One Poem by Kevin Miller

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Response to Casey Fuller’s Essay “Ending the Poems”

Was Wonder Less Accessible?

The forsythia in fog is cousin to one in sun,
cousins from an angle turn twin, an echo.
Sounds change in fog, and yellow is one
of the colors the dog sees, an old dog
returns to familiar haunts, circles,
settles in a way that is not surrender,
what rain says to the short show
of blossom is enough promise for now.

Less and Less?

In the wooden wine box where no wine lives
stacked postcards record small excursions.
The wonder of mail travel bears the shadow
of closed metal boxes, leather bags, & weather.
On a good day the carrier might stop, sit on a step,
sip water, and read lines exchanged cross-country.
Who continues to volley these short tosses, why?

Did I try?

Every day I face the keys with one notion—
I have the inside shot at most improved.
I tell my grandson two things: Five years
from now this will mean nothing, and
No one can make you quit. 

Did People Stop Reading?

When wild forsythia appeared
through the laurel, I remembered
banks of votives the Polish woman
set alight each morning before Mass. 
She mouthed prayers through missing
teeth, flecks of spit and the odd syllable
appeared as we watched in wonder.
She wore a scarf knotted beneath her chin,
wrapped her thick fingers in a rosary.
Once a boy played in church, she grabbed
his ear, lifted him to his feet and moved
him to her pew. When people stop reading,
she will not have been.

Was the page purer white somehow?

You made white the loss of blood
in the face of the boy watching
Benny Kid Parret fall to canvas.
Fights on the box stay in black
and white, and fathers’ stories
line like pulp fiction for boys
eager to know, when white
made the background square
for the Lucky Strike red heart,
and smoke clouds delivered
the spoken word, the dragons
in our lives were all about fire. 

Did I repeat: I can no longer-I can no longer?

Craig McNeely had mediocre speed,
a decent curve, and a dry-ice will to win.
At bat, he crowded the plate, fouled
off as many pitches as he could until he
topped a slow ground ball—unless there
were men on base. With men on, his chop
followed a step back in order to strike leather
the certainty of interference his money stroke.
Sometimes the way through is around. 

Did I feel lost?

My friend who carried the mail
in the Republic of Portland
mapped a city in faces, screen doors
filtered lives in excessive heat.
He had a heart for the feral cat,
a stolen bike, a postcard in need
of a good reading. When I lose
my sense of direction, his shoe-miles
make the circuit on hot pavement,
a bottle of water means something,
the woman behind the curtain
knows he will find her home.

Could I still hear the honey
the clouds parting
at the start of a first line?

To trick myself into forgetting
one hundred failures, I start
with what is, say this robin
in the birdbath, say bare
fir bows, say the mold on the gate
leading to the green belt.
Recognize: no bees, no honey.
Wait for buses, wait for the bell,
wait for the question I cannot
answer to make the first line.

Because I could no longer
hand-stitch my journals.

I first saw a thimble playing
Monopoly, later on the flat
top of my grandmother’s
foot treadle machine days
when sewing was clothes
not book binding. Needles
& the eye were the rich
getting theirs. The suture’s
scar keeps in mind the hand-
stitched tie of work to work.                       

Did the time seem ready for long
thoughts, deliberation, prose?

On this side of the grass
lines lean the same way—
end stop or meandering
run on verbs, the sound
and flurry of provisions
kept dry and close, secret
systems for collating broken
promises close to wishes held
after the last candle refuses
to smoke.

Could I see—suddenly—that much of my
life had been a pulling away to write poems?

The road to the Folsum lighthouse
is an asphalt run under the canopy
of deciduous trees. I return
to the small tower, the black fenders
of my bike rattle, the bag of small
potatoes purchased with pocket kroner
remind me this is not the last stop.
Twenty-six years later, I write the scene
that plays in my head. At the shore
near the point, I face the ocean
at the end of my world, the Kattegat,
sea reaches toward the dead,
the nether place of grandparents,
parents, uncles, and lost friends.
Away smells of salt and dried seaweed.
It is a misaddressed postcard,
Bartleby’s dead letter office,
a one-man game of catch.

Was the beautiful interplay,
that mesh, essentially over?

“It aint over till it’s over,” said the great
number eight, Roy Orbison took a poke
at it too, the fat lady comes to mind, still,
when my friend’s wife found a lover
at the community theater, well,
sometimes it is, we have to walk away.
For years I worked to end things clean-
hammer-stroke, drive to finish.
It was obsession, a person who must have
the final word, until someone showed me
an open door, a line with no bullet hole
no Katie bar the door, end line and cloud



Kevin MillerKevin Miller lives in Tacoma, Washington. Pleasure Boat Studio published his third collection Home & Away: The Old Town Poems. Miller taught school for 40 years. He drives the Progeny Shuttle from Old Town, Tacoma.
Read poetry by Kevin Miller previously appearing in Terrain.org: “Smoke and Miracles,” a poem in four parts and four poems, and read Kevin Miller’s Letter to America.

Header photo by NSC Photography, courtesy Shutterstock.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.