The onions have shed their papery skins
in the basket next to the sink
and the acacia’s unhooked its bent gray
stems from the freezing backyard mud.
Now that I’ve cleared the ice from the rain gutters
maybe the world won’t expect too much
with its cashmere and leather interior,
its heated pool and Mercedes sedan.
I leave them the overcoat I kept in the truck
working overtime Friday nights
then put on over Levi’s and shirt
to pay my respects to Pharoah Sanders
or Jackie McLean from the back booth at Yoshi’s.
Let them have the cramped apartment
now that the rents have doubled again,
the broken stairs and cracked sidewalk,
children’s drawings: fishes and trees
chalked in purple, half washed away.
So many mornings of rain and exhaust,
so many footsteps, so many harsh breaths,
so many waves breaking inconsolably
over the winter piers. I could
never stop you from leaving, cars
in the ditch, black ice on the levees,
mornings the fog sank down and froze
and the dawn came up white as dust
over the bushes and cinders,
over the ragged beach, over the kitchen
crowded with smoke,
the laughter we ate like bread.
Joseph Millar’s first collection, Overtime, published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2001, was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania and took an MA from Johns Hopkins in 1970. It would be two decades before he returned to poetry. His work has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Oregon Literary Arts. In 1997, he gave up his job as telephone installation foreman and moved to western Oregon, where he teaches at Oregon State University and in Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program.