Stages on a Journey Westward

1

All the mapmakers in history
have been wrong—

though to vastly differing degrees.

Mostly it hasn’t mattered.

2

The old city thinning out, giving way
to strip malls and tar-seamed
panels of parking lots—

and thinning inside me
already to images
glazed with feeling. Then

only fields around us
while, back there, the city
keeps moving, deep in its shadow.

3

Here in America
we are engines

drowning out what lies
beyond our interiors.

4

A ghetto is best seen
from inside a house

inside it.

5

Alongside the interstate, a tiny pumpjack,
no taller than a quarter horse,

just inside a pink
picket fence—

a pet!

6

When my daughter shit a cloud
into the motel pool

I leapt from the water
with her in my arms. A boy
pointed, yelling Shit! Shit!

but twenty minutes later
no one else had gotten out.

7

This is America! the Irish
and Italians, the Greeks and Jews
and Poles kept saying.

This is America! they cried
into their shirtsleeves.

Europe, then, was a dark room—
at its center a long
clawed-up table.

What is this America?

8

Four cows’ soft faces
wedged through a metal gate—

flies like jewels crusting
the damp fur of their muzzles.

9

Then we pierced
our new city’s
cloud of radio—

its stations
sleeping inside the dash
began to wake.

10

When everyone’s asleep
I step into the yard. Around me

the tiny ticking
of katydids. After all that

motion—the spinning tires,
the 1200-mile sheath
of rushing air—

this dark bit of land
is a ticking engine.

 

Wayne Miller is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Post- (Milkweed, 2016), which won the Rilke Prize and the Colorado Book Award. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver and serves as editor/managing editor of Copper Nickel.

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