Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

The Greek Chorus

There is a group of anonymous
Commentators who live in
Our midsts. They, they are called.
As in, “You know what they say.”

They dispense nuggets of wisdom
With no credentials. No identity,
In fact. Just omniscience in
The face of adversity.

Delivered by various members
Of a suburban Thebes,
One might imagine a
Chorus of citizens, harmonizing
With lutes. If you listen
Carefully, you can hear their projection:

We ignorant mortals, the more we trip
The more we turn to the naughtier
Corners of our brain, and still reject
Larger shoes for commentary
On another part of the anatomy.

Cardboard Bridges

Packing boxes, attempting to
Traverse a wormhole between
One life and another, the transient
Selects wooden, pewter, tarnished silver frames
Showcasing photographs taken over five decades,
Meticulously wraps them in grayish
Sheaths of paper, displacing dust but
Leaving streaked fingerprints on the glass.

Entombed under the matting, a boy embraces
An Egyptian camel, his mother’s neck
And a matchbox car, a red Ford mustang
Convertible in miniature, forming
Concentric circles of memory that ripple over
Years of conjured moments.

The toy itself is now long gone,
Residing in the bin of some unknown
Young recipient, or in a junk yard
In Fresh Kills,
Missing one or all of its tiny rubber wheels,
Its axles bent from countless runs
Down a Hot Wheels plastic ramp and
Over rocks, all-terrain style, fearless
In a city playground.

The camel, even then, seemed unauthentic:
Called Charlie Brown to appeal to American tourists,
He trolled the shadows of the pyramids of Giza.
With piles of garbage lining the entranceways
Of the wondrous monuments,
Steel girders of unfinished Egyptian
Apartment buildings piercing the same smoggy
Sky like antennae, Charlie groaned under
The weight of a Wall Street master.

The boy no longer clutches the neck of his mother,
Now sagging with age and a bowed
Head, struggling with the notion that
The frames could be put to more honest
Use with updated photographs.

Piaget said it best: two objects
Cannot occupy the same space.
Conservation of volume dictates
One old life left behind, displaced
By a new one, carries only stolen momentos
That become immaterial
Or shoved aside to an altogether
Different place in space
And time.


During mindless TV watching, the family often gathers around a wicker basket of socks: a laundered, sweet-smelling pool of white cotton that used to fend off blisters during morning jogs and afternoon soccer practices. Inter-dispersed among the white are splatterings of black, navy, and brown, ribbed in a more formal demeanor that suit well under a pair of trousers, splashes of colorful stripes and polka dots belonging mostly to the uninhibited 12-and-under crowd. The youngsters grab for the color straight away, lining up the lonely singles on their pretzel-twisted thighs, their knees jutting in polar opposite directions suggesting an aboriginal means of sitting. They shout gleefully when a match is made, and painstakingly roll them into a whole with curved trembling fingers, and create piles designated for the top drawers of bureaus flanking the walls of each private space on the second floor of the center hall colonial.

Cooperatively, they compare their collections and make more matches and more rolls, until the basket is emptied, and the singles return to the pot to await another day of reunions. There is the inevitable lament over the pink single Smart Wool model, the one that belongs to a long-lost $12 pair that was purchased three years ago at an expensive downtown outdoor store. It once protected an 10-year old foot awaiting the heat to rise from 100 year-old radiators with high tech, moisture wicking ability, but now is contemplated as base material for a folk-art pig puppet with button nostrils and hand-stitched eyes, flanked by a pipe cleaner curlicued tail that will never be attached with structural integrity.

During a future laundry room visit, a pink flash will enter the retinas of the laundress from the periphery, from between the washer and the omniscient drier: a Smart Wool tube that lay prostrate to those with neuro-motor ability. Hairy with dust and stained with dried blue laundry detergent, a hand reaches in between a tight abyss as its owner contemplates human error, assumes responsibility for all the wrong doings of the drier, and dreams of the female version of a folklore pig sock puppet. For the conscious choices of the human race have irrevocably changed its future, and the sock will instead aimlessly amuse the 12-and-under crowd rather than warm their feet.

Weeks more of laundry will bring more loss: single socks that will forlornly top piles next to underwear, cherries on top of a cupcake tower of fluffed and folded towels, T-shirts, jeans, khaki slacks and school uniforms. They will slowly fill the same wicker basket, a penalty box of evidence that a mysterious universal force of the dryer that somehow vaporizes these small swaths of material into different, invisible form. They justify the loss as an inconceivable byproduct of a God-like inevitability, a work that no earth-dwelling individual could completely comprehend, accept their part in the play out of time, then turn to the task of ensuring little pairs of feet are appropriately protected and warm, with mismatched pairs, darned holes or warm breath gently blown deliberately through cupped, protective hands.

Homarus Divinus

The blue, crustaceous,
Frothing body, waved its claws
Like a ballet dancer stretching
Before its finale, an involuntary grand jété
Into a pot of furious water,
Piercing the steamy air
With articulated antennae.

Released by a freckled, scarred hand
Of an educated renaissance man
On the cusp of emotional understanding,
The shellfish with a history of its own
Gradually morphed into a new state
Of existence. Baptized to a red-orange hue,
Cleansed of its darker exoskeleton,
It demonstrated a sacrificial metamorphosis.

The lobster transferred to a plate,
Resting on a minimalist refractory table
Made stable with matchbooks and a needlepoint
That declared “Peace is where the home is,
Home is where the heart is.”

A woman in her ninth decade
Prepared for the transubstantiation
Wearing a housecoat, stained from years of nurturing
And armed with able hands familiar with every cavity,
Eyes clouded with leukemic cataracts
That now looked only inward to recognize what
Remained vivid and familiar.

She assumed the dance,
Less gracefully but just as
Poignantly as she pulled every
Morsel of delicate flesh from
The shell. As her dining companions
Made more work for themselves,
An old woman was esoterically
Transferred to her childhood plane.

We reveled more in her recollections,
Made richer than any spiced traditional
Canadian butter. Yet hereafter,
A lobster served on white table cloths
In the culinary capitals of the globe
Would seem bland by comparison.

La Vie en Rose

Skipping along the pressure-treated planks
Of a removable dock
A child fearlessly anticipates
The first plunge into the warm
July waters of a pristine lake.

Her mother’s arms await her,
And outstretched invitation.
The water is clear, fish happy
Until the grin of the child is morphed
Into a grimace of pain that
Accompanies the long, wooden sliver
That pierces her soft heel.

Peals of laughter are replaced
With howls of a preschooler’s
Injury, cheeks paled under the
Gilded light of the afternoon sun.

A mother’s lips surround the
Entry point, sucking the smart
With no desired result. A squeeze of
The thumbs in the same swollen locale
Bring nothing but added injury.

An intermission of ignored reasoning
Ends with the declaration that
She cries not for the injury,
But the desire to be loved.
“Just hold me and kiss me
Instead. It’s not my foot!”

The unspoiled id, not yet
Encumbered by the ego, the superego
Reveals the child-like emotion that
Is unequivocally shared by all humankind,
As the mother recognizes that
She wants nothing but more
Of the same:

Affections, given freely,
Unable to be requested
Due to the thorns that reside
Festering in her own
Middle-aged body.

She sits in the makeshift operating room,
A tiled bathroom, sterile and cold,
Embracing her former self,
Cherubic, innocent, unencumbered,
Peachy and new with a sage-like
Ability to communicate
What Louis Armstrong croons
On the stereo left on that morning:

Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La Vie en Rose.

Emulating Aeschylus

Crouching in a dusty attic,
Peeling plastic lids
From bins filled with succulent
History, a mother inspects
An embroidered white cotton dress
Worn by a daughter a decade ago.

A yellowed stain at the hem,
Where a bloodied knee
Brushed the lace and
Accompanying stitching,
Stubbornly held on to the memory,
The recognition that no longer
Was she completely protected by
Uterine blood, umbilical pulsations.

She pictured her dismounting
A pony, catching her sandal on
The rope stirrup and the
Answering, collective inhalation:
A fearful suck of oxygen
Gulped by normally laissez-faire
French parents, interrupting their customary
Unaffected, benign neglect.

The American walked alongside
The ambling pony, still
Unable to fight the gravity of
A fast-moving two year-old torso
Angling to try the drawn carriage instead.
Powerlessly witnessing
The scraping skin against gravel,
The same sympathetic pain
Deep in the gut revisited
Her mother crouched in a dusty attic.

Lemon juice, salt, sun fades the
Yellow scar of a stain, removing evidence
Of the wound where the light entered
An older sister, a wisdom acquired
By pain and unable to be bequeathed
Via hand-me-down.

The younger would skin her own knees
On something entirely less romantic
Than a promenade in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
A suburban park path, a driveway,
A sidewalk leading to a copse
Of businesses hugging a train station,
Featuring a uniquely American,
South Asian-run épicerie.

For parents of every culture:
Earth wind and water will deliver
A painful education to our children
Who are subject to elements of light
Until they are returned to it.

I’ll Have a Perfect Manhattan Up with a Twist

manhattan dry

For Jack

We argued over piddly things
My shoelace broke while tying
I forgot my keys on the desk
And some days I feel like crying.

Let’s go out for a glass of lunch,
I find myself a quart low;
That conference call went on and on
And my meter’s running slow.

A perfect Manhattan straight up with a twist
Made with only high shelf booze
Two parts Whistle Pig rye whiskey
That ol’ bourbon, Barkeep, lose.

The afternoon seems fruitless
I skipped office coffee hour.
It’s certainly five o’clock somewhere
So let’s blow this office tower.

Let’s go out for a glass of happy
I find myself a quart low
There’s plenty of seats at the bar
And I ain’t drinkin’ no Merlot!

A perfect Manhattan straight up with a twist
Made with only high shelf booze
No chardonnay, Barkeep, please;
For my dry blood needs to transfuse.

The nights are long, when you are gone
I’m trying to distract myself
And every hour that you don’t call
I look up to that high shelf.

So let’s go out for a glass of supper
I find myself a quart low
The phone’s grown cobwebs, does it even work?
This evening’s been a lonely go.

A perfect Manhattan straight up with a twist
Made with the high shelf booze,
Add a dash of Angostura bitters
To chase away my bitter blues.

The dirty brown water has crept back in
To pollute my pristine way;
I’m starting back at the first of twelve steps
Powerless, I’ve gone astray.

A perfect manhattan straight up with a twist
Made with the high shelf booze
Gave me a hangover, I now regret
Trying to drown those bitter blues.


©2014, All Rights Reserved

Lyrics: Christine Adams Beckett

Music: Mark Louis Miller

For more from Mark Louis Miller, please see:

Prize Fighters

Two bodies, bouncing hopefully
On their toes, in control,
Defensive and lithe,
Hold their arms at right angles,
Protecting crooked noses
Scarred eyelids, swollen cheeks.

One of them suffers the first punch.
Sporadic stabs in response
To offenses, punctuate
A bobbing frightened head;
Yet the throws themselves
Seem like defensive maneuvers.

Shorts, baggy, drawstring
Moistened with sweat from
Pointless work, cut a
Fit but damaged body in half.
Shoulders on one end,
Blemished and shining,
Muscles contracting,
Retracting, coming and
Going, straining, exhausting.
Lower half, severed,
Sinewy quadriceps speak to
Responsive hamstrings trailing to
Cruciate ligaments, calves
And the Achilles tendon.

Onlookers dodge,
Groan sympathetically
To every mule kick of a punch
Weakening each participant.
Throwing them back to a
Vulnerable heel stance,
They teeter, sway, innocent
And desperate to avoid
Knock out.

A ringing bell, indiscernible
From a traumatic buzz,
Tinnitus muffles the shouts
From a child, watching through
Parted fingers, lips slicing his
Face in pain. Swollen lids,
Dripping sweat from drenched
Eyebrows make sight

Dismissed to their respective corners
Draped over stools and ring ropes
Like useless dirty towels, one
Drinks water in dribbling gulps
Fed to him by a feisty enabler.
The other grimaces under the
Slice of a razor blade,
Freeing trapped life blood
In a red stream mixed with
The salt of other fluids.

The lightened lid, unburdened
Blinded by light and hope
Returns to the center of the ring
To meet his opponent. Peppering
Feet, recognizing the beauty
Of sight and falling backwards
In a plunge, an exercise in trust,
White lights of the stadium blinding
His opened eyes to
A white tunnel of spirals
Like a near-life experience.

One absurdly inflated glove
Is raised in shameful
Victory and the other watches
In relief that it’s over. In a gesture
Hidden in sportsmanlike conduct
One hears it, clearly:
“I’ve got nothin’ but love for you, Man.”



Twain very neatly made one
In seventy-five years:
A perfectly formed, egg-shaped arc
Around the earth, riding the tail of
A comet, which Halley himself was only
Fortunate enough to see once.

Shakespeare spun fifty-two orbits
Neatly closed and added to the collective
Sprial, the nautilus, the helix
A continuum of existence, time,
Place, whirling through an infinite
Unnerving hole of incomprehension.

“Let every man be master of his time,”
Strive to contribute to the dervish,
A Turkish dance of joy, a work
In color, pencil lines, gooey ink,
Pointillist dots, clay, gardens,
Genetic sequences and fuel
Burning a collective intelligence.

On Walden Pond, two of the forty-two
Arcs of a unlikable tax-evader,
An Aristotilian law unto himself who
Revealed the non-denominational
Grace that is Nature, more
Musketaquid than Concord.

Time and distance, reconciled
By Einstein’s own cosmic circles
Where constant motion feels like sitting still;
From a distance, velocity measured,
Observed, is incomprehensibly fast
And universal.


The image of a morphing face
Squints at a deepening line
Intersecting with a place
And an emotion, in kind.

A topographic map
Of one particular past
As cartograph
Laid out in glass.

Two craters, bipolar,
Varicella-zoster virus
In symmetrical order
Left to remind us,

That this same visage,
Once unchartered, ignorant,
Awed by new courage
Was rendered cognizant.

One elbow, split brow
The feet of crows
Bleeds into rivers,
A tributary line grows.

One cannot decipher
Where sophomoric injury
The rivers of the Punjab, weather
And merge in mystery.

Contour lines, Shaded relief
Hours exposed, warm rays of sun
Discoveries and disbelief
While hindered by none.

So smoothly spread a cream
With shaking creased fingertips
As daughter watches, countertop, lean
Share the scars from feathered wise lips.


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