Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011

[Three Poems]

Joseph Millar

Leaving Coos County

We follow the trail’s bleached
driftwood snags over the dunes
changing shape as we walk them,
around us the cries of wild birds
and the west wind blowing 
the flat grass down,
grass of heaven, grass of the coast,
shin bone of a deer half hidden
there, its tendon still attached
to the darkened hoof, offshore
a trash barge towed
toward the dump.

What have I lost
in the sea’s wide pastures
watching for whales headed south?
Goodbye to the salmon
swerving and thrashing
upstream to spawn and die.
Goodbye to the sky turning dark
at 4:30, gray rain falling
for weeks in the sloughs,
goodbye to the child
jumping over the puddle,
the moon eclipsed in the red
earth-shadow over the Chinese restaurant,
dark pines grown down
close to the road.

Goodbye to the shipwreck
unwrapped by the storm, 
trapped in its hollow bed.
Goodby to the hunting knife
shaped like a fish
that cut the frayed tow rope free.

—Previously published in Idaho Review



When Axel starts humping the Coupe de Ville’s trunk
in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter
America raises its iron voice
over the coal fields of Pennsylvania:
backyard engine blocks, chain hoists,
bell housings, toothed gears
resting in pans of oil—stammering out
the poem of combustion,
bright tongues and wings, white-hot ingots
glimpsed in the huge mills by the river,
coke ovens, strip mines, brick stacks burning
over the spine of the Appalachians.

Carnegie, gifter of libraries,
Frick with his Rembrandts, his Titians,
both fast asleep in the arms
of the strikebreakers
under the ashes and slag.
Fire with no roots, no memory,
grooved steel running all night to Detroit,
fire of the profit line, fire of the shareholders,
I-beams, pistons, fenders and chrome.

—Previously published in Alaska Quarterly Review


The Dutch Roll

My father skates on ahead of me,
hands deep in his greatcoat pockets,
brown fedora jammed low. 
He’s showing me the Dutch Roll,
how to move down the ice for long distances
as they do in the Land of the Silver Skates
shifting one’s weight from foot to foot
without thrusting the legs.
I’m proud of the way I can skate,
way better than my brothers.
We’re headed for the covered bridge
two miles downstream to the east
and I watch his back. The fur
collar doesn’t cover his ears
but he never seems to get cold.
French Creek will not freeze like this
for the rest of the winter we live here,
and tomorrow he’ll start drinking again.  
Willow branches thin as whips
hang down from the frozen banks, 
blackberry canes and pieces of bark
encased in the ice’s dark rind.
I smell the wool of my gray muffler,
my eyes are starting to sting. Every
so often the ice booms and cracks
like a rifle going off in a vault
and I hear my own blades 
scrape and cut deep on the long thrust
pushing away, having abandoned
the rolling motion because I’m trying now
to catch up. My feet ache from the cold.
I don’t want to chicken out and quit.
I don’t know how the Dutch kids do it.
The woods are quiet and full of wind
and I think: some things sound better
in books than when you actually do them. 
Maybe my father comes back for me,
and we turn and skate back upstream together
past the big rocks crusted with snow,
the ice so thick here I can’t see through it.

—Previously published in River Styx

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury