Friday, September 30, 2011


For Matt H.

Near moon mountain and sun mountain, the Greek
style emerged from adobe and white heat
of the noon sun. Socratic irony
swam among the lilies in the small pond.
At night, when we weren't drunk, Matt,
we explored Plato's cave where poets live.
High on acid, colored arabesques wormed
in the ceiling as we wrote riddles.

You were brilliant. A mind as fine as Euclid's
proofs. Your poems like a morning campfire
compared to my borrowed insanity from Artaud.
I hear the splash of the otter
as you dive and veer into the current. Later,
you told me about the rape by knife in the snow.

I worked with a woman from Montana
and strangely heard your name in her voice.
Fate brought her to tell me how you fought
for Nature's cause until
cancer sucked your bones dry.

I think of you as though I'd seen a ghost,
living on the edge of self-deceit, in the capital
of the new empire, of you and snow
and how we betray time and love and ourselves.

I'd dive into time to see you again.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sign of Offense

Someone's placed
a black cross in the white P
of the Au Bon Pain cafe sign:
thin lines of paint or tar.
The crowds
don't see it,
rushing to and from
the subway.
On their impatient faces
memory's an infinite series
of entries
in a schedule book
that's always
just half full.

Profane Eucharist,
stamp of faith,
maybe those who follow
the crucified convict
etched it there:
The man on Fifth Avenue
who speaks on "the plight
of the black man,"
or "the touch
of a woman that will tempt you
the wrong way."
Or the Jamaican woman
gulping angrily
as she speaks in the Spirit
to the teeth of the crowd.

I've known what brings them
to the circus to face
the wolves. The apocalyptic
stench in the air
taunts uneasy
fingers strumming money's guitar.
Sin rides the backs
of thousand dollar suits,
IPOs, stock options.

The sign of offense
traces God's silence
in the tunnels and invokes the fear
of unendurable pain.
The walls split
in sorrow
like an abscess breaking
over our chests.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All Rights reserved.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Notes for a Book of the Dead

I heard the dead whine like a bobcat in the pasture field.
Like a baby crouching in the grass near the springhouse
when the harvest weighs heavy on the stalk
and dew soaks your shoes.

Grandfather strode like an initiate of an earth goddess
down the country road with a wet-born calf in his arms.
Grandmother cut dawn's darkness with her flashlight
The air charged with magic and primordial calm.
The valley alive with mystery time alone can breed.
Binding together wheat stalk and hay bale
and mocking the hours like a catbird on the limb.

The dead disappear and are seen no more.
Their work rusts in the yard and their gardens decay.
Their eyes do not pierce the neon lights from the other side.
Their statues sweat no blood.
What they said is lost (no less what it meant).
A black car drove up and took them off.
They walked the trail of tears and bore the pain.
They died without name and address.
Some loved. Others hated and despised.
(Better dead and not remembered again)
No one to find them in their city lost to time.

The unspeakable crimes unsaid and unavenged.
There are no sacred words to open death's doors.
The dead seek rest and remembrance
on the tongues and in the souls
of the sick and diseased and hound their dreams.

Along the fragile mud banks
wailing boy and pouting girl
follow bloody spoor and echoing, hungry cry
from sheepfold to grave,
where the young god lies entombed.
Rice bowls are empty in temple gardens
as the vulture soars in ritual helix down the sky.
In drought time at the festival of light,
king and bride join in sanctuary bed.

The people huddle at the dry river banks
and pray for flood tide, life-quest and rebirth.
In the land between two rivers,
death gives birth to wisdom.
The dead embark from valley steps
to the land of the sun,
and the true measure of life
is not how many men you killed or slaves
to serve you in the next world
but whether you hurt anyone or not.

The stations of the modern underworld bear sounds
like Treblinka, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen.
The hieroglyphics of the book of our dead,
starkly naked, brutal depicting our nothingness.
The animal unveiled beneath pince-nez.
The angel slashed, burned, gouged, gassed, and shot.
A thin hand raises a cigarette to parched lips.
Toothless mouths gum green bread from the pit pigs swill in.
Lurid pictures obscene in their cruelty,
no mystery. The human husk ripped open without shame.
Spread-eagled legs bent back. Throat crushed.
The raped soul shot nude for postcards
the possessed will buy.

In my prayer to compassion's God,
to what high place should I climb
for those who died forgotten by us?
The past just a trick of words and memory.
Cut wounds deep in flesh.
Bury the tokens under moss and roots,
and ask forgiveness for not being there
in the terror that should be shared.

Where the walls are scrubbed clean
and bone shoveled into the common urn,
light a candle for the dead
where they watch from crumbling photographs.
And do not forget the winter night
that splintered like crystal on the streets
when the radio called them into the open maw
of factory gate and shower and bitter flame.

Time cannot fill the vacuum they left.
The dead need remembrance in rites
that strip bare the soul and throw it
to the ground in tongues they speak to us.
A language that solves all riddles and crimes.
That unmasks the sham and lie of the daily routine,
and leads truth seekers to open the graves
that schoolbooks do not write about.
For those who drank at the pit's lip
and sank into mass graves,
whose naked bodies the pictures show,
flesh melting into flesh in a dirt hole.

I ask to be like those who came out of it
and see now beyond death's frontiers.
Who saw new life root in ruins.
Whose breath once choked on hope.
Who put a knife to the camp guard's throat
but let him go when wrath
and suffering became a vision of dignity
uninvoked by gore on human hands.

And who, when ecstatic cry fills the room,
open the door at night to the tomb
and bring bright linen shrouds
to those who died cold, unclothed, and unjustly.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fly

It's a slow October day with sun
when the fly seeks heat in a fat man's neck,
as he smokes a cigarette with friends.
He swats the fly with disgust and chagrin
and surveys me with modest suspicion.
A cabbie swears in Swahili at us all,
unrelated to the fly that tacks
in a tired arc only to fail and fall
to the street into a concrete crack,
where its tortured gyration outflanks
the chance leather sole from the crowd
that might crush its last escape
and lumbering take-off free of us,
Third Avenue, glass, steel, and chaos.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Egyptian Exhibit, Metropolitan
 Museum of Art, 1999

1. The living
The women in slender jeans,
men with cellulars hanging from belts,
seek mystery in distant objects from life
alien as Mars, as close as sweetness on the finger.
Drawn in to sensuality by delight of form and stone
and incomprehensible paint. I think they see
what they want to see.
Their thoughts as two-dimensional as the glyphs they cannot read.
Entranced by the freedom to see their lives somehow different
and shaped by time. Vaguely stunned
by how much work time destroys.
Perhaps reflecting that sense of deadness
they fight in their jobs and lives.
Dreaming themselves into an age,
they are torn by desire's thrust and joy's release into the wet
urn of night, taking in
the fullness of the dream, thinking it oneness.
The inevitable loss
and separation from it. And still
going on. Seeking shelter, warmth,
the stability of things to pull strength from loss,
to die with a sweet taste in the mouth, not bitterness.
And that lasting image that a family album will not
capture nor video record.

2. The dead
Heads and bodies awe-filled, agog, worshipping things as they are.
Prayerful in one desire: to people worlds
with juice that engorges, for blood and sperm brought to bud and bloom,
for the herb that raises from death to life.
Cities of death
built to operate in a world beyond shadow.
Monumental design, and dream beyond change or decay.
Ultimate and irrevocable longing, with each command obeyed and
each demand fulfilled to satiety. (My horror is imagining
someone's desire shaping a world so absolutely.
Without remorse or regret,
without being broken by death.)

Beauty born along the banks of famine and extinction.
Soul and sensuous arch of the human shape. Lovely upward turn
and quivering muscle in a smile. Broadness and outline
of shoulder blades
evince the craftsman's care and subtlety.
Captures our eye's delight,
while the craft cheats the careless observer
with a simplicity that evokes unconditional response,
the surrender to form and its emptiness.
Leg pushed forward and disengaged from stone.
Hand raised in strength.
Glance measuring millennia.
Gestures austere and true as trust.
That block of gneiss or alabaster from which they emerge.
Transition from muteness to speech
or nothingness to being? Or rather
a mute testament
to the invisible membrane separating us from
our desire for immortality?

This beauty is hard and firm as stone and the mystery
of wheat fields and mountain deserts where life will not end.
And I think of spending a lifetime
immersed in the holiness and trembling duty of my work
chiseling stone to ensure that a man who is not a man,
a god, will thrive in the next world.

Nile waters boiled with crocodiles, dead bodies, panic,
and the year's harvest
when the tables were dense with food. Goddesses
with liquid hands filled the elegant dish.
Phallus and vagina,
breast with life-giving milk,
empire of the hunter,
the handsome,
the fruitful pharaoh,
he whose word
moored the sky and brought order
to chaos. Brother creator.

He was the taste of food to the starved
tongue. He took away gnawing hunger and fear of bony bodies
in the wilderness. He broke
the lion's jaw and ran down the antelope.
There is terror in what we do not see. Elusive
beneath the victor's beauty
and pride. His visceral disgust
for the conquered who eat dust and grovel before the knife
unleashes their blood and soul into the bowls. Broken
arms and hands roped behind.
Their forms on each side
of the funeral gate attest
to his cruelty and merciless spirit.
As do faces staring from the base of stone door
jambs on which the empire hinged.

Words in limestone concretize the dream and quell
nightmares. Murder demons
and disease. They compose the magic body and lead it
through the maze of that parallel world to time.
Word as sustenance. Food to soul
like water to wheat,
fodder to cattle.
Cataloger of balms, linen,
and eyeliner, they testify
to the offeror's sincerity.
Even pharaoh wants to scratch
an open papyrus scroll in his lap.
His eyes open to the unseen. Gateway
to that world of
embalming thought.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


based on the movie

Like always, I reached the meadow
through a process of seemingly random
twists and turns. Picked up
its trail past the dead pools
of floating fish and the open pits of sulphur
and acid where the boys fell
through one summer
and burned alive for months.
We hid from the police in empty warehouses.
We slipped past the guard at the electrified gates.
At the meadow, I threw a nut
tied to a piece of white linen
in whatever direction
and went in search of it. In this way,
we finally reached its underbelly.

As we approached the fractured walls
and empty decaying rooms,
the water-stained frescoes
and moss covered rocks next to streams of debris,
I felt like one of the birds
with a name that no one knows anymore
but that sings passionately
in the trees. Or a flower that buds,
but whose petals and colors are lost to recollection
since the gates went up.
I felt like a man in whose throat
the dead want to whine.

I brought the professor and the writer
to the place because
they asked, and because the place has laid
this burden on me. I must show all seekers
that it exists or it will take away what it has given.
And I must give all who ask what it gives me.
Nothing more and nothing less.
They expected monsters
or angels to jump from the walls.
But it never happens that way.
So they called me an idiot and hit me.
The professor with his geiger counter.
The writer with his bored drunken leer.
What could I say? It hides like a scared rabbit
at the drop of a pin. It sighs
like a broken door hinge,
or a mother in the lap
of a deformed child.

I know as much as they do.
But that I found it, they think,
means I know something that will shrivel
their suspicion, or their questions.
But I don't. It has taught me that.
Dare I tell them that it's a book
that's never been written except
for those who want to read it and die?
Some say it fell from the sky.
Or that it's a government experiment
gone wrong. They're lies and stories.
It's a place to drag your corpse
from the grave and enter its doors.
If I was strong I'd stay away and not come back.
But once I learned the way,
once the smell and its secret got in my nerves,
I wanted it like a woman's body
whose creamy thighs and fiery eyes
hack men's knees out from under them.
I'm nuts to lose my life
for an allure that stalks my skin like a lecher
or the thrill of death.

I hear its voice
in my head. But when I turn to see who's there
it's a sign
swinging in the neon
light. Nothing but me
and the woman waiting for the knock
of the police. Her eyes search me like I'm a fool.
She holds me like a child.
She cries when I'm not here.
The cops'll come anytime.
Like a rat caught in a sewer maze
I got no hope or escape. Nowhere
to run to that they don't have mapped.
They'll look at the rap sheet
and throw away the key.
Repeat offender. Three-time loser.
Threat to the general welfare
of the whole. Degenerate purveyor
of unholy and unhealthy pleasures.

Five years
in the LAG will break
me this time.
Maybe the Psy police let me through
on purpose this time. To watch me die
in the LAG longing for the memory.
Maybe I'll lose my mind, go online and tell everyone
what a fool I was,
that it's just a farce.
I can't tell what drives me to it.
Desire to know. To possess. To coddle
in my arms like my daughter or wife.
It grows inside me like a tumor.
This love whose tenderness
will crush me with the weight
of the others' hate. I found it once.
I can go back anytime I want.
But not for many years.
And maybe only after I die
from not seeing it again.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Pain of Water

for Bernice Eisenhardt Miller

A dismantled pier. Green pylons cut down
to the nub. The estuary that supports it
with boulders, rocks, and concrete slabs caked
with algae and encased
in barnacles, clams, and living
snails I try to unstick to see if they're alive.
The sound of viscous suction stops me,
suddenly afraid if I pull too hard I'll kill it.
Wedged between two rocks are brittle, gray
remnants of a large snail.
At low tide in the afternoon on the Sound,
rocks recently underwater jut from lapping waves.
On the more exposed perches gulls stand sentry.
Gulls and crows battle for crabs, dead stingrays,
and the clams that the gulls dig from between stones.
They fly above and drop them on the sand and pebbles below,
then circle back to pry open and jimmy meat from inside.
At times one of the birds opens its beak to the wind
and screeches.

I think about those cries
my grandmother whimpered washing dishes.
Plaintive, infinitely fragile, muffled,
years-long sobs for her dead granddaughter, my sister.
And I don't know what primeval humor the water emitted
to draw forth that agony when so much
other pain had left her stoic, inured
to the laceration and sting
of farm life, hard life, life. A cry
even having her femaleness
carved out to save her from cancer did not disclose.
Nor the dirt cold brutality of my grandfather.
Tears did not rain from the distress of my father's schizophrenia.
Only with hands in water, washing
the night's dishes, did grief wet her throat.
She lived like she believed; hard work and sweat made
a life somewhere else possible. She used a ringer
and washboard to do the clothes, even when there was money
to buy an automatic washer. Her wash hung
like lightning on the metal line strung
near the spring house, each piece softer
when she scrubbed it by hand.
In their marriage photograph she stands strong,
tough, hard, with little emotion showing.
This was nervousness before the camera. Dressed in
her mail order coat and hat, with pocketbook, she stands
next to him, maybe hours after the ceremony. It's winter.
Fur on her collar. There's
solemnity even there, a simple desire to do her duty, have children, work, and prove
her faith in the man beside her, after starting so late.
For she was not pretty and the man liked pretty women.
Determination, also, willful and brave, to touch
the world and make it grow, even out of
death, the way she did with plants and in her garden.
At the shore, a swan sails with a wing to the shoreline breeze
and I follow it eastward. There,
near the sunken meadow and marsh pond,
a bevy of swans float like saints,
elegant necks snaking into the water and snagging
bits of seaweed and kelp.
Ducks dive for fish.
Next to the stream,
someone has sculpted sea trash,
rusty wire coiling, plastic bottles, styrofoam
buoys, old pipes, dried stingray shells, crabs,
rocks, pebbles, and vegetation into a shrine.

The Hasidic masters picture God as a washer woman
with soapy hands and grainy washboard.
On the last day, she rubs stains from the cloth
the soul is. If there is heaven, it exists to reward
those like my grandmother. For those who never cry for themselves,
but for those innocents cut down early,
and without reason.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Passive Aggressive

In a pale blue sky, the moon's a hook
for the ships of memory to moor to.
On this beach, Myrmidons drive Mercedes.
The anger is passive aggressive,
expiating vain resentments
in varicose truths whose only promise is death
by neglect, neglect by apathy,
apathy by email link.

in the plane trees birds hunker down
for storm. lightning frightens my chihuahua,
though he ventures onto the porch
during a lull, drawn to the thing he fears most
like an actress in a grind house movie,
doomed well before she dies. And we watch,
fascinated by the mechanics of extinction.

I'd axe blood's root and
rip the needle of life from my veins.
But I've trained the armor of self
too long on the kill zone in the brain,
decimating days with a careless look,
decimating cities with secret glee
just to see their dead flicker
from the tv screen. The zombies
of our paranoia populate worlds.

My Helen sleeps in her tower, watching
dreams of demon lovers. Their passion
for order and calm stokes her desire.
She wants to be seen on both sides
of the door, inside and out, a page of music
slowly torn in a cavern of dream,
never seen. The silent foot falls
in the room filled with lost needs.
Silence begs release.

Fireflies bejewel the oaks near the spring
whose waters liquefy the night. Anonymous
along the suburban road, its grove of stone
bench, shaded pool, and Spring house
evoke the numina that have no name.
I knew a man in a desert town
who swore by water and the ditch
whose veins fed mountain gardens
and apple orchards. His lore
of sunflowers, commune fires and a
rider on a white horse ignited
the daily apocalypse.

An endless loop of words speaks in tongues
in the vacant lot. The voices trace
the grammar of rage. Dreams betrayed,
hearts torn live from their nest and burned,
the horror of their atrocities an unbidden
guest at the altars of remorse.
Confession will come. It will come.
With the cruel logic of karma, sin
and guilt define new skin, new blood.
Embrace the fire that refines what once
arose from ash born to return to ash.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


You never baled hay after the rain; you never baled
until the grass was dry as dust, raked over from
the bottom up and turned a light green from the
darkness it had drunk from the black soil
he'd fertilized the winter before with manure.
You never baled it wet because in the moww,
under thousands of bales, that wet grass
heated up and caught fire over time. A hot bale
they called it.

In the heat your body caked with chaff;
It was so bad you blew black snot into a hanky,
and the water you poured down yourself from the pewter
or plastic wash basins she set out an hour ago
was black, too. In the shade it didn't matter.
You'd lie there to catch a wink before she put up the meal.
Coolness and water soaking in deep after heat.

We stacked the bales in criss-cross rows, using their weight
and roughness as friction to pack them together. The wagons
had no sides, just four by fours nailed with two wood planks
at top and bottom in the back. The whole load rested against this
and rode on itself, self contained. (When I began
to write poetry, I imagined poems made like that.)

Dad tried to get a week or two off from the factory to bale.
But if it rained that week, he baled after a single or double
shift, sometimes a night shift. I don't blame him
for dreaming of the day when I'd load and unload
the wagons myself, even with his surly self-hate
and lack of emotions resembling love.

The moww was under a tin roof. As you stacked the bales
higher, the air grew scarce and hotter. Later on, I
recited Pound and wrote poems in my head all day
under that heat and sweat, like a Zen koan to
disembody myself from the drudgery and boredom--
compared to the fires of Blake and luminous Provence.
My father hated my addiction to words. If only
from envy, or maybe just because it had no use.
But my love of riddles came in handy once.
The baler broke a link in the chain that ran the crusher.
The chain in his hands, he tried to piece it together
again, but the links did not fit right. He snidely asked me;
I didn't see it either. We lost a day waiting for the mechanic.
That night I dreamed how the pieces fit.

When I told them I'd seen it that way, they laughed.
And when I showed them, they did not know what to say.
We just went back to work, tucked it away as one of those things.
I used to sing songs to the sound of the tractor and baler.
How strange to think of these things. The rain
on the roof has its music, too: the music of the past
and a life that no one will ever live again. Those times come
together as pieces in a dream, but the links
are jumbled, and I don't believe I'll ever put it together again.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


The firefly city lies under the pond
where the plastic owl stands vigil,
the fountain of stream-worn pebbles
and cement dry since the builder died.
The children follow the lights to find the streets
of that city where the water is pure
and the fireflies become fairies.
White hitapa blossoms sail onto the deck
where we sit, their bird-like bodies
streaked inside with purple painted veins
and a tangerine brush stroke. The red sun sinks
in the humid air. The neighbor
with a steel plate in his skull tells us about the girl
down the street disintegrated by a power line.
"Terrible," I say, living the horror.
He watched men be burned alive in war.
In Singapore, men sold
their wives or daughters for a handful
of food or coins. At the back
of a restaurant, he watched groups
of them fight over garbage
from the meals inside.
His eyes widen as we share a common
vision of the end of children
by electricity or men by flame
thrower. Features tighten, the bad
leg aches more, joints harden.
I pull my daughter close and kiss her hair.
There's pain and agony we'll never know,
cries in the back alleys we'll never hear.
I think it's only the voice in the wind
that hears the cries of the dispossessed.
When it's over, he asks "What's new."
Nothing, I say. Nothing
is new on this night when fireflies
elude children's grasps, and they
only half-believe my stories of fairies,
the city beneath the pond, and wolf
spiders on the window sill.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wilderness Sought

Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure. ~ Rumi

In this city where pain and pleasure
mingle like lion and lamb, find the soul's
wilderness in willing the One. For anger
rises to confront the just and the unjust,
the mournful and the bacchante, and peace
rides the wind along the blade of a knife.

Pray in the wilderness for a design
to paint itself on a shallow cave's wall.
Animate embers with wish and want,
and stir hot ash with doubt and regret.

I broke into many pieces once, then
reformed the bits into picture puzzles
whose geography I mapped
like an explorer gone mad.
You only seek what you've lost.
Hold on to nothing, there's nothing to find.

If I seek silence in the light
that knows my secret, what love
might test and break me
and carve my ruin
in words that won't betray joy?

Treasure awaits those who can forgive.

copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.