Having no idea how troubled he was,
my poet friends in college and I
wanted to be Richard Brautigan,
give rides to the Galilee hitchhiker,
go out trout fishing in America.
By the time I moved to California,
Brautigan’s novels had divorced his life.
He glued his style to artificial stories.
Little did I know he was drinking hard
and shooting bullets at his kitchen walls.
More curious than compelled, I read poems
about the month he lived in Japan.
A few years later I read the sad news
about his suicide in Bolinas.
The years stretched into decades by the time
his daughter Ianthe grew up and wrote a memoir.
I found his other poems on the internet,
the gentlest ones, like, “Please Plant This Book.”
He’s not the first complicated poet
who should have listened to his own advice.
I’m walking on his sunlit stepping stones,
leaving the shadowed water for the trout.
Neanderthals sometimes made jewelry,
this anthropologist admits, but they
were just imitating human jewelry
and didn’t understand its true meaning.
This anthropologist can’t know for sure
what the jewelry meant to either race.
Most likely, both kinds of people thought
it enhanced their beauty or their power.
No one’s found a Neanderthal rock painting yet,
but can anyone be sure it can’t exist?
Different white noises,
whoosh of wind through trees,
the creek’s trickle.
I’m in the garden under the alder.
Above me is the house,
the phoenecia azalea, the pale purple rose,
below me the stream and the forest,
deer stepping carefully.
Rusty has the patience to get to know them,
a doe, a fawn, another fawn, another doe,
up and down the ferns to the creek.
He sees a doe drinking, a fawn playing.
Sitting in your apartment
looking at how you’ve arranged
everything for your comfort,
watching your gray sweater ride up,
exposing bits of bare back
as you put stuff away on shelves,
I’m pretending I hardly know you,
I’ve never seen this place,
and we’ve never made love before.
Our ancestors were Pennsylvania Deutsch
for at least a hundred years, till one of them,
Joseph B. Miller, married Caroline Steckel,
whose father disapproved of the marriage.
A team of oxen and a team of mules
took them from Pennsylvania to Ohio.
Martin Eugene Miller, our grandfather,
is Joseph B.’s grandson and still German,
though probably none of them have spoken
a word of Deutsch in over two hundred years.
Look at our parents’ garage in Ohio,
with its Pennsylvania Deutsch hex symbols!
And all those drives they took when we were kids
to eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Mom had a fascination with this stuff,
as well as with sailing ships.
Why this stuff? Because she was in love
with a Deutsch-American farmboy
who became a sailor.
Remember how upset she says she was
when he criticized her painting
of a tall ship on choppy water?
The waves were wrong, he told her.
I’ll never paint another seascape,
she replied, probably in tears.
These criticized waves weren’t just waves,
they were her love. Would he see it
this way? Of course not!
He knew what the ocean looked like.
You’re trying to relate to aspects of Dad
he wants to keep concealed,
which to him is only correct and proper.
A direct approach only hardens his armor.
He likes to talk about the weather,
his raspberries, beans, peas, and tomatoes,
or the latest news from his brothers and sister,
whose lives seem more sensible than ours.
My father always said he wanted
to live to see the year two thousand.
By this time, he was eighty five,
didn’t like his hearing aid,
complained about his deterioration
and doctors wanting to rearrange
the topography of his back.
He didn’t make it south that fall.
His Ohio doctors thought they were
better than his Florida doctors.
In December he had a stroke.
Linda quit her job and went to Ohio,
wanted me to drop my life and go there too.
In the hospital, he had flashbacks.
He thought he was in Canada,
rescued from a sinking ship
attacked by Germans in World War Two
when he was in the merchant marines.
He didn’t refuse treatment then
the way he was refusing it now,
no respirator, please.
He died a couple of days later.
Again, Linda wanted me in Ohio.
I didn’t want to leave Rusty alone
in the middle of the winter,
short-notice flights were expensive,
and snowy airports were dangerous.
Linda didn’t like my reasons,
but I stayed where I was.
The day I think they buried my father,
December 10, 2000, and maybe
a day or two before and after that,
I had the impression he was watching me,
watching through me,
experiencing my life from the inside,
but this impression faded quickly,
as if he didn’t find my life very interesting,
or had other things to do.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Redwood Creek”: 1982, colored pencil on Strathmore paper, 12 x 18 inches, detail 9 x 12 inches.