Imprints from New Orleans

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.


                                                                 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.