I left Cleveland just a year ago
but it feels like another life.
My former reality seems unreal.
My sister’s married at eighteen
with streaked hair and flowers,
wedding dress and cake,
kissing her husband each time
his relatives bang on the table.
All my uncles and aunts
who seemed so big and formidable
when I was always a child
have gone soft and old and gray.
They’re watching me smile,
saying I look better.
I don’t know what to say to them,
or even to my parents.
Doug and I were Bob Dylan tourists,
searching Hibbing, Minnesota
for traces of poetry and song.
His childhood home was unmarked,
no way for us to discover
where it might have been.
We parked at the edge of the world’s
largest open pit mine,
big as a canyon, barren as a desert,
watched lethargic trucks
move iron ore and slag.
We found no trace of Dylan
in Hibbing, Minnesota,
but seeing this rundown town
brought his lyrics to life.
Doug and I were Trout Fishing in America tourists,
following Richard Brautigan’s route
through the Challis National Forest.
We found most of the lakes from his novel,
but Hell Diver Lake defeated us.
According to both book and trail signs,
we started out walking the right way,
but somehow got lost in a maze of fallen logs.
The carpenter ants were as big as beetles.
We stopped at a pool in Float Creek.
Several speckled trout were swimming
upstream and downstream like rockets.
Doug took a picture. The water was clear.
“It should be possible to tell what they are,” he said.
He also took a picture of me
holding a branch like a fishing rod.
Back at Lake Josephus, he couldn’t remember
the name of the lake we were trying to find.
Doug and I drove twenty-one miles
of dirt road to a mountain lake,
lost our trail in a sunspeckled wood
awkward underfoot with logs.
Picking our way down to the stream,
we found the going no easier;
logs with dangling nervelike roots
made bridges too low to stoop under.
Four or five speckled trout
shot like shuttles through a warp
of rippled pool and thin cascade.
Feeling thirsty, I cupped hands
and took a drink. Doug looked amazed,
asked me if it was pure enough,
then cautiously sampled some himself.
“It was a dream fulfilled,” he wrote,
“as if all my childhood I knew
I would make it there to cup my hands
in that clear cold running water.”
Mary and I camped in the Sierras,
driving my rumbling van up tight switchbacks,
the seats too far apart for us to talk.
Near the summit we found a free campground,
the sparkling tumble of Dead Man’s Creek,
pine and spruce, yellowing grass, and boulders.
The granite cliffs just below the campground
looked chunky and ugly till the setting sun
modeled the rippling forms in gold and shadow.
Two flannel sleeping bags zipped together,
a narrow bed between the rear tires,
we snuggled close and whispered into sleep.
Crouched on a rock
in a clear mountain stream,
your orange and black eye
blinking in sunlight.
Mary moved to an eight by eight room
in an old house precariously leveled
with house jacks between foundation and floor.
Her roommate was a slightly older woman,
a talkative gypsy counterculture queen
who was always making jokes about sex.
Her reaction to me being Mary’s boyfriend
was, “Sweet meat needs sour sauce.”
When Mary left for work each morning,
I went to a park, a beach, a library,
and didn’t come back till evening,
hoping that Mary would already be home.
We’d eat dinner together in her room.
It was in the little bed in this cubicle,
a month after Mary started the pill,
that we woke up before dawn, and finally
made love all the way, which felt wonderful.
Mary took the colored clothes
out of the washer while I thought
about what I was trying to write.
She took the white clothes and sheets
out of another washer
and put them in the same dryer.
I said, “I’m not happy with these poems,”
while the machines clattered.
“I like them, but it depends
on my mood,” Mary replied.
“Sometimes I don’t understand
your poems at all.”
This form is not alive.
There is nothing alive today
with a skeleton like this.
These bones, carefully
scraped out of a sandstone bed
with more than a sculptor’s care.
A perfect form, a Permian nightmare,
a living spirit posed
with mineralized bones.
Tall fin, solid skull, big teeth,
forgotten and unknown until
someone found the pieces.
You’re old, extremely old,
and utterly dead,
but I can watch you walk,
Somewhere in a Permian dream,
far from the prison
of our living time.
There is no escape.
There is no forever.
Even these words of mine
must sooner or later be lost,
or no one will remember
how to read them.
The earth will roast, then freeze.
The sun will go from red giant
to white dwarf.
The entire universe will scatter.
Even black holes and protons
may eventually fall apart.
The comfortable house
created by a human god
for meaningful human lives
is tiny and ephemeral.
Outside the hurricane’s eye
there is no meaning.
I sit on a bed of redwood needles,
in the center of a circle of trees.
The tree that once grew in this center
died and slowly rotted away.
Seven giants sprouted from its roots.
These were taken by humans.
The stump tops are cut flat.
Thirty six trees grew up
around these seven stumps,
making a circle of circles,
singing a life that has continued
for several thousand years.
copyright © 1983 - 2005 Carl Miller
“Float Creek” and “Drinking the Trout Stream” are different narrations of the same experience. Drawing, “Dead Man's Creek,” just below Sonora Pass: 2004, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches.