Tim Miller’s “Mr Cassian” poems are from a larger collection of poetry and fiction called School of Night. He is online at wordandsilence.com.
7 poems from School of Night
Mr Cassian Shares the Park with Other Parents
Loneliness is such a sorry disease:
bizarre, badly matched parents at the park
now with their awkward combination here too,
some boy or girl with a room in their house
because neither could stand a studio
alone. Some on-again off-again thing
like me and Mary, not even romance
or the love we imagined as children
but just someone better than more yawning,
some warm breathing presence you’re less tired of
than a house that isn’t even haunted.
All this from some squash-faced guy at the park,
his misshapen wife and their lumpy kid,
and how a certain form of vacuousness
can be let loose like a plague upon the face,
a sort of minimum-expectation terror
now daily being doled out like a bad gift
to some kid who will think that this is life.
Mr Cassian’s 156th Dream
Yes I’ve devoured my young, haven’t you?
Yes I’ve held them like two pieces of bread
and filled my hunger with neck and shoulder
and felt my body go mad, haven’t you?
Yes, hair falling out and eyes wide and dead,
my naked body sooty from some night
worse and more inward than darkest sundown;
yes, the feeling that I’m on a blank stage
and that there is no place for me on earth,
not anymore, not any longer,
not after what I’ve finally done,
gone off coloring my chin with his flesh
and my tongue in his blood, to rid myself
of this impossible obligation
and responsibility – haven’t you?
Mr Cassian’s Snotty Eyes
Mornings now my eyes are glazed with mucous.
After I’ve scrubbed and scoured them with soap
they’re clean but still red and they’re so swollen
I can hardly close my lids over them,
like bloated fruit shoved in a too-small bag.
I can’t swivel at the waist anymore
without the laugh of some new bullshit pain,
right knee, left shoulder, lower back bullshit.
I’m sure it’s just from inactivity,
all of it, the fatigue and headaches too.
I’m sure it’s all my teenage habits
returned again, revenant: erratic sleep,
fast food, sugar, and seeing how many
days I can go without a bath, without
stepping outside or going past the porch.
I’ll medicate with food but not with pills:
I’ll take the runny nose over induced
drowsiness or constipation, I’ll take
the burning knee, I’ll take two snotty eyes
over a dried out head that can no longer think,
and over whoever tells me exercise
will improve my mood. My mood is words
and I will give the world an occult splendor
fed by a large pizza dropped at the door.
Mr Cassian Flees the Scene of an Accident
They probably voted for different people –
both cars were covered in those kind of
bumper stickers that replace identity –
so I thought it best to swerve around them
and get on to the fast food that I craved.
Later I looked online and in the paper
for evidence of some brawl on Mt. Royal:
the two-lane road near the Catholic church
drenched in the blood of a woman whose car
had barely rear-ended another while waiting
for the long light to change from red to green.
As my car crawled past them to get away
and the drivers emerged to exchange their mistrust
I saw the middle-age frump of cat-ladies both,
empty nest and not dressed to leave their cars –
probably aiming for the drive thru like me –
and now stunned in the presence of a stranger
and at having to look at a life not their own
long after such critical faculties have disappeared.
So rather than suppressed violence it was
more likely the terrified drool of the shut-in –
the anxiety of accumulated breaking news,
of soap operas and the gentlest suburban prejudice –
beyond ashamed at this face-off on a busy road,
their only insight the overwhelming pressure
(I feel it too) of life that is a phone,
of life that is infamy and expectation
and the jealous anger from all directions –
and now these things swerving to overcome them,
blasted by high-beams in their shitty sweatpants.
Mr Cassian’s 159th Dream
I’m swimming so that I seem to dissolve,
no elbows and no knees, only ripples;
beard like seaweed taking shape around me,
lifted lightly to the water’s surface,
arms flailing but with hands of crustacean,
shadow of limbs erased underwater,
my face now waterlilies and closed eyes,
hardly a wrinkle above the ocean –
my body finally back to origin:
body a flattened elongated leaf
floated here from a continent away,
or some undulating stingray, utterly
ancient, some barely bodied blanket of flesh
gone, returned to the protozoic pool.
Mr Cassian’s 105th Dream
What are they doing, dancing on a corpse?
Who is that corpse, who dances this way
and how do you dance upon a body
as if it isn’t putrid, or almost ash,
or closer to earth on a tray of slime,
flesh sliding off to slide back to its green source?
How does life dance with its foot in the neck
of the dead, how does she bear her breasts as if
they won’t one day fall and wrinkle and dry,
and how does he let his member just hang
as if it isn’t pointing down to the slug
it will soon become? How does life persist
like this, so confident, so radiant,
as if life’s undoing weren’t at its feet?
Mr Cassian’s Good Friend, the Roman Soldier
I feel closer to some Roman soldier –
only a name from the time of Nero –
than anyone I see out the window.
Pliny the Elder mentions his journey
from Carnuntum in Pannonia north
to the Baltic Sea, and the source of amber.
Since the Stone Age amber had been collected
for adornment and magic, and Ovid
tied amber’s long origins to sisters
mourning their dead brother so thoroughly
they became the trees that wept this strange resin.
I am more at home with this lonely man
who traveled trade routes – river and coastal
and overland – Vltava to Danube
to Baltic Sea and Sudeten mountains
and back down the eastern Alps to Venice.
These names, meaningless to whoever else,
are an exhilarating chant to me.
No doubt I romanticize his labor
by forgetting it was all about merchandise.
Like my meager knowledge of alchemy
or my faddish glimmers of Kabbalah
I’ve made this man into a magician
wandering either unpeopled forests
or giving every barbarian the impression
of an ageless, powerful absorption
seeking only this weird gold, this hard sap,
this pine-smelling weight that warms in the hand.
For my own sake I need to imagine him
this way, out there past commerce and concession,
his body barely a nimbus of odd light,
divested as I wish I could be,
my whole self poured into some secret burden,
lost in an unsought landscape of weeping trees.