the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Philip Miller

The Gods of Afternoon

Of course, we love the afternoons,
day having melted like a Dali clock,
our faces dappled by the chiaroscuro
of late light that touches us
here and there, as shadows pool
and some goat-foot god
sits cross-legged on the lawn,
Picasso-eyed, piping a tune
sweeter than birdsong,
glancing over his shoulder
from time to time
at the sun, his older brother,
painted crimson and gold,
making his last run.


Polite Applause

We are waiting for it:
We deserve nothing less
and no better,
having given up the dream
of standing ovations,
having given up the fear
of boos and hisses,
having settled for what we found
we could do by accident or good luck,
as with slow, sure steps we succeeded,
none the worse for wear,
and we dress carefully now,
have our hair rearranged, touched up a bit
until we are finally ready
to gird up our loins, raise the curtain,
present ourselves: Here we are, we say.
We've made it up to now.
We smile, recite something
we may have actually written ourselves,
and then, nothing thunderous, nothing
too hard to bear,
but the sounds of hands beginning
to warm the air
one sharp sound, then another
a little like spring hail,
and finally a studied clatter
of hands rising and falling
quickly as blue dusk—
then our short bows
and the curtain down again.



She always knows where he was:
his trail of bread crumbs, of cigar ashes,
the paper unfolded to the travel section,
his glasses left behind
as he headed for the couch,
his Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle cap
beside the full ashtray
the shape of a wagon wheel.

And if she does run into him
by accident between visits
from one room to another,
his startled look gives him away,
his secret bachelorhood,
his invisible haunting,
his attempt to climb into the black hole
he's made compressing time and space,
and when she catches him, sees through him,
his caught eyes catch hers,
see through her, too,
his fingers tapping the coffee table,
his head, half-cocked, as if stopped
just before it shook: no, no,

and for a moment they keep on eyeing
each other at this perfect distance,
discovering, for a change,
where they really are,
though he still looks surprised
that they've found each other out
so easily, that they can see clear through
to their hearts
which are still there,
still beating, beating.



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