No one knows who chopped the stone
for the empress’s eyes staring out
from the mosaic, who placed
the scarlet chips for her mouth, set
the gold pleats of her headdress.
You say hello in your bruised child’s
voice, needing medicine, needing pills,
your hair tied up in a red bandana
wearing a scratched glass necklace.
It’s a year since you left the clinic:
stolen checks and a pawned diamond ring,
Seven-Up cans and Narcotics Anonymous
meetings you were too tired to attend.
All night the doves moan to each other
under the eaves of the museum café
locked against time, riven with cold,
the dawn breaking over its fallen gardens
ribbons of ice in the trees. I tell you
your kids had a nice Christmas, tell you
everyone loves you. The empress looms over us
like the night, the rocks of her bosom
shine and grow dim. She looks straight ahead
through the coals of her face as I hand you
three twenties, a carton of Kools,
and you climb back onto the streetcar.
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.