I pick you up hitchhiking
at the corner where Briceland Road
bends downhill toward the river,
your long red hair in a kerchief,
your blouse and skirt sun-faded,
with a can of warm Coors
a pouch of Tops tobacco,
a buck-toothed smile and crying eyes.
I think I know who you are.
I think I’ve danced with you somewhere.
I ask what’s wrong.
Your boyfriend, your EX-
boyfriend, you emphasize,
made love with your best friend.
Though you don’t ask for this,
I find myself persuaded
to drive you all the way home,
even though I have an appointment
to replace my Honda Civic’s
dying engine tomorrow,
and I’m really not sure
I can make it up Huckleberry Hill.
You invite me into your trailer
to drink a cup of tea.
I’m a novelist from Ohio,
you’re from West Virginia.
You seem warm and nice.
I think I want this to happen.
I went to Nancy’s trailer in the morning.
Prospective lovers are best approached early,
with time for conversation to cover
the meanderings of her life and mine.
Trouble was, she’d been up all night.
The Greyhound bus broke down in Ukiah.
Someone made bow ties from dollar bills.
She hitchhiked as far as Whitethorn Junction.
“Well, okay, you probably need some sleep,”
I said, but she didn’t want me to go.
She drank cups of coffee, stayed up all day
and did her usual routines while we talked.
Our first kiss was strange and brief,
a conical tongue probed between my lips.
Her true love was murdered by a neighbor,
an event I knew about from Sheila’s ballad.
She told me she had Sheila’s old guitar,
got it out and sang me the blues.
I don’t remember what it was like
that night when we first made love.
Her bed was small and uncomfortable.
When I went home next morning, she came with me.
She speaks with other people’s words.
Has she no words of her own?
She says it’s hard to explain, has to be felt.
Do I have an intimate enemy?
I need some space to be myself and think.
I need the music off. I need quiet.
She makes mystic gestures
to weave light that feels like darkness.
She sings at night to the moon.
I’m another man who doesn’t understand.
I want peace, but that’s not her gift.
The moon’s almost full and we’re both crazy again.
Nancy’s cooking dinner in her trailer
when a neighbor knocks on the door,
staggers in carrying a guitar,
looks at me, and explains, “I’m the wild man.”
He looks like a teenaged boy who hasn’t
quite gotten used to his size.
His beard doesn’t cover his cheeks.
He’s so drunk I know he’ll keep us up late
before we manage to get rid of him.
He’s fumbling with his guitar case,
can’t figure out how to get it open.
For some reason, Nancy offers him her guitar.
He plays a few good licks but can’t focus.
“Why don’t you play something?” Nancy asks me.
This relationship is manic-depressive.
The good times and the bad are so extreme.
We’ve talked about breaking up.
Nancy’s moody again. When I ask why,
she hands me one of her long letters
handwritten in impeccable cursive,
saying, in brief, she thinks she’s pregnant,
I’ve made it clear I don’t want children,
what do I want her to do?
Wait a minute— I don’t want children?
I ask how she got that impression.
How many lovers didn’t work out for me
because they couldn’t or wouldn’t have a baby?
Of course I want to have this child!
You were the mystery of mysteries,
the storm of pain concealed inside
a slender woman’s pretty smile.
The secrets you confessed to love
were nothing I was ready to hear.
Several women seemed to live inside you
all thinking they were the same.
I was in love with at least one of them,
tried to be friends with the others,
but there were two I just hated.
You said, “Someday you’ll know my love is true.”
I swerved between vowing lifelong love
and trying desperately to escape.
How many of me did there seem to be?
Maybe my desire for a wife and family
is something I can’t make real.
I can’t make it happen with Nancy.
We’re so angry at each other so often.
If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, she’d be
no different from any of the others.
I can pull free from some of her spider cords
but others will get tighter. I must be water.
No spiderweb ever held a stream.
It’s sad when an unborn child’s parents
hate each other, but these things can be fixed.
I must melt from nightmare to dream,
affirm whatever’s left of my love,
let the pain cool, and be ready for the child.
You can’t deny or run away from love.
Be wise. Perceive what is real.
You meant no wrong. Each moment you did your best.
Open your heart to the hurt, and you will heal.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
In which a most improbable love story has a very unpromising beginning.
Painting, “Purple Wild Iris”: 1995, Acrylic on watercolor paper, detail 12 x 16 inches.