Parked by this dirt road with both doors open
and a stream running under the brambles and stalks
I lean against the fender, trying to explain how it is
I've given away so many pieces of this body
without meaning to, even its shadow riddled with dust
floating fitfully down in the air:
children and houses, age catching up,
unraveling this coat I keep trying to mend
with exercise and low-fat food,
remedies for a long middle age.
You look at me without speaking and away
down the valley, offering all of it, daring me
to reach from my fraying skin like the branches
of the madrone, into what's left of the daylight.
It could be the night coming down the long hills
will swallow us both, that the willows around us
are singing, having untied their gold hair,
and we can lie here under their branches
and never go back.
And it could be that some things can't
be explained, but I can't stop talking,
stammering about children and life insurance,
even when a barn owl rises from the cottonwoods
and drifts out over the roadway.
I keep looking for a path winding off
through these woods, as the stream wanders past,
invisible, and you squat to pee
into the bent grass
without holding on to anything.
Joseph Millar grew up in Western Pennsylvania and received an MA from Johns Hopkins in 1970. He spent the next twenty-five years in the SF Bay Area working at a variety of jobs from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. His poems have appeared in recent issues of such magazines as Shenandoah, DoubleTake, New Letters, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares and Manoa, and have won him fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, Montalvo Center for the Arts, and from Oregon Literary Arts. His first book, Overtime, from Eastern Washington University Press, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. In 1997 he gave up his job as telephone installation foreman and moved to western Oregon where he teaches at Oregon State University.