Bill talked about the ambitious
young X-ray crystallographer
who happened to be first in line
when the Apollo Eleven moon rocks
arrived at the Berkeley campus.
With reporters watching,
he looked at the thin section
in the microscope and muttered,
“Interesting,” not wanting to say
something that might be proven wrong.
Next to look was a big gruff
professor who looked and acted
like an old miner, who said, “I see
quartz, feldspar, hum, it looks
like a regular old basalt to me.”
I told Bill he looked like
a geologist himself,
his cabin-corner desk piled high
like many a professor’s office
with papers about gully control.
As I walked the trail between
his home and mine, the gibbous moon
was high and thinly veiled by fog,
the trees and hill shaded
in subtle differences of blue.
Just after dawn, blue sky,
Monday, February 26,
I grabbed two oranges for breakfast,
started walking down the road.
I heard an engine, turned around,
saw Rohn and Judith’s Chevy Nova.
They picked me up, asked if I
was going out to see the eclipse.
We stopped at Louie’s meadow,
looked at a fat crescent sun
through two layers of exposed film.
“The dragon is swallowing the sun,”
Judith said, imagining alleged
As far back as Stonehenge,
people seemed to know
how eclipses really happen.
The crescent narrowed,
swung from facing left to facing up,
dimming grassy hills and trees
like an underexposed photograph.
Clouds veiled the sun off and on,
making the film unnecessary.
The crescent fattened, facing right.
Hills brightened as clouds closed in.
Jeff moves a pile of notebooks
to offer me a dusty chair
in his unfinished home in the woods,
starts a fire in the stove
he made from an old water heater.
He talks about a computer game,
how one night at the college where
he takes computer programming,
he saw on someone else’s printout,
instead of columns of numbers, words
like SWING AX, KILL! THE DWARF IS DEAD.
and asked what the person was doing.
If you type a computer code,
the computer will respond,
WELCOME TO COLOSSAL CAVERNS.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY ADVENTURE?
If you type YES, it takes you on
a treasure hunt through a mishmash world
of dwarves, pirates, and vending machines.
If the computer warns you that
your lantern is about to go out,
either you go to the vending machine
in the twisty little passages (where you get lost),
or else you stumble in the dark,
fall in a pit and kill yourself.
“Is that the end of the game?” I ask.
“Not necessarily,” says Jeff.
“The computer types, OH DEAR,
YOU SEEM TO HAVE GOTTEN YOURSELF KILLED,
and offers to resurrect you.”
I grab a sunning lizard behind its head,
surprised its body is too cold to squirm.
Eyeing me, it slightly twists its face,
curves its tail, grips my finger with its toes,
losing stiffness in the warmth of my hand.
Today I follow no trails.
I scratch up cliffs like a lizard,
dive through huckleberries like a deer,
see places I’ve never seen
and may never find again.
Sappho’s five kittens look mouse and cry gull
when she climbs over the suitcase to the closet.
Squirming her furry mountain belly,
they scarlet-tongue nipples they cannot see
while she kneads the air with forepaws,
motion which last year gave her own tongue milk
from the bare warm spots in her mother’s fur.
We tromp the lookout tower steps,
vanguard of a caravan
of children and camp-counselors,
broken into smaller groups
by the climb up Black Rock Mountain.
The lookout, Carrie with long orange braids,
smiles, welcoming ten, fifteen,
twenty— are they all here yet?—
kids and grownups packed in the room
like an atom’s higher quantum state.
Children question telescopes,
binoculars, maps, everything
one needs to find a forest fire,
not to mention Carrie’s bed,
stove, food, what life is like up here.
Bill and Susan make sandwiches
while Carrie answers patiently,
she works ten days, spends four in town,
has never had so many quests here,
will finish Shogun when we leave.
Quiet as a reed,
I sit in cool water.
Dragonfly on my shoulder
takes off, circles shore,
lights on my floating elbow.
Head turns, legs rub,
abdomen pulses breath.
Dry eyes shine
black and gold.
copyright © 1981 - 2005 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Buck Gulch”: 1982, colored pencil on Strathmore paper, 12 x 18 inches.