Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
  • Home
  • About
  • Archive
  • Bio Notes
  • Bookshelf
  • Contents
  • Submit
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

[Two Poems + Commentary]

by Carolyn Miller

New Lines for Fortune Cookies

Homage to Frank O’Hara
Something wonderful will definitely happen to you very soon, if only 
you can figure out what it is.

You may think that your life is working out just fine, but you will 
probably be wrong.

Hang on to your delusions, for they are your most important possessions.

Keep on trying, because if you don’t, you are in deep, serious trouble.

You should have had the mu shu pork.

Location, location, location.

You have the soul of an artist, even though it may be hiding deep inside 

You will burn brightly in the fire of time.

You have something green stuck in your teeth.

If it seems like everything is going well, be very, very careful.

If you know in your heart that the man across the table from you 
doesn’t really love you, get up and leave at once.

Fortune cookies are never really enough for dessert.



for Marilyn
My old friend and I step down into the pool’s warm
chlorinated water, no longer thin, dark-haired girls
as when we met. We push out into the lap lanes
in our women’s bodies. Her hair, once chestnut,
to her waist, is cropped, completely white; mine is mostly gray.
We have survived womanhood, the scars hidden
underneath our swimsuits: she has only one breast, 
like an Amazon; I have empty space where my female organs were.
We swim slowly, inexpertly, without husbands or children,
as we were that summer night in Kansas City, with Ken and Bob
at the Jewel Box, our first female-impersonators’ bar,
and the Blue Room, our first black bar, drinking
Singapore slings and sloe gin fizzes, staying up all night
and going swimming in our underwear at 4 a.m.
in a lake in Kansas. We built a fire on the shore,
and I told Bob he looked like Stephen Dedalus 
in Portrait of the Artist, in the scene of his epiphany
on the beach. I’ve always liked to think I saved our lives
later, on the turnpike, by waking Ken when he dozed off
behind the wheel. Now, still young, he and Bob are dead of AIDS,
deaths none of us then could have imagined.
     Old friends, we swim our slow, unathletic laps. We were
intense, emotional girls. We believed 
that art made life worth living, and it does.
We thought that life would give us everything, and it has.
We are still burning, plunging through the pool’s bright surface,
buoyant in the sweet and bitter water.

—From After Cocteau, Sixteen Rivers Press (2002)

Swimming with Marilyn:
Commentary by Carolyn Miller

We met at art and music camp, when Marilyn was fifteen and I was sixteen, and she was standing ahead of me in line as we waited to be assigned a roommate. A mutual friend in line with us said, “Oh, you two should room together,” and introduced us, and we learned we had the same last name and that our first names rhymed. We decided this was fate, and so we became roommates for the summer and friends for life, until Marilyn died a few years ago of cancer.

We saw each other often during the summer two years later, which I had named the Farewell to Childhood Summer, when I lived in Kansas City and worked as a waitress at Sydney’s Drive-In Restaurant, and Marilyn began and ended her modeling career at the Patricia Stevens Model and Talent Agency. Over the years, we graduated from our separate colleges, married, moved to other states, had children, divorced, and lived as single mothers half a continent apart. But we kept in touch through letters, phone calls, and eventually e-mail, and we visited each other several times. On one of Marilyn’s trips to California, we swam laps at North Beach Pool, and I remembered the night during the Farewell to Childhood Summer when we went out with our friends Ken and Bob and ended up swimming in a lake early the next morning. Somehow, it all came together in this poem: our past, our present, even our future as two friends who swam through time, usually apart, but together in our hearts.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Carolyn Miller

is a poet and painter living in San Francisco. Light, Moving, her most recent book of poetry, was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in 2009, and her first full-length collection, After Cocteau, was published by the same press in 2002. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review, among other journals; and her awards include the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah, and the Rainmaker Award from Zone 3.

“...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