Carl Miller poems
page 37

January - July, 1982

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The Santa Cruz Wharf

Sun and blue sky pierced yesterday’s
storm clouds while we walked the wharf,
past tackle shops and restaurants
smelling of fish-guts to the end,
where people in coats sat on benches,
and scraps of fishline filled the cracks.

Damian was first to see them.
Bored with our grownup conversation,
he looked down a hole in the deck
and told us he saw sea lions.

Lying on beams ten feet above
silver-spattered dark-green water,
rough brown masses snorted and coughed
and roared. A few were swimming.
One sat up to look at us,
scratched its side with its hind flipper.

While I sketched a lump with eyes,
nose and whiskers, Damian climbed
the railing, made us nervous,
looked for something else to look at.


What am I doing, I wonder,
when I look at the purple blossom
and sorrel leaves greened in
against layers of twig and bark?

I like what I’ve done, but between
that and the edge of the paper
looms Antarctica, and I’m
a tiger pacing in his cage.

After contouring leaves all the way
to two trilliums far left
and shading another redwood needle,
I can’t stand anymore.

The next day, I draw the creek,
testing my patience on the rocks,
form by form against the waves,
till I get dizzy from the sun.

After stretching my legs in the shade,
I finish water, darken shadows.
It looks good. I cross the road,
back in the woods to the sorrel.

There’s the dying fern frond, twigs.
Words melt into forms and colors.
I’ve reached two edges of my sheet.
One more day and I’ll be done.

Nailing Plywood

On a pirate’s plank six feet up,
nails in teeth, fingers trembling,
I hold a plywood pediment
notched to fit around beams,
reach for my hammer to start a nail.

The top of the plywood tilts out
and it tumbles to the ground.

Shouting curses, I go in
the window, out the wall,
prop the thing where I can reach it,
go back around inside and up,
drive nails in the framing,
prop the piece on these,
myself on the plank.

The nails bounce off the plywood
and fly into the ferns.
I hit my thumb but get two nails in.
It’s there. I soak my thumb then finish.

Did I set myself up for trouble
by expecting the job to be hard?
I resolve to cut and nail
the other pediment without anger.

Living With Six Cats

Warm lumps press the covers
here and there close to my feet.
I open my eyes and heads turn.
I stand up and walk across the room
through a rising flood of cats.
“I understand. I’m hungry too.”
Crunchies shake out of the bag
onto heads poised over the bowl.

The Vibes

My sister Linda lives near Washington D. C.
She has a red car, a red T-shirt,
and a young boyfriend
who’s into playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Roll the polyhedral dice, and oops,
their real-life charisma level is morose.

On her way here, she stopped in Berkeley.
A man said it was bad outside that day.
“The weather?” Linda asked him.
“The vibes,” he replied.
I told her the vibes were often bad in Berkeley.
“They don’t have vibes in Washington,” she said.

The Second First Night

I was bringing back Jeani’s art supplies,
and her sign that warned,
“The Queen is not granting audiences today,”
when I saw Shayla’s truck at the laundromat,
an ex-lover who’s recently been friendly.
She kissed me but told me she was busy.

Jeani’s house was full of people,
Johnny and her older son, Aaron,
her new boyfriend, David, the fisherman—
she said they’re getting along well—
and her friend Lurleen from Redwood Players.
Jeani invited me to stay for dinner.

Afterwards, I stopped at the laundromat.
Shayla was gone, but she saw my truck
parked in front and parked beside it.
She said she was done with all her town stuff.
Our conversation became another kiss.
She said she’s ready to try me out again.

The Red Moon

The disk became a peanut, a splinter,
while Shayla and I sat arm-in-arm,
wrapped in a sleeping bag beside the dirt road.
White disappeared and it was round again,
brick-red on top, gold below, very dim.
We saw the Milky Way and meteors.

Headlights bounced and rumbled over hill.
The driver stopped, asked if we wanted a ride.
We showed him the eclipse, and he drove on.

Shayla’s daughter, Melanie, who made us
promise to wake her when the moon was red,
stirred reluctantly and would not dress,
took a stumbling glance, fell back to bed,
then cried next morning, thinking she had missed it.

Shayla’s Father

I’m upstairs by myself in Shayla’s house;
she’s downstairs talking with her father, Jack.
I had to withdraw so Jack could be with her
instead of discussing philosophy with me.
They’re piecing their split-up family back together
with words but the pieces no longer fit.
Descriptions of Jack and Kay splitting up
and slamming doors drift upstairs.
Shayla remembers this. Jack remembers that.
I’m trying very hard not to listen.

copyright © 1984 - 2005 Carl Miller

Drawing, “Redwood Sorrel”: 1982, colored pencil on Strathmore paper, 12 x 18 inches, detail 9 x 12 inches.

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