Every morning on the radio,
reporters in San Francisco enthuse
about how beautiful the sunrise looks
from their traffic helicopters,
while Rusty and I, two hundred miles north,
sit in a gaslit room eating oatmeal,
our windows still dark with the end of night.
We walk to the car in the twilight forest
under a cloudy sky or dripping rain.
Don’t ask me how I drive Rusty to school,
as wasted as I always feel this early,
but today, a surprise over Louie’s meadow,
magenta streaks highlighting purple clouds,
sunrise coral all the way to Redway.
Nancy’s physical therapist
looks and sounds like Kevin Sorbo,
the actor who plays
a kinder, gentler Hercules
in the cable television series.
His endless instructions to her
distract me from other thoughts.
There aren’t any magazines
of interest to me here.
I just keep listening to
the mellow Hercules drone on
about pain management techniques.
I’m in the jury assembly room,
waiting for something to happen while
Casablanca plays on the television.
Local conservative Jerry Partain,
one of the other propective jurors,
is randomly ranting that the county
should redirect some welfare payments
toward paving the courthouse parking lot.
He considers gravel a disgrace.
The man next to me is telling
the woman next to him about
his imminent retirement.
Sam is singing “As Time goes By.”
My neighbors talk about house designs.
Time goes by. I wonder if
we’ll ever even reach the courtroom.
Casablanca is over,
a beautiful friendship has begun,
and still I’m in the assembly room.
Most of the trials have “pleaded out,”
but there’s still two more being discussed.
Sometimes the best expression,
once achieved, seems obvious.
Other times, what seems best
dances through endless variations.
Choose a version and give it up.
Maggie’s belly big,
Rusty home each day from school,
waiting for kittens.
Pear-shaped cat who sleeps a lot
purrs beside me on the couch.
While I’m on the phone,
something wet like a spilled drink
soaks my shirt and pants.
Newborn kitten in a sack,
blood all over the white couch.
I put Maggie and
her first baby in the box.
Mom licks, baby squeals.
Rusty watches three others
being born, describes each one.
From rinsing, wringing
clothes and couch cushion covers,
cold bloody water.
This vista point,
my last good view
of Mount Shasta.
Hot sun, no shade,
I couldn’t stand
two hours sweat
from painting here.
With ballpoint pen,
shapes of glaciers,
portraits of trees,
watch my effort,
like what I did.
Rusty asks if
I’ll include that
tree over there.
Warm, sunny, windy,
blue water and volcanos,
no mosquitoes here.
A crown fire recently
burned or scorched most of the pines.
Rusty and I climb
the jagged lava boulders
for a better view.
Green trees across the reed marsh
remind me of lost beauty.
Never in my life
will Davis Lake look the way
I remember it.
Despite the name,
I don’t see any cottonwoods,
only pines, a few firs, a big meadow.
White flower clusters
suggest Queen Anne’s Lace,
but up close they’re different.
I painted a group of five pines,
with others in the background,
angled sun in the meadow.
This time I used one paint color
to “represent” a real color,
rather than trying to mix
accurate greens and browns.
It’s an impressionist take,
globs of light and shadow
molding some reality
no camera can touch.
On the ridgetop of highway 3,
between the canyons of the Snake
and the Grande Ronde, bouncing off
Rusty’s face and landing stunned
on his lap, a big black wasp.
At first we think she’s dead, but she
crawls back out of the litter bag.
Rusty gets her on a map
and out, and rolls the window up.
When the road zigzags down and up
across the Grande Ronde canyon,
sharp turns without guardrails slow
my driving to a sweaty crawl,
and Rusty’s window’s down again.
On the next ridge, a bumble bee
swept in the window hits Rusty’s face
the same way and rolls around
on his lap buzzing in pulses.
He gets her on the map and out
with a bit more difficulty.
Closing the window, he complains,
“Why do they always come in my side?”
photos can’t capture
details of beauty
I lack the patience
to draw every branch
wild forest with snags
clear wrinkled river
sliding through shadow
rough granite boulders
with blotchy lichens
pale crescent moon in
blue gray yellow sky
Today I did two watercolors,
one of Kelly Creek, a major branch
of the Clearwater River’s North Fork,
which we were following toward Hoodoo Pass.
From a wooden suspension bridge for a foot trail
I started to sketch and paint the river,
clear and brown over gray granite boulders,
green feathery cones on a mountain.
A lone broadleaf tree got special attention.
It’s hard to make brown water look like water.
The flies were relentless once they found me,
biting if I didn’t shoo them off.
Rusty walked quietly across the bridge,
thinking this way he wouldn’t disturb me,
but the bridge wiggled and bounced with each step.
Just over the pass into Montana,
we camped by a frogpond in a meadow.
I painted the hill of tall skinny spruce,
sparse on the meadow, dense on the ridge,
granite outcrops hidden in the shadows.
Not quite as many flies bothered me here,
but when the sun got low, mosquitoes came out.
This evening, the moon’s a fatter crescent.
copyright © 2005 Carl Miller
Painting, “Hoodoo Pass”: 2004, watercolor and colored pencil on paper, 9 x 12 inches, detail 7.5 x 9 inches.