Carl Miller poems
page 25

Oregon, July 1977

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At Short Lake

On a log projecting
into twilight water,
I chord my guitar,
sing to the echo colors
of my true love’s hair.

A deputy says hello,
asks me how the fish are.
I say I do not fish
or build cooking fires
but eat bread and cheese.

After a trancelike pause
to stare at dark firs
mirrored in the lake,
he says he did not know
this place existed and leaves.

Back in the car, I find
my cheese and bread mouse-nibbled,
eat some myself, stash the rest
in the glove compartment,
go to sleep outside.

Awakened by a drizzle,
I move inside the car
and shine my lantern on
the soft-gray big-eyed mouse
till it dashes out the door.

Indigo Springs

Up the path to Indigo Springs
I walk beside a massive stream
three times as wide as I am tall.
The cedars suggest a redwood grove
in size, the textures of their bark,
the saplings sprouting from their roots.

Crossing two bridges, I look uphill
at two small channels, completely dry;
downhill they are deep and lush
and filled with sudden water.
The woods cover a lava flow
porous enough to swallow rivers.

The most spectacular emergence
is not the head of the larger fork,
but here at the side under the path
where it gushes out between boulders.
My ballpoint sketch of this is rough,
but I know where the water is.

Three years later, in painting class,
I try to paint from that drawing.
My teacher says the water looks
like it’s flowing out of the rock.
When I say that’s what it does,
he calls my depiction unconvincing.

Photographs of a Waterfall

The photographer with the tripod
tells me the other falls are more
majestic, but I prefer these,
a torrent divided down a staircase
of rocks carpeted with moss,
into a shallow leaf-lined pool
with no visible outlet.

I wonder if in his pictures
the spattered white impasto
will smooth to a mistlike blur
and I think he chose the wrong angle.

His talk about tourists’ snapshots
interests me in people posing;
that log they sit on is ideal
for relating falls to families.

A curly-haired girl about twelve
stands behind the log and smiles,
using it to help support
a nervous German shepherd puppy.
Her father calls its name, “Hey, Heidi!”
The dog looks at the man, and click,
that’s the picture they wanted.

Dugout Lake

Atop a hill near Dugout Lake,
where I’m camped, at least for now,
I can see three big volcanos,
Jefferson, a well-formed cone, farthest,
Washington and Three Fingered Jack,
both erouded to jagged points.

The landscape stretches fairly flat
for some miles to Washington’s foothills,
scattered pines on the sandy soil
a few miles from the lava flow.
Gusty wind, strange disk-shaped clouds,
no mosquito hassles tonight.

There’s a family in a school bus here,
mandalla drawings in the windows
and a photo of a bust of Plato.
A boy named Jack listens to my folk songs.
He says they’re from Michigan.
They’ve lived in that bus for five years.

Dugout Lake’s a shallow pond,
no inlet or outlet, mostly dry.
I see a robin, brown with orange breast,
and think, how common, but then, if
robins lived only in places like this,
how much more they’d be admired.

Boulder Flat

A canyon of the Umpqua River,
hexagonal columns of basalt,
dark green water whipped with foam,
people from the campground
standing in the shallows fishing.

A high pitched, loud, “chip chip chip,”
comes from a small tree beside
the woodpile of one of the campsites.
It’s a chipmunk, more concerned
about the woodpile than about me.

Pop goes a small head on a long neck,
a young weasel no bigger
than the protesting chipmunk.
The weasel was worried about me,
kept popping out of different cracks.

A dog comes over to check out
the chipmunk and the weasel.
The lady who owns him came over
and I pointed out the weasel.
We talked about various rivers.

This river looks particularly nice
in late afternoon and twilight.
The cedars and firs are very dark,
like a nineteenth century engraving
of Evangeline’s forest.

copyright © 1983 - 2005 Carl Miller

These poems happened July 1977, when I was traveling around Oregon in an old Volkswagen bug. Drawing, “Mt. Jefferson”: 2005, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches. View from the road to Short Lake.

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