The girl was young and shaking,
smiling, maybe seventeen,
hiding behind her long black hair,
walking across Euclid Avenue
in the center of downtown Cleveland,
on a cold day in March.
She said she needed someone to talk to.
and I looked friendly enough.
She said she didn’t have any more pills.
She had a bummer but
couldn’t live without tripping.
I said, “You don’t need it.”
She said, “You’re lucky not to.”
We walked toward the Terminal Tower,
where we met a boy collecting
for the March of Dimes.
He went into the Terminal.
She stammered and ran after him.
He put his arm around her.
They both smiled.
I wished them well silently.
Mary had a voice when she whispered,
and a smile she really meant.
When we would lie together
she asked me who she was.
I thought I knew.
I knew a part of her.
That part is still with me,
sometimes when I sit alone
watching the night through the window
and the silence is so loud it deafens me.
I went for a walk around the lagoon
after supper, seeking inspiration,
but I only found mosquitoes.
Early Monday morning,
feeling half alive,
waiting for a lecture
I don’t feel like hearing,
too distracted by war,
to want to sit in
the lecture room of
a Chemistry Department
building that always
smells like chemicals.
The street preacher
with haunted hollow eyes
mutters, “Jesus died for your sins,”
in a hushed monotone
like a dirty joke.
His arguments seem petty
with everything permeated
by the dark word
Meanwhile, on the sun baked dirt
below the curb, ants walk about,
bearing burdens back
to great underground cities,
only to die beneath
the feet of innocent children
chasing each other,
and never ask anyone
Spring morning sun, death in my eyes,
STRIKE written in chalk on every sidewalk.
I leave my books in the microscope room
and wander the campus, talking to people.
There’s a rally at noon.
Someone says three students got shot
at Kent State. Someone else says five.
Someone says the national guard
are patrolling Euclid Avenue,
waiting for something to happen.
A crowd sits down on the crosswalk,
blocking traffic. Police on horses come.
I don’t see the charge.
People just start running, so I run too.
In Mather House, we watch the protest
get broken up on Channel 5.
“No one was injured,” says the reporter.
“That’s a lie. Switch to Channel 3.”
Here come the cops on horseback up the mound.
“Oh wow, it’s all here, what a difference.”
“Did you hear what Nixon said about Kent State?”
“This is what happens when dissent leads to violence.”
Four students died in a volley of bullets.
Now every campus in the country is dissenting.
The moon is hidden
behind a mirror.
The stars are laughing.
The third or fourth day of the strike
in protest of Nixon’s Cambodia bombing,
and the shootings at Kent State,
we took over the Baker Building.
The old black janitor insisted
everyone leave at ten o’clock.
A Jewish Marxist said no way
and told him to redefine his role.
In a room marked Artists Against the War,
I was helping address flyers.
Chris and Jennifer wandered in, stoned.
Ron in his white ruffled shirt harangued
feminists Nancy and Robin about
potency while they passed around
leaflets on clitoral orgasms.
Art-school Mike brought back more flyers
to address when hippie Diane
appeared and zapped us all with love.
We declared an event to spread
our confused happy unity
to the rest of the strike.
Not knowing what to call this event,
we made dozens of posters,
each with a different unlikely name
but all at the same time and place.
When our energy ebbed,
we each took a bunch and posted them,
but none of us went to our event,
since for us it already had happened.
Four in the morning I awake trembling,
reach for the light that burns my dry eyes,
search my Bible for something real,
write verses about flags on the moon
and flowers stuck in a rifle barrel.
Yesterday in the biology office
when I picked up the methyl cellulose,
the secretary cornered me in the hall
and said, “I want to go to bed with you.”
I didn’t know what I wanted. We ate
lunch in the student union, walked around
the lagoon. She picked blossoms, stuck them
in my hair and talked of Golden Gate Park.
We rolled in the sand at Mentor Headlands,
kissed our lips bloody, drove miles of night
back to campus, unlocked the door
to the microscope room, took off our clothes.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” she asked.
copyright © 1973 - 2008 Carl Miller
Painting, “Willow”: 2004, acrylic on canvasboard, 11 x 14 inches.
The big willow at Wade Lagoon, in front of the Cleveland Art Museum.