4th Annual Terrain.org Poetry Contest Finalist

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

November

In the red truck just ahead, a boy’s arms hinge
from his rolled down window. His milky limbs

sever our air like a pocketknife. He flashes symbols
with his fingers, a language I can’t make out.

Earlier this morning I stood at the border
between Appalachia’s winter and spring,

tree buds marched east to west,
a deciduous army pulling mountains together,

measuring the sun’s reach underground:
longing on one side, hope on the other.

I wanted to
hold the world together that way.

My family cat once presented us with a chipmunk,
black and white racing stripes on its back.

He dropped it at my father’s feet as if to say I did this.
I was killing bees with a birch broom then,

slapping them from zinnias to cement, then
stabbing them to paste, while my father played

war on the base’s training ground.
Death teaches us how to love

because we stand in the shadow of longing, a long
cloud around the planet.

The boy arches his arms with a bee tongue’s precision,
catches my eye. I grip the wheel.

With a smirk, he lowers his rifle,
shoots me dead in the face.

 

 

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

Biscuit

Bury me under the thick malaise
of slick leaves, the unraked heaps of heavy glut
like sticky rice on street curbs.

I want to become putrid with each maple leaf, fusing
into a heap of decay. I’ve grown weary of puffy coats
and vomit-toned hoodies, and humans chewing

in synchronized jaw clicks everything they can get
their hands on. Our jaw sockets are limp rockets,
sweet glands of wisdom tooth misery, gristled conversation.

I want to say nothing
and have you hear me in your heart, I want
your stomach to swell from me, your genitals to shift.

I want to gather around a fire, stretch our bodies over each other,
arm on thigh on belly on back, I want to tear our flesh
from bones, gnash it between my molars, my dears,

swallow the saliva soaked marrow down my throat
like a wish bone, like a flashlight, a phoenix, a saturated
fairy tale with rich red apples. I want to eat their poison,

sleep well in a box of wood: show is at 8 pm,
the grand opening of my annual solo exhibition.
Throw away the empty cup, I am ill with an unknowing.

Am I an androgynous pin cushion or
an atomic galaxy of light? An animal with a good ear,
or the soup of star stuff?

Have I lit up your sky tonight with my November poem?
I spent my whole biscuit on this
not touching anyone.

 

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

Ligature

Hips are parentheses
framing clocks

moving earth’s speed

unrelenting balance of
mineral, vegetable, animal
consciousness

I smooth the wet hairs on my leg
like prayer
as if all my love attended this moment
of order

each hair an animal song
a grunt, a howl

each root a sort of ligature
fusing the life I know and the one

behind me, wound time

before the body knew
what it wanted & how to be

 

 

 


Download poem audio in .mp3 format.

Desert Autopsy (2012)

The harbor pulls in, pulls its sheet tight, pulling
                 the ground under.

Wintering conifers lean over the banks examining
                 barnacle-pendant, seaweed-swimsuit.

I, too, bend my body in the lean
for wild. To walk away from the sea
is to be naked at wartime,
                 a gazing body.

I remember the wrecked season, white bone
of drought, fire opening its giant jaws in the west,
gypsy moths spinning cocoons of sorrow.

On the last day of the year, pinyons and junipers are dying.
Fences in Los Alamos still breathe fire.

What is the effect of drought?
        ask the government buildings
        drawing blueprints to save the world,

while a pinyon tree simmers in its bark behind a plexi tower.
It shrivels, starves, lets its branches down.

I can’t climb this picture, but can you imagine it?
You’ve seen the pinyon grow, twisting like wet laundry
devoted to the wind sculpting mesa and valley.

I’ve heard the trees roam at night, calling with their voices.
        What was it, the solemn whisper,
        what calling rubbed the wind, combed the wintering
pencils of grass, laid bare the open spaces. And then I knew

it wasn’t for me, not me on the wind, not for me
were the long shadows, invisible xylem of veins,
not mine the forged silver, fortune of stars.

Army, the poets have arrived, call your horses, call
the cavalry. Lick your feathers, stick them to the dying.

We stand here in the hollowed tree,
language unfolding like children.

 

 

 

JM Miller’s poetry explores the environmental imagination and its relationship to activism. They teach poetry and environmental writing at the University of Washington Tacoma. Their work can be found in Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics, Tupelo Press 30/30 online, and Cimarron Review, and they are founder and editor of the forthcoming online space, Ground Swell Anthologies.

Photo credit: Chad Horwedel via photopin cc

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