Mudlark Poster No. 36 (2001)

Joe Millar

The Hurricane
Whirlwind Gone, Come Nothing Water
You Know How It Feels To Inherit Tragedy
A Condensed Meditation on Love
On a Peninsula Bank of the St. Johns River
Arbor Day, Florida

Joe Millar is working as the Graduate Director of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival while attending The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has most recently published in the GREENSBORO REVIEW, NEW REVIEW, COLUMBIA REVIEW and COLD MOUNTAIN REVIEW.

The Hurricane

Begins by blowing sandpipers sideways,
      Manacling coco-de-mer palms
            With metal chains from garbage cans
Used to keep the raccoons out. It's the first
Of the last days, rain ploughing the roads
With the opposite of nihilism: the everything,
      The too much, the irretrievable. The eye
            Has moved beyond us, biblical, causing
Battery radios to bark on and startle crickets
From the drains. All eye and no heart and yet
Charged with an imagination, sucking small
      Toads from the St Johns River, kiting their
            Aerated husks over the Melbourne Causeway
In great silence, these souls flung up in hope.
We watch from inside a cafe, two yellow strips
Of masking tape crossing each large window.
      We play chess and feed crumbs to a Husky
            Whose owner confides in us that in a former life
He was King Solomon, and had it been his decision
To make again, he would have sliced the child
In two, 'Since everyone's so skilled at lying.'
      Outside the car alarms protest the hail. From the parturition
            Of the horrifying bedded with the beautiful comes
The sublime, which is drenching our pants and pressing
Our spines to the brick wall. The heavens are falling,
We think—simultaneously, I imagine, because we share
      The same body under an umbrella blown outward
            And I would much rather be two people in a hurricane
Than one.

Whirlwind Gone, Come Nothing Water

The first good day of happiness began
With a splinter in a lion's foot, ended
With the last skyscraper folding
To a whirlwind. The first red foot
I saw was my brother's as he pulled a nail
From his heel. The last whirlwind
I saw leveled an entire town
In Kentucky. I was part of a singing
Tour of Baptists traveling from Florida
To Niagara Falls in two large vans,
Purely gospel, sleeping on pews
Or makeshift cots spread out in the living
Rooms of the local congregation. One
Night we walked a dirt road and petted
The cows leaning their heads over
Barbed wire fences. Have you ever been
So relaxed that your hair feels like your
Scalp dreaming its way out of its own
Red architecture? Next morning
We traveled the back roads until
We came upon a field. In the field
Were basements with copper pipes jetting
From the concrete. Doll feet, hoses,
Kitchenware, all laid out like supper.
Someone nearby was crying from
A basement but with them hidden
It sounded like the earth giving up.
I thought I spotted the whirlwind
In the distance but was told it was rain.
There was a disembodied spigot lying
On a gravel driveway and I picked it up
And twisted it, opening the valve,
And what came out was the sound
Of nothing water. That night I dreamt
Of a lion dreaming of skyscrapers
And malnourished cows and beneath
The earth the terrible water
Grumbled through its apostasy

You Know How It Feels To Inherit Tragedy

Twin gargoyles resting, legs crossed, wings cushioning their slumps,
beaks like a pair of a pair of pliers.

Before we do this,
try to remember your birth and that rubbery knot of light.

The old farmer moved about his crops, testing the wind with dirt,
knowing one of his sons must die and one must bear the mark.

When the boy who'd run away woke, the eighteen-wheeler
was gone, his bags were gone, he looked down by his sides
along the road's shoulder. He had no arms. A fog muzzled
the streetlamp down the road. He bled from both eyes.

The skiff coasts gently into the cavities of night.
Stars loiter like pennies in a well
where hands are pulled from hands, or wash
the grime from knuckles before suppertime.
There came a time her hands forgot their stations
at the side, at the wrists,
above the cobbled street in a vacant room
where dresser drawers left open
offer nothing and the stairs creak in expectation of my weight
as if all she remembered in the salt air was my weight.
She'd lost the cradle that grips a child's crayon loose in tight fingers.
She let our child slip into the ocean.
The Coast Guard would not find her
before she drifted into the Gulf of Mexico.

A shadow caws for its black coat then turns and nods.
It spreads its two wings, Music and Urgency.
It pours the bugle noise from its blank heart.
It rains its bellied hatred through parades.
It slantwise rolls its shadows across downtown buses.

Victorian. The roof spine struck with termite scoliosis.
He recalls the bristle he erased from fatmen clung like shadows
flung to each unmounted stool in his barber shop.
A hushed cigar is crumpled by the stone mailbox.
A woman watches from a basement window.

Halved birds sing their bodies through shattered windows.
Sudden joy is mostly inarticulate.

If I had kept a cent for every time I drowned a muskrat in that pond,
I swear to God, he said.
My pinwheel clicked in the wind.
Father lowered me to the red wagon.

The morning sex had smoothed our surfaces to a finished glass.
We showered separately.
There among the boiled potatoes resting in the porcelain milk bowl
sank an orange newspaper bag coiled in the shape of an urn.

Fawn-eyed armadillos' foiled plots lay displayed in motor tracks.
Boiled crayfish spread across the wet cement like a deaf man's voice.
Humidity one hundred percent.
New Orleans. My friend bought an alligator head on sale.
Nothing can stop us.

Two Jewish men play chess under a streetlamp,
the board the washed marble of a maple.
Metal links of bicycle chains madly groove to the tick of their own insomnia.
One says checkmate and instantly the other is back in Berchesgaden.
Two streams converge there, one cataract blue from the Alpine peaks,
the other clear and greenish. They interlock and form the teeth
of a thresher. Checkmate, one says.

You know how it feels to inherit tragedy
sideshow-spawned from the get-go
crying as you scrub a llama.

A Condensed Meditation on Love, 7 Years Running

She works in the moments that break down.
The bone, the gut, the delicate pads of feet that bubble under weight;
the body of a dancer
            a wealth of meditation.
When we talk of our bodies colliding we reach
somewhere beyond inevitability
& get our hands dirty with the muck & grime of Chance,
where patterns leap beyond the billionth digit
& kick
      (just before stage spreads its wings)
         & land
before disappearing.


mythic creature of vapor, piecemeal of old lovers,
the very thing I feared: woman born holy
without a scripture to attest
(let this be your gospel)
the inertly savage composition of raw fire & bled horizons.
This is how love goes, the shadowy underbelly
of the leaf wet with morning
forced up & out over the sidewalks by a breeze
invisible, the entire leaf now exposed
& spun across a shallow pool that reflects its other half
or stirs to mud.

On a Peninsula Bank of the St. Johns River,
Falling In Love, Surrounded by Flying Fish

Music happens. What we
Call the world is the chance
Collision of notes
On the largest blue instrument I've seen.

But when you speak the strings pucker
& snap.
The drums cave in.
A tuba disappears among the reeds.

A new music is born,
A vibration of the touch.
It's enough
To blow the eyelids back and rouse
The grand dictator.

I'll murder adolescents for this Innocence.

Arbor Day, Florida

The palmetto bugs circle the streetlamps
As if masking a misunderstanding.
You and I trade smiles from a distance, walking nearer.
We'd fooled about being Cold War spies,
Settled now for being simple lovers.

Tonight we pace the harbour docks like attendant choir boys
With music in our hair. Early morning will soon gather
Its breath in hiccups of orange as the burning wick
Of traffic perfumes us with its heat. But this will come later,
When the inlet waters arrive in purple pantaloons
And knock-kneed at the shore.

The anglers cast cut mullet from the wharf
Drag the stars on silver lining.
What hope there is tonight, what skies the skies refused
Strolling these damp docksides...

My first Arbor Day night.
Petrograd could never be this drowsy,
Drenched in fog and buffering the low lament
Of tugs troubling some far-off channel.

And how earlier the day had proved eventful, wading
Through the ashes of coconut palm
And pine, each reduced by flames to
Diamond embryos. We scavenged
Through the burned acres near the college
Where the earth had been hollowed out.

Like baldness, the flames sprouted
From a central spot. Two opposing winds
Choreographed its blinding walls, removed entire
Postcard scenes with its dulled red eraser,
Leaving everything pitch black and barking smoke.
Some stumps still burned to the touch.
You spoke of the sun as it paced the afternoon

Like a worried father.
Flowering out of noon ashes, the light
That left us shadowless
Severed torsos ring by ring, with force
Enough to leap the streets and work
New worlds from dry roots. The fire crews
Worked fast. Either side could not give up.
Coil of rope, hoses held at the throats
Like coral snakes.
The stuff that stuff is made of,
Heraclitus once said, retreating
Into its own soiled heat.

Walking the beach this night,
The fog horns braying from my East
Seem far away. Cruise ships
Scrape wedding bands of light from the dark sea.
We walk barefoot near braids
Of sea grapes.
Here's home for a different heat,
Barely a whisper alive between us.

The past lapping against the pylons.

Copyright © Mudlark 2001
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