By William Miller
Form Rejection Letter In this star chamber, three men with cowls read endless poems, the paper offerings of souls mailed with a return envelope. A pair of ancient scales weigh and measure the worth of uncommon pain squeezed into verse -- metered, rhymed or free. Hearts break, beauty dies, but there is only space enough for poems that fit current editorial needs. Once human, poets themselves, they must coldly judge the most awful confessions, maps of despair, personal grief. And on that scale, your best words almost tip the golden bowl, a pound, just half-pound, an ounce found wanting. Coyotes In her Irish Channel kitchen, she drinks imported herbal tea. Her backyard is safe for two thriving little kids. All is well until night—she sees the leanest, meanest dog lying with her pups as if she owned the grass. This is no park breed with sleek brushed fur, fed Ethiopian grain by hand. Her husband calls the police, who call Fish and Game, who never call back. All the moms, all the children are asleep except for two mothers who know men protect no one, not really, not even their own families. They breed quickly, run off to the batture* or fall on the couch, watch the replay of the Saints last home game. Their wives would kill, rip and tear flesh from female bones if it came to that. A truce is made, eye to eye understanding, a secret woman’s pact. Grown pups wander off— their mothers too in dreams, still young enough to mate for fun. *Batture: Bar in New Orleans Women’s Shelter, York, PA All that summer, I did Christ’s chores— Meals on Wheels, the only man at the clothing drive, penance for leaving my wife, the woman I left my wife for. Past red brick facades, colonial slave porches, I followed a wet cobblestone street to a door with a barred window, rang the buzzer. That face in the window turned me to stone, the pale woman’s hard brown eyes, her only request simple and blunt— “Put it down, leave.” I wanted credit, time served— my mother abandoned me when I was twelve. I still saw her in every dyed blonde with fake breasts. No other choice, retreat inevitable, I put down two plastic bags filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, candy bars and soap bricks. These walls were made of more than fired clay troweled by slave hands-- they were two-feet thick like the fear between us. Ruth’s Garden Latex gloves, surgical green, protect her hands from thistles, sticky thorns, opioid needles. The homeless are the children she never had, never wanted, not even since Katrina made her homeless as the next pale survivor in long line for a FEMA trailer. These ferns and flowers redeem her spotted hands, watered with a swan-neck spout twice a day. Like a turtle’s, her shell is thick enough to repel the insults of gutterpunks on the broken sidewalk, their contempt for an old lady who believes in growing green things. Survival of the unfit is the unhealthy norm in a Quarter that once was a neighbourhood, beer drunk from tin buckets on the banquette, a light in every dormer window. She alone is the reptile, the mud creature who reminds us a rose is still a rose, nothing blooms without a few drops of love.
William Miller’s eighth collection of poetry, Lee Circle, was published by Shanti Arts Press in 2019. His poems have appeared in many journals, including, The Penn Review, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner and West Branch. He lives and writes in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
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