all images & content © 2003 jacob miller

after Mandelstam

She now sits unnaturally still
in a chair by the window
watching as the drops of rain steal
slowly down the pane of glass.
The night stretches quiet as a caesura.
She can't move but is moved.
She'd like to say something but is not sure of

the words. The moment is arched like a cat.
The rain purrs, persistent as the memory.
The rain pours, relentless as a faucet
dripping. And on a statue in the park,
where no pane separates the face it
offers the elements, in the mist and
streetlight, stone cheeks glisten.



Let Direction, as a thought,
surrender to the remote.
Coughs collapse on a dry throat.
Rain and wind begin enough
at noon to pick up where night left off.
The body stands up; Voice stammers if.

But the door, hinged as it is, doesn't care.
Screw up your eyes; look as much as you dare.It's the same day curving your lips—
same flesh lighting your legs.
Eyes open and close like an umbrella.
A kitten meows beneath the stairs.
The moon yawns through the midday storm.
The grail laughs by a trashcan and stares.



First the hoarse voice of a shovel,
then the clods of mud pummeled the coffin.
But there was no barrage of words about the soul,
only the shovel coughing into soil.The sky started out stoned tonight with too much light
but later the darkness grew thick as a coma
when the digging paused, as if for a period or a comma.
Later still, the engine began, recalled what was felt—
a light mist breathing across a field,
the overgrown grass on one's legs.And outside the cemetery, life stretched for sleep,
cried cries that glimmered like a promising thought
then faded in the back of a throat,
anticipating the extinction of a bulb.


The Fear of Words

At midnight, the metal jaw of a store-front
grate clicks closed like the end of a yawn.
As we speak, what I feel changes its font
when it leaves my lips.
Her eyes are drawn
    in charcoal-black fixed pools.
    can be a messy business—the spoken part
can move too fast to reach
for any morsels to be fed to print.

Midnight, rain, the rusted fender of a yellow cab
splashes the drink where I limp
beside her.
    I watch her shiver on the curb.
She starts to say something, licks her lower lip.
And it's then I again appreciate her fear
of words, of syllables, matches, fire.


Odysseus at the Latium VFW

Today my only edge is a beach,
an edge of sand and brine tangling my past.
It's true, the waves mostly bitch,
shrug and then collapse.

But the head nurse here
did find through lust
the one thing the war
had not entirely lost.

True too, whatever's filled me
with my few clear thoughts,
I've filled this Circe
with the notions an ocean tossed.

But now I damn her island, it's lied
with its year of rest and recreation
and her bed, at low tide,
smelling like an obligation.

I even damn the gods that left a woman
that unseen sword of her own
to silently remove from a man
the sense of his own tired bone.

Today, after I pulled out of her,
I thought of my wife, my son, my home,
and knew I was sick of this other
woman, of her drugs, her hold.

Of course I'm a weak and selfish shit;
I don't even care about the other vets,
the crawling crew of drunks who shout
or mewl about grubbing cigarettes.

Mostly I'm not clear on how my life
got this way or why, when I last told
Circe I wanted to go back to my wife,
she insisted I should go to Hell.

But now I'm tempted by her suggestion
seeing as, since the war, at my best,
though I know she's no kind intention,
I'm inclined to trust myself less.

Maybe heroes are burnt-out shades where
bored gods leave them to lick their wounds
and the poor slobs who limp away from a war
are bound to be lost or tossed by the winds.

Even now, along the shore my last ship's bow
slaps up and down on its stubbled hull
and I may damn Circe but where will I go
if not, as she put it, straight to Hell?

Elegy for Robert Hayden

From that hospital bed, not frightened,
not mad, almost constantly concerned
over that which would be left undone;
after each chemo-treatment, already in the din
of underwater bone-cave, dawn of stars and voice,
you nodded when others offered advice,
shrugged as only a man superb in love and logic can,
dismissed each tray of food with one hand,
blinked at the clipboard being fondled by the doctor,
and listened to the fluorescents' hissed flicker.

"What's certain," you asked, "and not banal?"
Then stared at the ceiling, a cork panel.
"We ride bicycles, read books, attend parties, wear
carefully laundered clothes, drink with and stare
at strangers, resist questions, fall hard and tough
in and out of love..." Then you started to cough,
a hack that had its own lexicon. "Ah, this world
I have loved and so lovingly hated..." A gnarled
fist tugged at a filthy sheet, another with trouble
fumbled toward a glass on the night-table.

Next dawn, the first threads of sun stitched
to the slow sail of a cloud. Each
grave in its place startled its neighbor
with a silence that was difficult to bear.
The shadow of a tree became your hospital bed,
the twisted branches, a web of I.V. tubes. A load
of shiny Fords nearby, fresh from
the River Rouge plant, chained by their frames
to a train of flatbeds, pulled north,
each vehicle in search of its tenor.

"In a moment," you whispered, "it's all far
and near." The work continues though your
place, the term of service to the page -
the extra trembling of hands on a ledge
enfolding over each muscle-sore syllable -
survives the diadem of an echo as long as it's able
to. What was left? A cadence of snowflakes when
Nature's own meter varied the direction of the wind,
then the familiar rustling of wings, the silken
stretch of a last line to finally mark the end.


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