Wednesday 5 November 2014

2 Poems by John N. Miller


Behind our name-tags, under
mounded flesh, wrinkles, gray
and thinning hair, we recognize
each other as returning exiles
from our teen-age, high-school past.
Forget the married names, the painfully
long intervening histories
that we’ve incurred—no one wants to hear
more than the readily exchanged few facts
that fix us here, not elsewhere as mere ghosts
evoked by passing memories.

We’re back now, that’s enough—back leafing through
the archives of our minds and hearts,
matching ourselves with memorable dates
and dates we tried but failed to get.

As hoped and fear, I meet my long-term failure,
lovely, fresh, poised as ever, greeting me
as if we were old friends brought back in touch—
words, hands, and lips—after miles and years
of separation.

Do I still have a tight knot in my heart
I wish to loosen?
Some events take half a lifetime
to lose their influence and hurt.
She’s a sixty three year-old
thrice-married grandmother, I learn,
who, smiling, knows
how passé my gallantries are now.


Fog has rolled in over the beach,
thick, blanketing our sleeping bags
at some unknown hour.
cold clamminess, invisibility—
still half-asleep, half-freed from time
in everlasting now, we have become
ghosts of ourselves
in our numbness to each other’s touch,
our voices stillborn
                                     smothered in the pea soup
with our grey near-presence.

We were alive to one another,
warmed by a campfire, eyes glowing,
faces ruddied by its blaze,
the only light along a far west coastline’s
stretch of vacancy.
                                   Near dusk
we’d pulled off the road to spend the night here
in the open, lulled by the waves’
recurring slosh and slow seethe
of withdrawal on the sand.

(The fog …. The fog.)

Fully awake sometime before dawn
   we return to ourselves, bodied
          in our shivering.
Zipping open our drenched mummy bags,
     groping for contact, love,
breast to breast to generate heat
    through our flesh
                                     we feel
two organs thumping, beating out
against the muffling fog, and hear
a sea lion, unseen, bark nearby

over the recurrent slosh
and seethe of the waves’ withdrawal
back into their source.


Though born in Ohio (1933), John N. Miller grew up in Hawai’i (1937-1951), worked under Yvor Winters at Stanford, where he received a Ph.D., and retired in 1997 from teaching literature and writing at Denison University (Granville, OH).  He now lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, VA.

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