Miles Waggener

Steer’s Head Triptych
March 24, 2023 Waggener Miles

Steer’s Head Triptych


the cowboy cut, the wrangler,
the cowgirl, the buckaroo,
the little filly, the cowpoke
are we talking denimwear,
tobacco products,
sex, boots, or steaks?  & will we
ever smell the miracle of
butter, cold in gold foil
cubes on a white ceramic dish
more than now?  Jesus’ dark red
vinyl hands, the booth where we
sit as a family among families
of plenty, keep cradling us
as if we were a last lit match
still stuck to the book, our faces covered
by matching red menus, father’s ice
collapses in his bourbon,
mother’s ice falls to her teeth.
Above us like a smoky cave
branded through dark brown
wallpaper, deep into our fate
a horned steer’s head stares,
as if surveying the steakhouse’s
astral plane.


chain fruit, organ pipe,
barrel, teddy bear, beehive
nipple, prickly pear, saguaro
cactuses once dotted
the decomposed granite
& quartz draw, now a hinterscape
of valley blackened by fire,
a dilation
of time on this world
to coil up in new tears
and push on even more
into an order, in my case,
a small blue rental car
is climbing east as the sun sets,
the desert between quotation marks
in clean dark mirrors,
Shoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht
capitulates to static
as the public radio
signal weakens.


at your most organic & mammalian
you are convex underpools,
glass reflections of light fixture wagon
wheels that never turn,
& the careful pensive steps of guests,
as if from altar to pew
between salad bar & booth,
their open palms upward
balancing small plates heaped
with hardboiled egg, pickled
beets, shaved carrot, shields of
iceberg lettuce, bacon bits
dotting gelatinous white peaks.
My bare knees on vinyl
I’ve turned around to face you
at first to shove a maraschino cherry
& a crouton into your
capacious nostrils, now to search
for your pastures, your feedlot,
the spasm of electrocution
at your moment in the metal
slaughter line with the others
back in Omaha.  My child bowl cut,
my brother’s arm in a cast,
at the center of our table
a squat red candle’s purgatorial
pinprick is burning into where your
eyes had been until
my human face,
like smoke & ash
pressing closer
into your face,
erases the sun.

Miles Waggener is the author of four volumes of poetry:  Phoenix Suites, Sky Harbor, Desert Center, and most recently Superstition Freeway, published by The Word Works of Washington DC.  He has been the recipient of The Washington Prize as well as individual grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Nebraska Arts Council.  His poems have appeared widely in such journals as The Antioch Review, Crazyhorse, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, Cutbank, Gulfcoast, and Hayden’s Ferry Review.  He heads the creative writing program at the University of Nebraska Omaha.