James Miller is a native of Houston, Texas. Recent publications include Cold Mountain Review, The Maine Review, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Main Street Rag, Verdad and Juked. Upcoming publications include 2 Bridges, The Write Launch, Menacing Hedge, Thin Air, The Shore, Plainsongs and The Atlanta Review.
Having newly married, though
late in life, we drive for two days
to New Mexico, slept what once
we called dreamless. Next morning,
we visited the Tent Rocks just north
of Santa Fe, ancient pumice deposits
carved tower-wise by millennia of heave,
flood, August rain. Two women
half our age had just finished
their hike, glowed with sweat
out of California. One glanced
at our shoes, frowned. You should
be wearing boots for the trail.
The way is narrow, good treads
will carry you over. We made
excuses and passed between dry
slot canyon walls, pale rust
welts framing sliced sky.
An hour later, we stood beside
a thumb of stone, perched above
the valley’s scrub slope to mountains
on the horizon. Behind us, an absent
hand had carved out a hollow deep
enough to shelter two, or three
travelers. The lower lip rested
just about twice our height—
to climb up, you would need
a rope ladder, or strong arms
of a friend already home.
It seemed that this place
would tell us something needful,
if we could rest a while in that
patient palm, stand sentry over
the decline, so that we would know
early when visited approached,
specks threading between clumps
of plume and sage, hands not yet
raised in greeting, or to question
our right to wait for them, caved
and shadowed from rippled heat.
Later, when we had taken our photos
and left, the gloaming would bring
down a coolness sweet to grey hares
in the valley, who would stir
and listen for footstep, poorwills’
rustle, swoop of hawk, sudden
clawscrape that hopes to carry
away dust and meat for helpless
At Meeting we met to discuss the state of our
selves, fearing to say souls, shivered with queries
abstract and unsatisfying as wheat-sheaf cereals
sopped in crisp milk, and we were asked in fellowship
to remember times of waiting or struggle, but winter
sat squat outside and windows stared blearing onto
the crunching sidewalks and every few minutes
bundled singles trudged home after a late Sunday
breakfast at the local local, so I told of my visit
last year to Oakland where I wandered, watched
a greyblack bird bathing in a shallow fountain
askirt the Jack London park, and supposedly
his house (or a replica of same) squatted nearby,
but I understood that the bird was trying to come
clean, to wash out mites and bits of our human skin
that dried his feathers to brush, to brushfire we would
burn quick and bright if we wished, if our wishes
came true for once, and my discussion partner
saw the bird’s cleanliness, held it in both hands
like an acceptance letter, the very one he hoped
to hold in May when the doctorate came and he must
leave Chicago forever to converse with pulsars
at the Very Large Array, where suns shrivel
to the size and consistency of currants, swimming
in the broth of the last tagine we (he) would ever need,
spent engines whose self-betrayal teaches those who can
take it down: weight is all, all we know, all there is.
In 5th grade we were forced
to play softball. In those days I didn’t know
about my blind spot. Assumed
along with both teams I was a damn fool
who couldn’t get that ball in the air
where it belonged. Outfield for me, way and way
out, on the edge of the galaxy where
a wire-mesh fence held back an ominous ivied
hedge, though there were modest gates
along that line—each without a lock, through which
one could pass, crossing into back
yards without dogs or toolsheds. Every day,
Paul and I crept closer to the gate
that swung into his home green, until one
Thursday we crossed over and collapsed
on his living room floor to play Atari Asteroids
and Pitfall. We talked about never going
back. We agreed that this interlude was more real
than measles. As we locked up the house
to slink again onto our defense positions, I tried
to fix in my mind Paul flipping through
his box of games, looking for the oldest one,
the first one, the one that came with
the console, the one you tried once and never played
a second time.
Why I Will Not Watch the World Series
1) Because the game names place but will not recognize its shape. Every curve of streetlamp, potbelly pothole, city council promise to reform recycling policy, missing teenager last seen near the woods behind her apartment complex: when each is named in its requisite inning, it whistles and winks out.
2) Because the volume is always slightly higher than last year. I’m trying to explain to my wife, over chips and queso and the rumble of the anthem before the game, refracted thrice in screens over the bar, why I chose not to gas myself in the garage. It was the cleaning service gave me the idea. Twelve days ago, I came home after their wiping walkthrough, and drowsed in air brimful of love from the newly installed kitchen stove—the ladies let one burner hang alone with its mouth slightly open, half a hissing day.
3) Because the winners will be celebrated for only one season. When revelers recognize one of that lucky number, stopped at a red light in his hulking black unmonstrous truck, they crowd round and pound his roof with hoots and hollers. The people touch the hem of his garment and feel their rashes have been healed.
4) Because I nurse jealous rages against the people so assembled—lean-to, makeshift, borrowful. Every morning I stop in the turn lane beside the homeless man whose sign reads “the almost starving artizt.” He crouches in thin pajamas among a half-dozen scraps of sheetrock, head shaved liceless, shoulders steady, hands caked in spraypaint residue and cheap HobbyLobby brushstrokes. Our artizt leans against the steel powerbox that fuels the stoplight: it is covered in grey and green drippings, like the gifts of exotic and imaginary birds.
5) Because I have known what it feels like to stand there, inches off the field, eye-level. The choir had left me behind, had assembled on the impossible green to sing the unlikely drinking song. From that angle you can see that this holy of holies is not grass and growing but a placid pool, algaed and inviting—if you’re a frog stuffed with fertilized eggs. Somehow the sopranos and mezzos (et al) know the trick of balancing on the line between air and underneath, like a crowd of water-spiders ready to bolt for the rushes when I toss in my first stone.
6) Because my father’s heart wasn’t (isn’t) in it. In the 70s you rarely survived transplants, and even the luckiest couldn’t last long. Mother sat with him on the plane to California, where presumably they got him off the tarmac and into an ambulance, elevator, private room. Breathtaking the insurance this game must have required. How little there must have been to talk about, when all had been said.