of my own flight,
back to the giddy green of summer,
laughing through the wilderness
hand in hand again with you:
I looked outside at the hard-freeze dawn,
trees skinned to their bones,
the landscape having reassumed
an elemental pattern,
the wind shifting the latticework of limbs
against a sky thick and gray as ashes,
but the bird still sang,
and I lay back on the king-sized bed,
all mine now,
and listened to the bird's song
through the cool autumn air,
listened to the bird
as it sang to me.

 

Now We Feel Safe

Happy is not the word for it:
We see ourselves now as in a mist,
Dawn kissed.
The mystery story of you and me
Always starts over before it ends
When we were getting close to the truth
During the awful time of anger
As if we could see through to our hearts
Or where they should be
Each small fact of life hid there
Like a mouse about to be pounced upon
By a clever cat with wide eyes and razor claws
To find its squeaking gray body, its minute heart
Pounding against a tiny rib cage.

But now we've found an eternity of dim
Purple evenings when you and I
Rest content that if we were meant
To know the other, hell,
We would have.
We shake our heads in our mirrors
Each time one of us drops a word
Who knows? What do you suppose?
Why he/she doesn't speak
My language,
each of us having lived
In a different country: I nod, you nod,
We smile behind our fans
Sure of our own denouement,
Sure we know who did it.

 

The Song the Bird Sings

We sit still, cannot comfort
each other as day passes
with a hurry of bird wings
with the dimming of light
we must sit through silently
without joy or expectation
for the coming of night
when we might find something
to trade for the losses
each of us feels, but can't
put into words, losses
that bear down on our bodies,
lower our eyelids, bestow
in each of us a private
gravity, a separate dusk
as we watch a dark bird
swoop gently to earth.
If only we could feel
the lightness of its
hollow-boned wings
as it flies back up to a high
branch: if only we could
understand the song
the bird sings, the notes
it tosses down like the words
we cannot find to comfort
each other, to explain
every loss, this song
the bird sings before
it flies quickly into
the falling night.

 

Photographs

They pile up,
get stuck in drawers and boxes,
keep getting misplaced, forgotten,
until one day I find one
and something in my brain
clicks open, not just some lost
moment, but what we missed
completely: how I must have looked,
and the little accidentals:
the striped blazer with the wide
lapels I wouldn't get caught dead
in now, or the scowl on my ten-year-old
face, deep inside some childhood
misery, a toy gun clutched in my hand:
but that's why I save them,
for what the unforgetful camera eye
catches that the brain stores too deep
like the way my ex-wife looks
in this dog-eared photo I almost
threw out where you see me grinning
ear to ear on a day I must have felt
happy—who knows why
or how I could have missed
her look askance,
that cold stare from the corner of her eye.

 

Christmas Memories

This is not to say we were not
happy back in those days except
remembering moments—a stroll
through someone's garden
(I don't think we kept one)
or a walk down some autumn
emblazoned lane, hand in hand,
passionate embraces, flesh
greeting flesh—all come back
not as pictures but as fleeting
moments of feeling which
seem like lost moments, might
not be so if I could bring up
the details: I do remember
your angry eyes and words
coming from my mouth—hard ones
—and, wait, a Christmas tree,
the one with multicolored lights
that blinked off and on way back;
that was before we decided
against so damned much decoration,
or is this our tree or some friends
at one of those long, over-warm,
gaudy, stuff yourself and drink yourself
silly Christmas parties and are the two
screaming at each other that I
see and feel in my mind's heart
not us but some other strange couple
whose anger might have blazed—who knows
later that night after every Christmas
tree had blinked off—blazed into furious light?

 

The Thing

Consider the poor penis,
the thing that arouses,
if nothing else, laughter,
any time it comes
up, making it hard
to get back on track
the moment it penetrates
the conversation, taking on a life
of its own,
and though many a male member
of the group may think this strange,
the long and short of it is—
it's simply funny, hard to take
seriously. On one hand,
it's pretty important,
but on the other,
even the sad story of the wife
who amputated her now ex-husband's
with a butcher knife
espoused a rash of jokes
that, though it hurts
to confess it,
I thought were funny, too,
as are the organ's many aliases
(see pecker, dick, or even thing),
which when used at the right time
can bring down the house.
Even this afternoon
as I (among no doubt many others),
with nothing better to do, take mine out—
just to see if it's still hanging there,
and even now if I think about it,
as I look at my thing
with a head like a monk in repose,
this thing so much hangs upon
and is hung upon,
I have to snicker too.

 

Acknowledgments:

Casablanca Fan: "Home," "The Question Begged," "A Little Bird," "Now We Feel Safe" (in different form), "The Song the Bird Sings," and "Photographs."

"The Thing" from Feh! A Journal of Odious Poetry, Number 17, 1994

"The Ghost of Every Day": "Like a Movie"


Philip Miller taught at Kansas City (KS) Community College and directed the Riverfront Reading Series in Kansas City. He lived in Mount Union, PA, where he edited The Same and co-directed the Aughwick Poet and Writers Reading Series. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Coal City Review, Cottonwood, Gargoyle, Home Planet News, the I-70 Review, Kansas Quarterly, Literary Magazine Review, the Mid-American Review, New Letters, Poetry, Poetry Wales, Rattapallax, and Thorny Locust. His sixth book of poems, The Casablanca Fan, was published in 2008 by Spartan Press. He co-edited the ghost-poem anthology Chance of a Ghost, from Helicon Nine Editions. His last collection, The Ghost of Every Day and Other Poems, was also published by Spartan Press, Kansas City, MO, 2011. He was a contributing editor of the magazine.

Martin Mitchell, former editor of Rattapallax (2001-06) and of Pivot (1983-98), reviewed films for several publications, including After Dark for the length of its existence (1968-81). He is a contributing editor of the magazine.

 

 

 

Poetry Feature