Drone of wind and stream,
a bird whistles a hot riff,
squirrels chatter rhythm.
Coming home out of breath from running,
Rusty said he saw, at the bottom
of a ravine on the hill across the creek,
a mother mountain lion and two cubs.
I asked for every detail he could give,
with no reason at all not to believe him.
Month after month, cats kept disappearing,
scared away or eaten, maybe?
Sometimes we saw quiet groups of deer
and a noisy flock of turkeys near the house.
Other times the woods were empty and silent.
I thought this meant the lion was nearby.
One night I heard something big growling
down the hill toward the creek.
I growled back and banged on the wall.
I wrote a poem about the eerie feeling
of living in the lion’s hunting range.
However, once Rusty grew up, he confessed
he never really saw a mountain lion,
but couldn’t explain why he told this lie.
He lost his favorite huckleberry patch.
But what about the cats, the deer, the turkeys?
What did I hear growling in the night?
I don’t know what was real and what was not.
Below this pastoral farmland are cliffs,
awe inspiring, pierced by wave-cut holes,
each one named— the little Porte d’Amont,
a small round hole, just a spot of blue paint
under this pale elephant hump of rock;
the Porte d’Aval, its outer leg of chalk
like a tall cathedral’s flying buttress—
Monet made many paintings of this arch,
with storm waves or mirrored sunsets,
blurred by rain, or bright by morning sun—
and hard to reach but huge, the Manneporte,
sculpted in bold impastos of paint,
each brushstroke twice the size of the figures
standing on a low ledge of rock behind
sudden impact of white on blue and dark.
Here’s another view, rust-stained chalk,
a bit of greenery growing over the edge,
blue reflection, shadow, rippled glass sea,
puffs of salmon cloud, distant haze.
Look at this, there is no other world,
nothing real but geologic time.
A raw pain underneath my sternum,
I know what this must be; I’ve had warning.
Forget the car’s rear end, the propane tanks.
I need to get to town fast and calm.
An ambulance would take too long, get lost
looking for me on this winding road.
Stay calm, keep going, stay calm, keep going,
here at last, turn around, and park.
“Heart attack, stroke, something like that,” I gasp.
I’m surrounded like a queen bee by workers,
lying down, tasting nitroglycerin,
smelling pure oxygen, but I can’t breathe.
While my fingers, arms, and legs go numb, they ask,
“On a scale of one to ten, how bad’s the pain?”
I vaguely recall the helicopter ride,
trying to sign papers floating over me.
Here I am, oblivious on morphine,
an intravenous fluid in each hand,
an automated blood pressure taker
squeezing my arm like an anaconda,
a two foot soda straw from groin to heart,
my back in constant pain but I can’t move.
Because this tube is in an artery,
and I’ve had enough anticoagulants
to go halfway to hemophilia,
I can’t do anything that could cause bleeding.
I’m in the room next to the nursing station,
where they talk, and talk, and talk, all night long.
Check your weapon, say your prayers together,
crave death, and smile at the cab driver,
for the angels of Allah will protect you.
Pray as you enter the plane,
pray again as you take your seat.
When the time of truth comes, open your chest
and welcome death for the sake of Allah.
A Boeing passenger jet, wings angled,
slices through a tower of steel and glass.
Flame erupts like blood from a slashed throat.
Enough jet fuel to take the biggest plane
from sea to shining sea melts steel and concrete.
Office workers out, firefighters in.
Twin towers each a quarter mile tall
collapse like sand castles.
The wonder isn’t that three thousand died,
but that five times as many got out alive.
From Morocco to Malaysia,
an angry Moslem proletariat
is tempted by the shadows.
They want to recreate Mohammed’s world.
They hate anything modern or moderate.
They see harsh, absolute duality.
There is white and black, good and evil,
Allah and Satan, Islam and infidel.
Men are warriors and women are veiled.
No confusion, ambiguity, or nuance.
But they’re not the only ones.
People fighting for God, Allah, Yahweh,
or even the whole Hindu pantheon—
in Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Israel,
and the fragments of Yugoslavia—
brutalize and kill each other, knowing
the angels of whoever will protect them.
When will the time of truth come?
When is this species going to grow up
and stop taking instructions from God?
We’re not children who need a parent
in Heaven to tell us what to do.
Look at the results. This is what’s evil.
Whatever race or culture we might be,
we’re all human first. Crave life.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
These events happened May - September 2001, the heart attack on August 15. I’m not sure how close “Claude Monet at Etretat” came to being my last poem.
Drawing, “Needle Rock”: 1984, black colored pencil on paper, 5.5 x 8.5 inches, detail about 5.5 x 7.5 inches.