My cat Sam sits on front forch sun,
staring at rustling blackberries.
I expect another cat,
but instead the shadows under
thorny stems become pecking quail.
Are there chicks? No. Is there a way
to sneak up and pounce without
triggering wings and wheet-wheet-woo?
How vexing! Sam turns away,
bends to nervously lick his fur,
squints his eyes and slowly relaxes.
“A drum is not just skin on a barrel
but one of the highest forms of reason.”
Two hands on eight congas danced
stories and wisdom from old Ghana,
melodies shimmering over rhythms
interwoven and everchanging.
“You cannot be a master drummer
To say that one is better than another
is against reality.”
As a young man, he wrote and played.
on fourteen drums for all the masters
a one-and-a-half hour piece so intense
he never wanted to play it again.
“When you play an instrument,
you bring out experience,
You put your life on the line.”
I’m getting a chance to join Hoka Hey.
The adjoining parcel of land is for sale.
I want to build a big round room
near my friend’s homes in the forest.
A beautiful place in a meadow
is too near one of these homes
and above the only good spring.
In the forest below the road
I’m looking for flat stable ground
where I don’t have to cut many trees.
I find a site near but not beneath
a huge twisted madrone.
My plan’s a sixteen sided polygon,
twenty feet in diameter.
I lay out an orb web of strings and stakes.
When I was six or seven,
I would flip flat stones
in the back yard quick
and grab for flashes of red
running for deeper holes.
Writhing struggles and bites
were useless against my hands,
and into a jar it went,
circling a slippery racetrack
with forty pointed legs.
For school we collected insects:
centipedes did not count,
and what I know about them,
I learned from reading books.
The reddish running ones
are called scolopenders;
they mate with a head-to-tail dance
and the females brood their eggs.
While prying bark off a stump,
I saw one curled round her eggs,
just like the description.
She did not run, but let me
carefully move the piece
of bark with her and her eggs
to safety and cover them.
Hot and sore from hammering
my half-done home, I climbed
the long hill to the cabin,
where my sick cat Sam was curled
on the seat of a junked car.
He looked at me and meowed,
I said, “I’ll be right back,”
and mixed his half-a-cup
of milk with brewer’s yeast
as I had done all week.
The pillow stank with urine
he no longer could control.
I raised his head, pushed
the dropper between his lips
to feed him, pinched the bulb.
“If you’re going to vomit,
there’s nothing I can do,”
I said, and squirted water
on his mouth to wash it.
He collapsed, barely breathing.
“Looks like you won’t be here
tomorrow when I wake up.
Good luck wherever you go.”
The pupils of his eyes
swelled to an empty black.
Full moon kittens
ambush gallop wrestle
all night long.
My flashlight finds
the dark of their eyes
swollen and wild.
I went to sleep
reading of space-probes
and rocks from the moon.
These furry furies
know its white light
is best for hunting.
I dream the she-kitten
has five eyes
and the boys three.
gallop my legs
and I yell, “Stop!”
While King’s Peak yellows
I stir and find
the three curled together,
trying to nurse
off each other,
all purring loudly.
I started like a spider, stretching string
between trees and measuring distances.
I bought wood, nails, glass, and spent the summer
cutting and assembling the pieces
until I was enclosed by surfaces,
standing on a floor and closing doors.
Neighbors across the canyon heard me pounding,
shouting complex curses at a smashed thumb,
boards that fell before I could nail them in place,
and other tragedies of carpentry.
The day I moved in, it started pouring.
I hurried to town to buy plastic
big enough to cover the roof decking.
My first night at home was cold and damp.
When summer’s normal hot and dry returned,
I nailed tarpaper and roll roofing on the roof,
struggled with the mysteries of plumbing,
nailed on the rest of the inside walls.
Like Thoreau, I kept track of every dollar.
Three thousand, one hundred, ninety one, so far.
Moving a dresser in my
half-done house, I met
the mouse who’s been munching
my bread and granola,
in the bottom drawer.
She was curled in a nest
of fiberglass insulation;
her three furry infants
dangled from her nipples
when she dashed away from light.
In my mind were poems
about mother mice in drawers
leaving or eating their babies.
I tried to catch them all
but the mother ran away,
across the floor out a hole,
I put the now squealing
blind ones in a pan
under the house with cheese
to tempt the mother back.
I heard her come and go,
went outside to look.
She jumped out of the pan,
empty except for cheese.
She’d already moved the babies
and was coming back for a meal.
He considers its value, the art dealer
who now owns Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s
portrait of the actor Dublin-Tornelle.
He doesn’t care that this woman belonged
to the French Academy, that to join
she had to prove to the jurors that she,
and not some man, had painted her pictures,
by doing portraits of them while they watched.
He doesn’t care about her future fame.
The portrait is well-done, could easily
be mistaken for the work of David,
if he chipped off her name and added his.
Both painters are dead, no one will know,
and this way he can get a better price.
copyright © 1983 - 2011 Carl Miller