“What’s government if words don’t have meaning?”
the young assassin asked repeatedly.
Could a congresswoman whose head was filled
with practical concerns of policy
understand and answer a raft of thought
floating in philosophy and madness?
Her husband is a shuttle astronaut.
He believes the shuttle missions are faked.
The only answer she had was silence.
Do the words in talking points have meaning?
Do they mean whatever they seem to mean?
There is a lot of doublespeak these days.
Was he trying to ask something like that?
Governing is different from ruling,
not about bending others to your will,
but speeding up what’s moving too slowly
and slowing down what’s recklessly speeding.
Does that sort of answer this question?
Why do people whose minds can’t be controlled
by themselves or anybody else
often think their minds are being controlled?
The malfunction must be someone else’s fault.
A semiautomatic pistol holds
the penetrating lead for thirty wounds.
The congresswoman and twenty others
went down before he paused to reload,
when two old men tackled him to the ground
and an old woman seized his ammo clip.
The congresswoman’s intern plugged the holes
in her bleeding head, saving her life
long enough for ambulance and surgeons.
In the long tick of days following that,
a big memorial, six funerals,
the unabomber’s lawyer took the case,
the congresswoman opened her eyes
and responded to requests to move her fingers,
the other victims appeared on cable news.
The liberal network discussed gun control,
and cheered the target’s slow recovery,
the moderate network obsessed about the killer
—could there be a way to recognise
and stop people like him before they act?—
and the conservative network, oddly,
thought the president made a good speech.
None of them said much about the killer
in poetry class, how he responded
to a girl’s poem about her abortion
with black-and-white right-wing bumper stickers,
denying her any nuance of poetry,
how he grabbed his crotch and leaped around the room,
poetry-slamming his morning shower and bus ride.
For these details I thank the internet.
Suicidal poets are a cliché,
their private lives some kind of lonely mess.
The mass-murderer cliché is similar.
I guess a poet assassin must be possible,
but I can’t think of any other examples.
The Grim Reaper is being patient,
slowly pruning bits off of this life,
recovery probably impossible,
three tumors out of seventeen still left
at the brainstem beyond radiation’s reach.
The man keeps saying he’ll be leaving soon.
The big-eyed careful daughter acts concerned,
the careless daughter says he can’t go yet,
there’s still some bits of life to be recorded.
I’m here as the ride of the man’s close friend.
Through her, he’s been on the edge of my life
for many years, but I don’t know him well.
I’m too deaf to hear his mumbled jokes.
He’s moved from couch to bed and rarely gets up.
The talk of building railroads on a table,
how the Finns influenced Tolkien,
the basket-making skills of Indians,
drifts in and out of ever rising sleep.
Another three hour drive
to Nancy’s spine surgeon
with another portfolio of X-rays.
He talks for about five minutes,
answers a couple questions,
tells her to come back in two weeks.
Then I walk her around
K-mart or Wal-mart or Safeway,
while she rides an electric wheelchair.
the three hours driving back
we have dinner at Taco Bell.
For me, it’s all about music,
which sometimes I’m allowed to play
loud enough for my ears to hear.
For her, it’s all about pain,
pillows, icepacks, and random stops
to take another pain pill.
Too early this year,
daffodil blossums drooping
in the pouring rain.
A banana slug
crawls on the triangle porch
searching for cat food.
One moth at a time
fluttering outside the glass
captured by a bat.
Rusty skims a Sky and Telescope
filled with pictures of spinning black holes
while a black cat purrs on his lap.
The sun shone once in a while,
maybe long as an hour,
but for three weeks in March,
rain fell most of the time every day.
A redwood fell in Whitmore Grove,
not just blocking, but smashing the road.
Torrents of milky coffee
rasped away at the stream bank.
Truckload after truckload of boulders
got swallowed by the mud before
the road could open again,
and still the rain kept falling.
On the second sunlit morning
after the rain finally stopped,
a hill rumbled and slumped,
trees, grass and boulders floating
on slippery mud all the way
across the freeway’s four lanes,
between Redway and Phillipsville,
the only stretch of freeway
with no Redwood Drive
or Avenue of the Giants.
Again, pictures on the internet,
the geology of mud explained,
how Pacific Ocean bottom
was scraped and piled in collapsible hills.
They cautioned against trying
the one lane mountain dirt roads.
Again, for all practical purposes,
you can’t get there from here.
Your lips cool and moist,
your tongue warm with coffee taste,
nothing else touching.
My past promises have proved too fragile,
broken by changes like glass figurines.
There’s no point to saying anything now.
Even, “I love you,” implies certain things
that circumstances forbid I imply.
Your body, not broken by promises,
but complex consequences of falling
down concrete steps, gives more pain than pleasure.
Your medicine removes your desire.
You’ll probably never lay in my arms.
I’m not the man I think I ought to be.
This knowledge casts a shadow on my heart.
I can’t say, “I love you,” to anyone
without carefully shaped explanations.
I mostly see you when you need my help,
a ride to some doctor or X-ray place,
paired with seeking grocery and trinkets.
You’ll kiss me when I fasten your seat belt.
This week I bought you dinner at Babbette’s.
Uneasily you sat in a padded chair,
wavering between two menu items.
You said this was the first time we’ve ever
eaten with a candle at the table.
Through the open door
the cool night breeze blows into
the ice cream parlor.
Long rainy season,
an endless Grateful Dead jam,
still playing in June.
copyright © 2011 Carl Miller