By William Miller
PRISON LIBRARY A few books are stacked on a rolling cart; small wheels turn and faintly squeak. The trustee is young, tattooed and bald. Time passes without passing—every sky is a grey square between towers, a stretch of stucco wall. Words matter here. Books are passed from hand to nervous hand. Reading is risky; ideas in cold print are messages from the underground, secret code for the resistance movement in blue shirts with white numbers. Escape is compressed into a story about escape, a man who almost drowned but washed ashore naked, free from the wreck of the ship, a sole survivor. Books are the most dangerous explosive, more deadly than Semtex packed inside a pipe bomb hurled into a line of policemen with body armour, high-tech shields. No man refuses to read unless he is willing to die on the inside, die slowly behind iron bars. DEATH OF A GARDEN DISTRICT MANSION All afternoon it burned on live tv. The city watched one of the oldest mansions turn from a benign tyrant to charred timber, listened to the crack of ancient beams. And though there were three murders, five carjackings and a double shotgun in the Lower 9th burned with a homeless man inside, no one cared. Sacred as Mardi Gras, plastic beads and coconuts thrown, this house belonged to everyone. While the trucks pumped water, orders were shouted in vain, the rich watched in horror, the poor happy to see the barn collapse. A woman whose grandmother was a maid there, her mother too— thought of their days spent wiping down sideboards, washing crystals one by one in a bucket of water and solvent, hanging them on the chandelier. until the light shone through and cast its magic on the teakwood floor. What about the ghosts? someone asked, and there was nervous laughter. All old houses had ghosts, hid murders, incest, even duels in the back yard—shotguns at twenty paces. But no ghosts appeared— no cries were heard of pain or release. By dusk the flames were down, and two candlesticks, a single portrait had been saved from the fire: an octoroon mistress with curled hair, hands folded on her green crinoline lap, stared at invisible chains.
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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