At the Brooklyn Branch
of the Cleveland Library,
two girls talk to me.
One thinks I look too hippie,
the other, I’m kind of cute.
With my hair shorter,
no beard, I pass inspection
to date his daughter.
She’s two years younger than me
but she’s the one who starts stuff.
Kissing feels better
with bodies pressed together.
Hands slip under shirts.
In a snowy parking lot
she tells me to kiss her breasts.
With no birth control,
she has me nude in my room,
while she’s fully dressed.
When we walked along the breakwall,
the banded gray sky resembled the boulders.
We had no socks. Our sandals were wet.
There were birds and fishermen,
but we were alone. Your skin was so warm
where I touched you under your jacket.
The outer world contained only you.
Long narrow mountains
like ripples on a sandstone slab
from the edge of a Devonian sea.
A shack of weather-darkened wood
on a narrow dirt road.
Black-faced white-wooled sheep
graze through a meadow
surrounded by pines.
We’re students on a field trip
measuring angles of rocks,
mapping each formation.
At our feet, green moss
with stalked red sporangia.
We’re eating sandwiches,
drinking Pepsi Cola,
looking at forever.
In genetics lab, we’re repeating
experiments done in nineteen fifteen,
when our old professor was a boy.
In milk jars partly filled with beige jello
our mutant fruit flies feed and breed,
lay eggs, then their little white maggots
dig in, gorge themselves, and pupate,
then we get to count how many
tranquilized flies look like mom or dad
by gently turning them with paintbrushes
while their little legs are twitching
under a low power microscope.
The ratios are never quite correct
because the poor mutant flies
with magenta eyes or twisted wings
or missing two hairs on the backs of their necks
don’t survive as well as normal ones
with red eyes, straight wings, and neck hairs.
We’re supposed to start each generation
with six identical males and six
identical but different females,
but it doesn’t always work out that way.
One student had only one male
and watched him mating with his females,
making jokes about his stud qualities.
We spend fantastic amounts of time here,
coming in at all hours of day and night,
any day of the week, to the timing
of the fruit flies’ rather short life cycle.
We have to count the kids
before they make grandkids.
Another Cleveland autumn, blue and cold,
third year of college, and I’m feeling lost.
Biology isn’t much like Paul A. Zahl’s
photos in the National Geographic.
I usually see Susie in the lounge
of the Baker Building before my first class.
She looks the same, curly brown hair, gray eyes,
a smile that still does something to my heart.
Since I dated Susie in junior high,
my fear of the Vietnam draft has grown.
I thought the war would end before I grew up.
I talk, trying to bridge the depth of years,
trying to renew at least our friendship.
She smiles, but doesn’t say much in response.
Rachel was a rarely seen mystery,
her time preoccupied by stagecraft class.
She wanted to tear down our walls with what
she learned in her psychology training group.
Her amber eyes were large and dark as love.
I wrote a song about longing for her smile,
and sang it for her while I tried to play
the piano in the student union lounge.
Once she snuggled against me on the couch
in the sitting room of her dorm,
and pulled my hand to her big soft breast,
not caring who might be watching.
My barriers were gone but hers stayed up.
I didn’t see her again for several weeks.
copyright © 2005 - 2008 Carl Miller
“Getting Closer,” happened over several months of 1968-1969.
Drawing, “Trilobite”: 1973, fine-tip marker on paper, 5 x 8 inches.