I was worried about how Dad would be
after Mom died, but he seemed okay.
He didn’t have any deep discussions
with me, but that was normal.
In fact, he rarely turned on his hearing aid,
and responded to what he thought I would say,
which wasn’t always what I really said.
At the end of whatever he said,
he’d say, “Yep,” to agree with himself,
then sign off by saying, “on it.”
Sometimes he went for little walks with Rusty
behind the garage or in the raspberry patch.
I struggled with the old sewing machine,
giving it oil, trying to make it work.
Linda, who never sews, took the new one.
Rusty wanted to go to a lake,
but the lifeguard kings in Ohio
only sometimes let people in the water.
So what if it’s ninety five degrees?
We visited my aunts and uncles once.
The uncles, Dad’s brothers, were taciturn.
Only their wives related to me and Rusty.
My sister, Linda, took us to her office,
where she’s an independent contractor
for the Environmental Protection Agency.
She has several people working for her.
I didn’t meet the crazy Serbian,
just a young Afro-American woman
with a serious chocolate habit.
We walked from there to the Smithsonian,
a matter of six very large blocks.
Their Dimetrodon grandis was worse
than the American Museum’s D. limbatus.
Not only were the glass reflections bad,
but it was high on the wall,
limiting me to an ankle-level view.
I imagined raising my camera on a pole,
and somehow pressing the shutter.
In the sculpture garden I was moved
to photograph a realistic bronze statue
of a young woman standing nude,
made by a Frenchman in nineteen thirty.
I wrote his name in the little notebook
I lost in Pittsburgh two days later,
so I don’t know who he was.
Art history ignores
twentieth century realists.
Then we went to the air and space museum,
saw the Wright Brothers’ canvas biplane,
Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of Saint Louis,
and space capsule paraphrenalia.
By this time our feet were worn out,
and it was time to meet Linda.
Even in summer, the Black Hills of Dakota
seemed like a strange place for a reptile park,
but there they were, alligators from Florida
following a reptile keeper with a white bucket,
snapping at the scraps of meat he offered
while making jokes about their jaw pressure.
Rusty was small enough to ride
an Aldabra tortoise covered with red mud,
first kneeling on the summit of its shell,
then sitting with his feet on the shell’s front brim,
while it walked, step by step, on a paved trail,
taking little notice of its rider.
Welcome home, Carl,
bouquets of shasta daisies
all over the house.
Nancy makes love with me twice.
Something inside starts hurting.
Silence between us,
whatever I want to say
I wish she’d let me touch her
wherever it doesn’t hurt.
The care she must have,
she’s impatient, critical.
I don’t do it right.
She finds such work rewarding.
I want to paint or write poems.
She breaks up with me
in mutual impatience,
silence between us.
The first place Nancy lived after we broke up,
they stole her television and weed whacker.
The next place, after she cleaned it up,
they moved her to a camper in the back yard,
then they wanted her out of the camper.
As I loaded up my car to move her somewhere,
she hugged me, said she loved me
and never should have moved away.
Okay, we’re trying to live together again.
She’s slowing down, less compulsive,
and enjoying her idea of better living—
gourmet coffee, Camel cigarettes,
and Little Debbie devil squares.
Rusty rips apart the wrapping
of yet another lego model,
while Nancy sits on the couch,
wearing a dark red sweater
over a long white flannel nightgown,
the Christmas tree with colored balls and garlands,
model dinosaur skeletons on the shelf,
a paper snowflake polygon on the window.
Ella in a big white shirt and jeans
unwraps a small package
in front of shelves of video tapes.
Nancy in her Guatamala shirt
holds little T.J. on her lap
on the stool in front of the firewood rack.
Nancy lies on my bed with T.J. and Rusty,
bundled in a pile of blankets.
Ina sits beside Nancy on the couch,
with arms around T.J. and Rusty,
wearing a pentangle pennant,
a black and purple shirt and medieval hat,
quizzical expression on her face
like an alchemist from a monastery
interrupted by more mundane concerns.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller