Shadows of my hand cross the paper
from our single lit lamp.
You sit on one side. I’m on the other.
Tonight you’re back in my apartment
after two weeks with your parents.
The radiator pipes are banging.
We’re both writing poems.
The howling wind reminds me
of discarded Christmas tumbleweeds.
We visited Doug before starting our drive,
hoping to persuade him to come with us.
“We’ll say we’re looking for a poem,” you said,
and that became the first line.
I drove you to a reflection of my thoughts,
dusty streets of trucks at loading docks,
iron edges of a murky river.
We talked until I was alone.
We drove back from twilight to darkness.
I attacked my typewriter, trying to change my life.
“We didn’t find the poem,” you wrote,
and that became the last line.
I spoke to try to defend my ideals
while he cut a sampling hole with a pick.
How he could ridicule me for seeing
beauty in a bottle of live plankton
made me forget all about my cold hands.
He said I would like the paintings he did
the summer he worked on a fishing boat,
waterfront scenes which, like the bare trees
and snowdrifts at the far end of the pond
which I called beautiful, were romantic,
but much too common to be beautiful.
I said he might enjoy his field work more
if he let himself be more sensitive.
He disagreed, said he had a story
to tell me when we were back in the car.
When he massaged my hands near the heater
until I told him the numbness had left,
I felt some warmth in his attention despite
his surface of obvious annoyance.
He talked about his four-year-old daughter,
who refused to eat meat and was very
upset by “predator-prey interactions”
since watching a lion’s kill in a film.
Calling me equally foolish, he said
that sensitivity was a handicap.
A small patch of snow
glimpsed through a gap in the curtains
of the infirmary room.
Janet lies on the bed.
I sit on a chair beside her.
She knows the pain in my face.
“You can take care of me even though I’m here,”
she says, and holds me while I laugh and cry.
Who’s taking care of whom?
Janet reads the paper while I write,
trying to express feelings
I don’t understand.
We both wrote poems about a Cleveland sunset.
You showed me your poem two weeks later,
rewritten so much I didn’t recognize it.
I hadn’t changed my poem at all,
but somehow the sunset colors faded
from sullen bloody red to pink-purple.
calls across the vacant lot
with an armful of notebooks,
expressing the elation of
a springlike February day,
“Mud! Dry Grass! Blue Sky! Hubcaps!”
shows me two new poems
and becomes a third.
Janet looked up at the twisted branches.
Strips of bark were peeling off the trunk
like old wallpaper from splotchy plaster.
“That’s Mill Creek, isn’t it?” she asked,
looking down the snowy bank. “It’s frozen.”
We walked into covered bridge darkness,
admired the wooden lattice framing,
looked through both windows at the sun.
The moon was too high to see from inside.
There was open water with rose sky
in the painting formed by one window.
At the end of the bridge, another picture:
Janet, standing in the golden light,
studying the patterns in the wood.
The gibbous moon shone through bare trees
when I drove the car into unplowed snow.
Swearing and spinning tires did not free it.
“What do we do now?” asked Janet.
I stopped the engine, got out the flashlight.
“Walk to the nearest house and ask for help.”
Crystalline air had reddened our faces
when we told the old woman our car was stuck
and asked to use the phone. She offered us
cups of coffee and called to her husband,
who was watching a small television
in a room filled with shelves of magazines.
The phone was busy at the gas station.
He said he’d try to pull us out himself.
While I went outside with him, the woman
told Janet he still farmed at eighty-four.
His children only talked him into accepting
social security checks two years ago.
His pickup truck and chain were both too small.
We drove back to try the phone again
but the pickup got stuck in the driveway.
His wife called their neighbor Terry,
who pulled us both out with his big truck.
To move my car he had to “crack the whip.”
After paying Terry the two dollars
he asked for, I had to try offering
the old man some money. He refused it
by saying, “I like helping people out.”
Back in the kitchen, his wife and Janet were
sampling a batch of homemade ginger cookies.
“Listen to the air out here before
you go back to your city,” said his wife.
“Did you ever hear anything so quiet?”
Orion was low in the south now, the moon
overhead. As we stepped off the porch,
we were startled by a hound dog’s piercing howl.
He hunted his mice in a field of blue lights,
not knowing that this was a runway.
The plane struck, his wing shattered,
his life became strange.
All around him, people ponder his fate.
“Nothing to hoot about,” says UPI caption,
“more photos on page 4a.”
His flight feathers are lost.
Miss Sacco’s third grade class wrote him
twenty letters he will never read,
and even the John Carroll University
English Department sent a get-well card.
But he can’t care.
He is locked between glass doors,
a prisoner of human mercy,
staring sadly at the falling snow.
In the streetlight-broken darkness
of a plate glass window,
a reflection of us sitting
at angles to each other,
Laura facing the piano,
me the window.
Deep streams of mellow music
flow through my half-sleep.
“I can’t remember the chord sequence,”
she says, and tries another song.
“I had it all worked out last night.”
She stops, then starts again,
her notes more tentative now.
I watch the dance of her hands.
Her soft fingers search the keys.
I’m not looking for words of wisdom now,
because there is no answer,
or, this is the answer,
or, any answer will do.
I pointed out the birches in the sunlight
on our drive to a newly-melted lake
in North Chagrin Park.
Two ducks were swimming,
the female brown, the male white
with an iridescent green head.
Janet and I tried to talk again,
but we didn’t know where we were.
When we kissed, it sort of felt okay.
We held hands, not sure
if we were reforming our connection
or just sharing the afternoon.
copyright © 1982, 2005 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Forest Lights”: 1969, colored pencil on paper, 8 x 10 inches.