There is no beauty in this storming rasp
that strikes a rumbling deep discordant drone,
a hypnotic chaos of mud-choked waves
bespeaking power swept beyond control.
The surge has undercut the roots of trees;
broken branches swirl quickly out of sight.
A heaving trunk like some foundering beast
thunders toward inevitable ruin.
It has all the fascination of Hell.
What would it be like to place my body
in that cruel sweeping sensual water?
So madness floods and recedes again.
Those unleashed torrents of my upturned mind
discover in themselves faint harmony.
A chilly afternoon in May,
slow traffic on Euclid Avenue.
I’m holding a sign that says Bombs Kill.
We’re folding mimeographed leaflets
and handing them out to the drivers.
War must be stopped. Atrocity must cease.
The wind is harsh. I zip up my jacket.
Pigeons simultaneously attack the air,
turning the streak of naked sunlight
to a glittering panorama.
The demonstration ends. The traffic thins.
It gets darker, colder. I go home
to an apartment with closed curtains,
dirty dishes and laundry to be done,
an emptiness I don’t know how to fill.
Laura sits on the railing of the porch,
singing “Wild Mountain Thyme”
to the echo of brick apartment walls.
I look up, blue sky, white clouds.
Would I go with you to the purple heather?
Lass, I wish we were those highland lovers.
Laura ends the song and smiles at me.
I notice the trees are green with new leaves.
It’s a sunny spring day on Hessler Road.
You burn me like a torrent of stars.
Your singing echoes in dark canyons.
I’m the ghost who listens in the quiet place.
What did I see in your familiar eyes
while you spoke of roses and pearl-covered candles?
Long after midnight you drifted into sleep.
Angry thoughts, quiet dreams, buried hopes.
The wind whispers your name like rustling leaves,
but it can never dry my unshed tears.
After four years of college
I got a biology degree,
was working for an ecologist
counting dead copepods,
was unhappy with my job,
didn’t want grad school anymore,
wondered what to do with my life,
went to the placement office for help.
The counselor, a gray-haired woman
in a gray suit, suggested I
take the aptitude test next month.
Between the test in February
and the results in April,
my lover moved back to the dorm,
the ecologist wanted quicker results
and pressured me to work full time,
and I saw an intern psychologist
who was embarrassed to ask if I
felt guilty about masturbating.
My results showed I was most
like artists and ministers,
least like soldiers and police.
After talking with me more,
the counselor suggested I drop out
and move to California,
said I’d make a very good hippie.
Within a month I quit my job,
packed my stuff in the trunk
of my rusting Dodge and drove west.
Ripples on ripples on waves,
a complicated pattern
between water and wind,
a complicated feeling
between present-time and myth.
These boats could be any boats,
these people, any people,
but the river, this river is
Watching blue-purple water,
people starting motorboats,
factories on this shore,
treetopped cliffs on the other,
I imagine Mark Twain’s world,
a wilder undammed river,
catfish, crawdads, clams,
alligator snapping turtles,
paddleboats and Huck Finn’s raft.
When I parked at the marina
in Dubuque to see the river,
Geoff wrote a poem about
how he didn’t give a damn
and went to buy cigarettes.
A cop stopped him and asked
what we were doing. “Looking
at the Mississippi,” said Geoff.
“We’ve never seen it before.”
As soon as we left Cleveland
the tail pipe fell off.
We slept at crash pads
in Ann Arbor and Madison,
crossed the Mississippi in Dubuque,
where I wrote three sonnets
seeking romance in its water.
Geoff’s poem mocked my clichés.
River tumbling rock-ribbed canyon,
cliffs curled like a conch shells.
Woodpeckers tapped the pines.
Spruce and snow sloped away
for miles toward sunset.
I imagined myself an eagle
speaking to the great silence.
Geoff said the thin air
aggravated his asthma.
Three hitchhikers an endless
overnight drive Nevada.
“Wake up, Carl, it’s your turn.”
in a pond near Donner Pass
snapped at floating breadcrumbs.
We sat in front of
the Mill Valley Post Office
waiting for stores to open,
slept in the Dodge at night.
Geoff missed his friends
and wanted to get laid.
I mailed my friends letters
about white surf visions
and becoming a redwood tree.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
These events happened April - June 1972, with a bit of flashback in “Aptitude Test.”
Drawing, “Fungi Dreams”: 1969, colored pencil on paper, 8 x 10 inches.