Your knuckles relax and your hands
open slowly each time you enter
the house of sleep
which you will never own,
its black windows shining
on the black lawn
smelling of cloves,
its feathers and ink, the flakes
of soot collecting ceaselessly
over smoldering cook fires,
perfect whorled thumbprint left behind
on the water glass by the sink.
Nothing to actually see or hold onto,
blue rust floating away from your
touch, dark mosses crumbling under
your tongue, nothing to carry back,
curled on one side with your knees drawn up:
father, mother, grandmother, uncle,
naming your dead one by one.
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.