The more I study this, the more I see
a situation blurred with all shades
of gray moral fog, and a bunch of fools
with flashlights trying to make
darker shadows behind the other guys.
I missed the transition.
Instead of a day of cold sunshine
in a week of rain,
there’s a day of drizzle
in a week of warm sun.
Grape hyacinths and primroses
are blooming. There’s a narcissus.
Banana slugs are sliming
slowly on the path.
”Don’t focus on the bodies,”
a newsman tells a younger soldier,
“and never look at a dead man’s face.
It will change you forever.”
Some people will have to focus
on these bodies and their faces
when they bury them.
It will change them forever.
Around the corner
up over a grassy hill
driving toward the moon.
In summer every morning I wake up
to Rusty sitting on the couch,
laptop computer topping his lap,
inch-high heroes shuffling through
the isometric landscapes of fantasy,
killing orcs and umberhulks,
talking to vampires and shadow thieves.
Today he’s wondering how to kill
a big red dragon who fills the screen.
Should he sacrifice sweet Nalia
who strikes each blow for the needy,
and resurrect her later?
Over and over he tries,
reloading the game each time
he gets killed, finally cruising the internet
for screen shots of this dragon dead
and boasts of how the deed was done.
By midafternoon, he’s exploring
the wizard insane asylum
to free his captive sister, Imoen.
I don’t know how it went with the dragon.
If I ask, he’ll go on and on
about level draining and magic staffs.
Where does a poem come from?
For Pat, it starts with an idea.
For Kathy and Kim, with a feeling.
For me, an experience.
For a moment the discussion points to me.
Why do I choose the events I choose?
Why is this a poem and not
a story or an essay?
This isn’t how I think.
For me, a poem can be anything.
Narrative poetry is an old tradition.
Isn’t Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” an essay?
No, no, that’s not the question.
You’re too defensive.
Why did you choose to make it a poem?
I don’t know. I’m a poet. Why not?
I sit in limbo on the porch,
forced to guard Bandit and Sylvia
against the masked marauder lurking
on the firewood under the house
who wants to gobble all their crunchies.
Bandit purrs to let me know
he appreciates my assistance.
I think maybe I can sketch
this raccoon from the bottom step,
but she’s nervous when I look at her
and retreats behind the posts.
Bandit wants his head scootched.
When I think he’s through he eats some more.
Sylvia goes on and off the porch,
samples each side of the double bowl.
Rusty and I went looking for a painting.
We went up Bear Butte Road into some ranches
beyond the Tosten Brothers Gravel Quarry.
“No Trespassing” signs were plentiful.
I couldn’t paint, but I took photographs
of ranch vistas and the north side of Bear Butte.
Mattole Road through Panther Gap offered glimpses
of ridges and valleys without end
through a dense screen of immediate trees.
The first view that said, “paint me,” was a look
down at the Mattole River at Honeydew.
Ocean fog was foaming behind the ridges.
Blue sky reflected in the river flowing
through gray gravel and yellow grass.
Little triangle trees covered the mountains,
big complex trees on the foreground slope,
globular trees on sticks in the valley.
For two hours I sat on a dirt mound
in the thistles with paint set and water.
I had to stand up whenever I heard a car.
Rusty waited in the passenger seat,
sometimes got out to see how I was doing.
I found another painting at Cape Mendocino,
beach, waves, hills, but the fog swallowed the sun,
and it got too cold and windy for me to finish.
Just after midnight, reading Harry Potter,
Rusty saw a mouse scoot across the floor
into the bathroom. I got a flashlight
and saw that it escaped through a hole
in the floor behind the bathtub.
Apparently that leak two years ago
didn’t get as fixed as I thought it did.
It’s dripping less than a drop a minute,
just enough to rot the floor.
The ground underneath is dry.
Stuff like this makes me a great believer
in pressure-treated floor joists.
Eat arsenic, O wood mold and boring beetles!
The real score was finding tongue-and-groove
redwood boards to replace the floor.
They’re second growth; don’t get on my case.
If the douglas fir lasted twenty five years,
this is guaranteed to outlast me.
I don’t want to rebuild this room again.
As for the mouse, I last saw its dark eyes
and gray pointed head peering out
from the insulation under the nearest part
of the floor that was still okay.
I think my cat Sylvia caught and ate it.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
Painting, “Mattole River Near Honeydew”: 2003, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 inches.