The houses on West Forty Eighth weren’t all the same,
and probably no two were exactly alike,
but most had roofed over porches across the front,
square wooden columns on the corners,
and railings that grabbed a climbing child’s knee.
Because each house was set back the same distance,
I could stand on my porch and look out the sides
up and down the street, through porch after porch
in perspective until the slope of the street
lifted or lowered them out of alignment.
It was like looking for infinity between two mirrors,
which can’t be seen because my head blocks the view.
We were both inventors,
with airplanes, spaceships,
Our opponents were dinosaurs
and stalk-eyed space beasts
of our own design.
On a card table on the porch
with colored pencils we drew
things like ten-legged lizards
and praying-mantis dragons,
then chose the best ones.
We reclined the deck chairs,
blasted off, crash-landed,
peered through the porch railing
at a bug-eyed rhinoceros
about to trample our rocket,
and ran to the back yard.
The ray-guns jammed, forcing us
to flee to a cave, where we
fixed them, and befriended
two creatures we could ride.
When our mothers called us,
we planned to continue
our adventures after supper,
but the boy across the street
came with twilight and
instead we caught lightning bugs.
The boy who lived next door
came over and wanted to play
a game we used to play
in which we pretended we were
two ants having adventures
with spiders and sowbugs.
I didn’t remember doing this,
but it sounded like fun.
We played a good adventure
all over the back yard
and decided to preserve it
by writing a comic book.
We worked at a card table
on the porch, the breeze blocked
by the striped side awning.
We each drew our own version
so we’d each have a copy.
The next day I was alone,
and thought I could improve
the writing and drawing of my comic,
so I did it over again.
Then I made up a new story
about the queen ant losing her crown.
While I was writing and drawing
comics about my ants,
Micky started making comics
about a stick figure Tarzan,
who fought jungle monsters
like the feecoolabumbee,
which looked like a walking fish,
and Chucky made comics about
the movie monster Gorgo,
who just stepped on his enemies.
One time they collaborated
on a comic book called
Tarzan and Gorgo Fight Carl,
which they talked about a lot
but wouldn’t let me read.
Inspired by James Mason and Pat Boone,
crystalline caves, tree-sized mushrooms,
rhinoceros iguanas rigged with rubber fins
to play forty foot long dimetrodons,
Vincy and I decided to use
my mother’s home movie camera
to film our own version of
A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
We drew some stalactites and stalagmites
and taped them to the stairway railing.
Vincy and I did silent movie acting
while Uncle Frank filmed our gestures.
Our crossing the underground sea
was more true to Jules Verne’s book.
We were attacked by a pleisiosaur.
We filled the sink with water
dyed with blue food coloring.
A four inch model pleisiosaur
rigged with puppet strings
bumped a popsicle stick raft.
For a closeup we clung to a wooden porch
and tried to look scared.
We used a plastic cup
for the Atlantis altar stone.
Our volcano erupted red paper lava.
For a closeup we crouched in the bathtub
and tried to look scared.
Five minutes of film wasn’t enough
to get us back to the surface.
Our final gestures were punctured
by processing marks.
The man came to our sixth grade class
from an organization
called, I think, “Pathfinders,”
about once a month to make
a presentation about ethics.
To make some point, he scribbled
something completely illegible
on the blackboard and asked,
“Now what’s the truth?”
I was the only one to raise a hand.
I said, “The truth is
I can’t read your handwriting.”
My classmates laughed.
He seemed amused, but looking
for a different kind of answer.
After he finished and left,
our white-haired teacher came to
my desk and yelled at me.
She had never heard anything
so rude and crude, rude and crude.
She repeated this shrill rhyme
for what felt like forever,
not letting me have a word.
Usually his handwriting was clear.
He scribbled that way to make some point
and I made an honest guess.
Why did she get so offended?
What was I supposed to learn?
I was pedaling my bicycle
up a street beyond Fulton Road
when a barking German Shepherd
chased me, jumped, and bit my thigh.
I turned downhill and outraced him.
At home I examined the tooth marks
in the bathroom mirror, hating dogs
and thinking about rabies.
This life of being small and weak,
of teachers bossing me around,
of army sergeants waiting to make me
peel potatoes when I grew up,
was nothing, a bad dream.
I wanted to return to what was real.
I decided to die of rabies.
I did my mother’s dishes every day,
to make sure I’d go to heaven.
After three weeks, nothing happened,
so I stopped doing the dishes.
If I had many years to live,
I had other things to do.
copyright © 1982 - 2011 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Home in Cleveland”: 2004, gel pen on paper, 6 x 10 inches.