Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I crawl on knees to shovel with my arms
the maple and oak leaves into bags,
pawing and scraping the black dirt.

The holly tree's berries scintillate
against the dark light of this
autumn day, its green spiky leaves
vibrant and glassy against the dried
yellows and browns of the other leaves.

My son helps shovel them in with the rake.
A crow caws in the distance,
over behind the firehouse. The smell
of the moldering leaves brings back memories
of my grandfather's silo and the sweet
smell of the corn stalks ground up and
fermenting in their own heat. To the cows
it's like candy, he used to say.

The piles of leaves are huge. The oak
tree has only shed half its arbor and still
wears a full head of hair. To Iain, it
looks like we'll never finish. But I know
differently, having learned
the trick of beating monotony from my grandfather
when we hauled bucket after bucket
of wheat and barley to the wooden bins
for winter. The mounds of grain looked infinite.

But time went faster as he recalled
the winter of 1918 and its flu
when he drove the doctor's sleigh through
the countryside. Or the day he drove a new
Ford from Philly and once saw Ruth point
his bat to right field and hit the ball out
on the next pitch. The old man must've wanted
to play baseball
but never said it
outright. He stirred up hornets' nests
and swatted them with a plank, hands red and swollen
from stings.

And I think how strange it is to see
him that way and gauge him against
the man who tried to kill my grandmother
and treated her like a pack mule and drank
and caroused on her.
If I measure reality
by what bad a person did, maybe nothing is real
anymore. Maybe change is all there is,
and the desire to find what never changes unreal.
The man who might've killed
one moment is the same man, but different from him,
who taught a young boy how to cheat
time with memory and stand up to pain.

Or perhaps that's the lie: to think that.

(c) copyright 2012 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.


  1. If I measure reality
    by what bad a person did, maybe nothing is real
    anymore....great line...

    really i am just trying to hide the tears that came in your close...the endearing moment in this poem of measuring what he taught you...and reflecting that back to the beginning with the son...

  2. esp. the last stanza made me hold my breath...love all the deep thoughts and questions..none of them easy to answer...love that you leave them open as i think we all know people like him, full of contradictions like we all are in a way - maybe the gap isn't so wide but still

  3. A friend used to tell me we humans are like onions, as soon as you peel one layer, there's another layer and another etc etc. We never see all the sides of a person do we? Because we behave differently with different people. Another friend said to me that's ridiculous, I'm the same with everyone but, my point was, we behave completely different in front of our family than we do with the people we work with. Barriers and boundaries and such. So, I guess your grand father had many faults as well as good points. Some men do think once a woman marries them she becomes their 'property.' Sad isn't it, but, it does tend to teach us that what we saw and didn't like, we will try to never make those same mistakes again.
    I'm sure you haven't with your own son. I loved the descriptions of the farming, really lovely.

  4. Maybe change is all there is,
    and the desire to find what never changes unreal.

    How many hats does a person wear over a lifetime and how do we square all the things we do wrong--change is inevitable and maybe that is a good thing--

  5. Such expressions. I fall deeper with each read. I too was held in your grasp, touched by your profound thoughts and ponderings. Excellente.

  6. Ah your Grandpa and mine must have been cut from the same cloth, at least they left us with the same questions. So good, and it broke my heart at the same time.

  7. ELOQUENT write!

    We can drive ourselves to insanity by trying to make sense of humans. I prefer mathematics.

  8. Better to be honest to your self and remember the good the best you can as you illustrated through this story.
    http://leah-jamielynn.typepad.com is where my poem is at

  9. WoW. Am speechless...how wonderful a write ...
    and thanks for sharing the memory.
    Love this.
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

  10. The dichotomy of the outer world is nothing compared to that of the inner. There are many lies we tell ourselves, but this poem seems honest in every line, with the full capacity to look and see of an adult, but the unthinking acceptance of a child. We need both, perhaps. Fine writing Charles, very alive language and a real sense of being there as you walk us step by step through your thoughts.

  11. Great piece of storytelling Charles. The build up is fantastic, the concentration on the leaves, one can't help but think of changing colors, one season ending another beginning and that cyclical effect. The different shades clearly shown through your different notions around your grandfather and what a powerful, powerful ending. Fantastic piece. Thanks

  12. this is the BEST of narrative poetry to me!! You bring me as reader right in the heart of the matter...change, unreality, change....what is the line of life, and how much we are affected by it!

    This evokes so much with my own father: this duality, nothing that we can hang our hats on as children, but see the complexity as we are adults...and we are the same...this slippery complexity.

    A marvelous poem, that will haunt me this morning as I weigh its message in my own life.

    Marvelous work, here Chaz.

    Lady Nyo

  13. Chazzy...this is my favorite of your works, so far...can you do any better than this wonderful write? Yes, we are many splendored things, aren't we...and you see that beautifully, touchingly in your grandfather..a bastard at times, but he taught you well to stand up to pain and other thngs. There are some wonderful lines here, but others have already quoted them. I LOVE THIS POEM!!!

  14. A beautiful write, filled with glorious vivid imagery, and theme's with depth and substance.

    Just a great write here.

  15. This is really lovely, Charles, and very thought-provoking. You bring us in and out of the moment - your exterior and interior moment--so many vivid details past and present. Just lovely. k.

  16. Beautiful write, Charles...so difficult to see those we love in an honest light of good and bad...great lines.."If I measure reality
    by what bad a person did, maybe nothing is real
    anymore. Maybe change is all there is,
    and the desire to find what never changes unreal."-great!!!!

  17. Came back to see what you were up to, Charles. Still think this is an amazing poem. (I have to post more frequently, because much more superficial!). k.

  18. Hi Charles! Stopping by again, and still thinking this is an amazing poem! I hope you are having a wonderful trip - I think you are still on it. I would love to go to Scandinavia! k.

  19. This one really hits home. It's true, I'm sure, that the desire to find the unchanging is unreal. Nothing lasts or succeeds for ever. Life is flux. The cliches go on for ever, bu your poem is not cliche. It tells it as it is, and to quote from it, tells it "vibrant and glassy". A briloliant, ultimately sad, but triumphantly true work of art.

  20. There is a powerful sense of searching for/and discovering/meaning going on here. With this much honesty one can't deny having been touched.

  21. This is absolutely superb to read. You know, I think that some people hold so much pain inside along with their wisdom that it can turn to anger in a heartbeat ... like the grandfather in this poetry - who had perhaps been through too much to bear himself. It's so emotive.