Carl Miller poems
page 26

Oregon, July - August 1977

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Short Lake

People drive up, look at the lake, and leave,
disappointed at seeing no fish to catch.
“This is a lovely place though,” they sometimes say.

Many newts with yellow bellies swim here,
up from the depths to gulp a bubble of air,
or else with nose and back just breaking water.
One bites a tiny wasp stuck on the surface,
then dives and squirms to claw the wasp away.

Evening mayflies bounce above the ripples;
their long tails weathervane the slightest breeze.
Moths and bats play ultrasonic hide-and-seek
around the log where I watch the sky darken;
a moth drops on my arm, a bat zooms past my head.

From its bright reflection, I discover
the setting crescent moon screened by fir trees.
Frogs are singing almost continuously.
Lighting my candle-lamp, I walk ashore and
follow the path through the woods to my sleeping bag.

A Toad Sketched in Ballpoint

A mile and a half up from Lena Lake,
where the trail came down close to the main creek,
I saw a big fat boreal-toad walking
toward me just before it saw me and froze.

As I sketched its contours in ballpoint,
I liked its pose more and more, arms around
a pebble, pale throat bubbling away,
yellow eyes with bar-shaped pupils watching.

I wanted that cool fatness in my hands,
to feel its strength, to see it more closely,
but before I disturbed it, I needed
to finish scribbling its blotchy markings.

The toad on my paper was not the toad
yet it had a toadishness of its own
which filled my need. When I walked up the path
and the toad was hopping, I did not grab it.

Touching the Octopus

Ossie was putting on a show that day,
jetting across the tank and bouncing off
the other side like a slow water balloon,
stretching arms and coiling across the bottom.

People crowded around to watch or touch her,
most of the day she had been resting in
a tangle of suckered arms, but now she
investigated people’s dangling hands.

An aquarium aide or two stood by,
answering questions and telling people
to be gentle when Ossie touched. A sign said,
“Please handle our marine friends with love.”

Her approach was inquisitive but shy;
she was cold as the water but not slimy,
fluid but muscular beneath thin skin,
a kiss of suction discs both light and strong.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

I climb a path up the hillside
to look more closely at the prisms
of the lighthouse’s Fresnell lens,
which while slowly turning distills
rainbows from the foggy sun.

Choosing a rock which puts my eyes
on a level with the lens,
I sketch the tower’s perspective,
the stunted spruce and an offshore hill,
and remember Jim Gibbs’s lecture.

Showing slides, he talked about
the lighthouse of Alexandria,
how lighthouses are like cathedrals,
or the goose that flew in the porthole;
his interest was infectious.

When I studied my map last night
and saw how near this tower was,
the one he said was considered
Oregon’s most beautiful light,
I had to see it in person.

Clearwater Falls

A doe walks through the campground,
big as a mule deer but she’s a blacktail.
She comes within ten feet of me,
my picnic table and creamcheese.
I make a small move and she turns
toward a group of campers in a red tent
who like me are watching her.

She’s eating ground-cover leaves,
scratching her neck with her hind leg.
She seems intelligent and tame,
not advancing nervously
but strutting almost like a horned buck,
confident of where she’s going,
not disturbed by campers or car doors.

At twilight I sit below the falls,
scribbling shapes by my candle-lantern,
curving water, shadowed logs and trees.
The white falls are darker than the blue sky.
I wonder how paints could depict this.
While chanting Om, my eyes lose focus,
the falls break into abstract patterns.

copyright © 1979 - 2005 Carl Miller

Drawing, “Heceta Head Light”: 2005, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches.

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