Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

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.


Crossroads, yellow wood
Steering wheel, never could
Avoid lines of a path
Deeply lined with roots.

Choices grooved
Etched from hooves
That matted the trail
With nothing to prove.

Like a feather on air
Carried for fair
Lacking control
And choice, to bear.

Abraham’s will, his alone
With Isaac’s blood, sin atone
Ignoramous, with free will,
Humanistic, cast a stone.

Avenue behind, structured
Interrupted, minute fracture
Forced by nature, power of self
Entrusted, personal rapture.

Boulevard disappears.
Pasture lands, grassy years
Gently separate, give way
To bare feet, and joyful tears.


A decade of experience
Descending the same staircase
Maneuvering toddlers, laundry baskets,
The intention of manually
Juicing a growling boiler
To chase a bitter winter
From children’s bedrooms
Created permanent motor sensory memory,
Imbedded in the muscles
That made electric illumination
A superfluous luxury.

The feet, alone, a podiatric machine
Attached independently to the cerebral cortex
Unaided by the eye. They functioned on
Auto pilot, allowing the remaining
Grey matter to wander to
Unfinished projects, gaining weight
As they approached deadline,
Market lists and their
Corresponding lentil soup recipe,
An impossible holiday in
Reykjavik to see the
Aurora Borealis.

Step six of the twelve,
Assigned to remove deficits
Of character by Higher Power
Showcased, undetected,
A make-your-own destruction
Of sadistic plastic toy bricks.
Cutting into the tender flesh of the arch,
Making it first bloodied,
Later scarred, always proud
The Lego throws the gait to flail,
Steals heels from the going,
Knocks knuckles on the riser
Twists arms, tears intact tricep fibers.

The overridden consciousness
Replaces assignments, supper and
Iceland with a sudden reorganization,
Interruption of a long-welded neuro-pathway
With pain stimuli and solitude and grief.
With as much vulnerability
As any undomesticated animal
Performing rudimentary tasks
Of survival, automatic as any
Human charge of the vie quotidien:
Great risk is taken by making the most
Inconsequential of choices.

Jarred awake on the concrete floor,
Thankful for another chance,
We shake self-pity, loneliness
And with throbbing limbs gratefully rise
Leaving a trail of lopsided bloody footprints
From the stair to boiler.
One trembling hand turns the knob,
Releases the water
And revels in the resulting warmth of
A blue flame.

The Front Porch

In Appalachia, they showcase

Moldy and holy upholstered couches,

Dueling banjoes

And Christmas lights in July.  Children

With no shoes or after school

Dance recitals instead spit

Watermelon seeds into cans

Nestled into dirt that once

Sprouted green grass.


Now the bare and rotted wood,

dangerously open to the hiding place

Below the planks

Introduces to passers-by

A public representation of the

Private squalor in which the inhabitants live

Behind the rusted screen door.

A shrouded world where

Rodents are the main course

And frustrations give birth

To abuse and neglect

And the start of a generational

Cycle of despair.


Further north, in suburbia

The same allegorical bridge:

The threshold, extended,

Includes potted flowers

And wicker and a bridge to

Gap the public and private worlds

In an historical, architectural parable.

Unused, the elaborate presentation is but

A semi-public representation of what lies inside.

The door is opened, only ajar,

Offering an eyeball and a sliver of

A bathrobe, a mumbled no thank you and

A vertical slice of the neatly folded basket of laundry

Lying prostrate at the bottom of the staircase:

The backbone of the Center Hall Colonial,

A vestigial organ of an American Dream.


Somewhere, in between,

The door is opened, and coffee is shared

Over which one discusses socially acceptable topics:

Weather, the headlines, home improvement.

Neighbors admire the passing communal children

Tripping by with their pets and jump ropes.

The smell of roasting onions wafts out to

An outsider’s set of nostrils, enticing one to enter

A more private, intimate realm

Where one removes their shoes, revealing

Striped socks, or, provocative bare toes

That are folded every night into the sheets of

A marital bed.


A door closes, locks, a private dance ensues

Where fear is left outside to freeze.

The next morning, the inhabitant bids adieu to the

Once-welcomed family member,

Spit out from hearth in the same T-shirt in which

She dined, slept, made the morning coffee.

The guest crosses the threshold

Recycled once again into the public world

Where the face grows more stern

But the eyes still reflect the nourishment

Of a private love.

Second Cup of Saturday Morning Coffee

This second cup of Saturday morning coffee would probably best be drunk on Sunday, while your procrastinating children make films instead of just doing it already…


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