When my father showed me the prints
he spoke through a serious mask
which might have concealed comedy,
telling me that, if I wanted,
he would teach me how to track her.
He said the droppings were hours old,
using a low voice that would not
alarm her the way a whisper might,
should she be near, and told me
I rustled the leaves too much.
An inhuman snort drew our eyes
uphill to the brush where she watched,
soft ears spread wide to listen,
stiltlike legs haltingly approaching
as her fear stretched the seconds tight.
He told my mother how the breeze
blew toward us, removing our scent,
laughed at how my clicking
a setting on that camera
released the bounce of her hooves.
My sister, Linda, asked
me if the barnacles
we stepped on were alive.
and mounds of mud got higher,
the farther we went.
Tide streams blocked our way
and the water numbed our feet.
I heard a slurp, and saw
Linda up to her knees
in chilling sloppy mud,
but when I pulled her out,
she blinked her tears away
and did not want to go back.
Stranded in a tidepool
was a stingray, which looked
alive, but did not move
when prodded with a stick.
The second one we found
was tattered and pink,
with empty eye-sockets.
The streams became too deep.
We wondered when the tide
would turn, and did not want
our parents to worry,
or come looking for us.
A dull red stained the clouds
while we walked back, crunching
the barnacles that were
impossible to avoid.
Susie had brown curls, bluish gray eyes,
and crooked teeth that made her smile special.
We had orange sodas together after school
at the shop on West 117th Street.
We were both in ninth grade, both fourteen.
Unlike me, she didn’t like the Beatles.
She was the student orchestra’s harpist.
When I was at her house, before or after
going out to a movie matinee,
she’d play me her part for the next performance,
making music that shimmered and rumbled.
I loved the sound of her harp.
It seemed strange, she didn’t remember
anything she learned for past performance,
or have anything she just liked to play.
We never held hands when we walked together.
I didn’t hold her in my arms till we
were dancing at the end of junior high.
Her back got warm each time she smiled at me.
We never kissed, and didn’t talk about love.
She sort of looked like Jacqueline Kennedy,
a sharp voice and an even sharper wit.
Before each world history test, she told us
to pray to Allah, Buddha, or Odin.
Trust the scholars from Harvard or Yale more
than those from East Cupcake Teacher’s College.
Wars are insignificant. The diplomacy
before and after is what really matters.
The American Revolution wasn’t caused
by freedom or the other popular myths.
It was all undercurrents of economics.
The Civil War wasn’t caused by slavery.
It was— Well, why don’t you write a term paper
about how it was caused by something else?
One year our high school basketball team
actually did pretty well.
I remember riding on a bus
to a playoff game on the east side,
getting into shouting affirmations
of basketball power with the others.
I guess if we really wanted them to win
and got all worked up about it,
it would help them somehow.
They were on another bus,
but maybe they could hear us.
This time the opposing team
was hyperactive tall black guys
who scored basket after basket before
our team knew they’d lost the ball.
Their zen-like passing strategy
couldn’t beat pure speed.
On the way back, I rode the other bus,
with Margie and Chris, who like me
were in transition from mod to hippie.
They were singing folk songs in harmony.
Everyone else was quiet, listening.
This bus was a different world,
one that seemed much more like me.
copyright © 1980 - 2008 Carl Miller
“Trailing a Whitetail Doe” and “The Bay of Fundy” happened the same day in August 1964, in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. Drawing, “Hopewell”: 2004, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches. Offshore rocks at Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, from a 1964 photo taken by me.