My roommate at the hospital,
a black minister named Mr. Latta,
told me we were both there for one
reason, to get well and get out.
I said I agreed, though in truth
the hospital was a refuge,
where I hoped the doctor would find
some serious chronic disease
that would exempt me from the draft.
The time Latta and I discussed
the draft and the Vietnam war,
I said, “I won’t go no matter what,”
and he said, “I don’t blame you.”
One night when I was groggy
from an unnecessary biopsy,
the elders of his church came in
and chanted and prayed for both of us.
I could not tell them that I felt
I did not deserve their prayers,
that the pain where the needle
had pierced my liver was voluntary,
an extravagant way to be free,
unavailable to their sons.
The day Latta asked what I knew
about Jesus, I told him Jesus said
it was easier for a camel
to go through a needle’s eye
than for the rich to enter heaven.
Armed with a pile of medical records
the size of a big city’s phone book, I entered
the Air Force Entrance Examining Station
somewhere in gray downtown Cleveland
with shoulder-length hair and full beard.
My draft lottery number was low
and Vietnam was still eating soldiers.
Mick and Bob from my high school were there.
“You getting out? I’m getting out,” they said.
Wishing that I could feel so confident,
I mumbled something back to them.
A man at a window took my pile of records.
Now me and all the others were following
colored lines on the floor from room to room.
Forms must be filled, questions answered,
hernias and hemorrhoids sought out.
Finally a man came with the message,
a 1-Y deferment, come back next year.
I did not want to deal with this again,
or with the doctor who generated
the records with weeks in a hospital.
I don’t remember what I said,
but my dissatisfaction was noticed.
Maybe they knew I’d fight them all the way
and thought I wasn’t worth the effort.
The man went away to talk to someone else,
then told me I was permanently disqualified
and wrote the precious 4-F on my paperwork.
A brown-mustached man at the last window
said, “Ding, another winner!” and I walked out.
The sun’s pale fire,
striped blue purple clouds,
a tree-walled meadow.
Two monarchs flutter over
dandelions and milkweed.
I look at an oak.
A monarch soars by smoothly,
its wings flaming sails.
“Look! A monarch butterfly!”
says a child in the next yard.
All I see when I
reach the window is storm clouds
and children playing.
The street preacher waves his bible,
screaming pain I can’t feel.
As I walk away,
a monarch crosses my path,
flapping stained-glass wings.
On the cracked clay mound,
an almost invisible
daddy longlegs waits.
branching bead curtains
veil a trunk of wooden flame
faded sun setting
red velvet on a blackbird
flying over the lagoon
willow leaves tickle my face
like a young girl’s hair
sunrolling on a sidewalk
cat so soft the night soaks in
willow on the shore
dips its branches in ripples
its leaves scatter sky
naked in a dorm room bed
we watch rain becoming snow
wind whips willowstrings
like Andrew Wyeth’s curtains
yellow leaves floating
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
“Willow Sun, Willow Wind,” stretches from March-October 1971.
Drawing, “Womb of Flowers”: 1969, colored pencil on paper, 8 x 10 inches.