Carl Miller poems
page 72

January - July 2002

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Thursday morning I was awakened by
Ella yelling and stomping on the stairs.
Since my heart attack, she’s been driving
both boys to Redway School every morning,
so I can sleep, but I can’t sleep through this.

That evening when she left T.J. here with me,
and told him do that big pile of homework,
with dire consequences should he not,
I went downstairs to help him, in between
helping Rusty with the Chinese inventions poster.

Part of the problem (aside from
T.J. not really wanting to do it)
was that he didn’t understand what to do.
I used the clock in his room to illustrate
how the hour and minute hands interact.

Ella was yelling again Friday morning,
after I thought she had driven away.
She was angry because they had to come back.
Partway down the road, T.J. remembered
he forgot to bring all that homework.

Jury Duty

The defense attorney is so short,
he’s eye to eye with the seated judge.
The district attorney has a shaved head
and looks like the monster
from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

I’m sitting in the jury box,
a poet with long hair and beard.
His honor asks me how I am.
“I’m wasted,” I reply.
“Is that anything like blotto?” he asks.
The D.A. keeps telling jurors
the defendant doesn’t have to be blotto
to be driving under the influence.

The judge doesn’t ask
how long I’ve lived in the county,
whether I’m married,
or if the cops have ever pulled me over.
Shorty says, “I don’t think I dare
ask this juror anything.”
The D.A. says, “No questions,”
and thanks and excuses me.

I wave and say, “Hasta la vista.”
the judge replies.

Raccoons on the Porch

I’m struggling against
masked gray persistence
and her three fuzzy babies.
Nancy said she once squirted vinegar
at the eyes of a raccoon,
and it never came back again.
When I tried that with this coon,
she was back five minutes later.
Nancy suggested tabasco sauce.
This coon grew Mexican taste buds.
She’s getting sneakier, too.
She’s learned to use the steps
so I won’t hear her climbing the pole.
She’s learned I hear the chirping trills
she uses to call her children.
Today I heard those little trills,
opened the door,
and saw the cat food already eaten,
mama coon looking back to taunt me.

Klamath River Smoke

It’s been years since I last did a painting.
I’m sitting on a rock by the Klamath River,
balancing the watercolor set
of greens and browns and grays that Rusty used
to paint dinosaurs climbing hills.
I get a cup of water from the river,
open boxes of brushes and colored pencils.

I’m looking for beauty in the blurred hills,
the river slow with algae, rocks and weeds.
Smoke from distant fires rasps my throat.

Without making a drawing first,
I attack the paper with paint.
I don’t have time to capture every detail,
so I’m painting symbols of conifers.
I worry the paint, piling layer on layer,
defining branches and weeds in pencil,
redefining them with paint.

Rusty sees a mountain lost in smoke,
points it out to me, I put it in.
The colors and shapes I made look natural
but just approximate what’s really here.

Cow Lake

Miles and miles of rough road,
sagebrush and range cattle,
and here we are at a campground
with no water, no shade, and lots of cows.
The lake is brown and murky,
with jagged lava and cow dung on the shore.

I’m painting hills and sagebrush at dusk
but the sagebrush is too far away and small
for me to see the variations.
With my glasses on, reality blurs,
with them off, my watercolor blurs.
I can’t see both clearly at the same time.

Schipper Rocks

I did a painting of the dark basalt
crystallized in columns like battlements
on a steep hill of weeds and sagebrush.
Rusty says I used a different style
than the other watercolors of this series.
Bright sun and complex shapes requested
outlining and shading with dark pencil.

Now the stars are bright, the crickets chirping.
This looks like a lacewing at my flashlight,
reddish brown with feathery antennae,
but I thought they only came in green.
There’s the dipper, and the pole star.
My rocks are on the north side of a valley
rising to the east.

copyright © 2005 Carl Miller

For the first time since I began traveling with Rusty, I pursued scenery instead of Natural History Museums. Trying to appreciate it in watercolors was new, for me. Painting, “Schipper Rocks”: 2002, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, detail 7.5 x 9 inches.

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