One evening I thought to save the azaleas along my back fence.
Unraveled livid green vines from their choked branches.
Next day I found a dime-wide blood-bloom on my left side, ridged
and itching. Soon I could wear no belt, no cloth or band round
my tender waist. The blustered flesh under my two fingers reminded me
of compromised plastic. Burnt out, hard and cynical as a coup. After,
I washed both hands with scalding soap, twice through. But the doctor
could not name the beetle, tick, or spider whose bite had marked me,
in defense of its interest. Pulling up trousers at the clinic, I felt
for my wallet, heavy in its pocket. Bent groaning to tie my laces.
Thought of years ago, before the azaleas, before my marriage, a mild June
abroad in Manchester. I stood too soon for a Saturday stop on the metro line.
Waited three minutes for the door to open. Counted each breath as coin,
in payment of private debt. My friend remained seated, holding a pair
of shrink-wrapped records— Lee Morgan, Roland Kirk. He turned
The Sidewinder front to back. Squinted to read through the liner notes,
slowly. So that he would not see me leave the train, alone.
James Miller won the Connecticut Poet Award in 2020. His poems have appeared in Cold Mountain Review, The Maine Review, Across the Margin, Lunch Ticket, Gravel, Juked, Meat for Tea, Main Street Rag, Plainsongs, The Atlanta Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, Rogue Agent, Sweet Tree Review, Thin Air, The Inflectionist Review and elsewhere.