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Tragedy Wears Many Hats
first sampling

by Duke Miller

Here are some cuttings from my fifth book Tragedy Wears Many Hats. Unbelievable. I have written all of them in Mexico. I don't think there is any other place I'd rather be. Mexico is wonderful for a writer. Eye ink is readily available and it's easy to plagiarize old cobblestones where the Spanish troops marched and sang the empire away.

The book is about how the world is changing... from my perspective, of course. How people are scrabbling as best they can. It is prose poetry. I tell a bunch of stories about women, how simple things become monsters in my mind and how love is the most important thing I have going these days. Mexico figures in the book and I talk about Mexican attitudes toward death, how Mexican cats live in hospitals, how the class friction between rich and poor grinds deeply in local gardens and parks...



I vividly recall the first time I stumbled upon the writing of Duke Miller, thoughts and feelings, curiosity and horror. I'd never read anything so real and yet surreal. The most well-intentioned train wreck in the name of global humanitarian relief and the ghosts, living and dead, remain.

When he asked me to write an introduction to his new book, two thoughts shot through my mind simultaneously: sincerity and humor. Both are valid.

But more than that, I leapt at the opportunity because I heard the call and felt the presence of a woman. She sits with me as I read these words. She was there in the beginning and will outlive us all. For me, it is the woman. Always there is the woman in his writing.

She abides, a comfort, tracing fingers along the scars. She is not judging, just giving and taking as it meets the need of a humorless God. She will grab the ankle of the living as the last act of the dying. Sometimes hovering just out of sight, sensual and moist. She is accepting and will love you forever and leave you bleeding needlessly.

Still, I wonder, will she save your soul for later use or save it until it molds and discard the spirit wastefully.

I hear her now, telling the editor not to use this intro because she knows it's bullshit.

Ken Hatcher, the Convert



When do scars become beautiful
I’ve asked that question a thousand times and the answers are different between Africa and Mexico, a soldier and a priest … the priests are interested in bleeding scars, they should have talked to my father
Love is part of the answer … there is always a story with a scar, it’s written in very small letters, invisible almost
Scars are like difficult books, hard to read, yet we search for meaning, ignorant of the pain
the accident
the way of life
the passage
a defect
a loud message to the world
We usually feel sorry for the person and there is madness or mistake, but without love we are only left with the scar, and most people turn away

Dare we ask about the scar … the story, the circumstances that cut and burned the body, and when we hear the story we wonder if it is true
Does it matter … maybe the telling of the tale is the most important thing
Once I wrote, I can’t remember where or when … scars are not necessarily bad for me, I grew up with them, and I still live with them each day, the thought, the sight … hundreds of them and I try to cover each mark and wound with as much love and understanding as I can draw from my well
I kiss them
The problem is, I always fall short … how does one reverse time … the only thing I have is love, even in the face of defeat and sadness, even with the loss of my dears, my dear sweet ones
We are all so helpless in this life, even the strongest and the richest and the wisest … the burden of scars forcing us to crawl while others run
Yet, there is the dressing of love, let us gently press it down


Ma’s Place

Terry was talking to me about coaching high school baseball and scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals, he’d been a good college baseball player, but then got hurt
We were at a country store in front of a Mrs. Baird’s sign, sitting on metal lawn chairs, and the warm shade was drawing out the poisons in our bodies, and we felt young again, high school young
Drinking in town wasn’t a good idea for him, the school was too illegally religious, and his wife was on him about booze, and I gathered they were on the rocks like castaways in a Greek tragedy
Yeah, I got married too young, Terry said, and now she’s getting strange, filling up the whole house with chicken wire, I can’t sleep, shit, I can’t even breathe, and I don’t know what to do
Hey, do you remember Ma’s Place, he asked
Ma’s Place was a whore house and I answered, yeah, I remember
After our beers, hot sausage with white bread, pickles, and onions, we drove out to where we thought it used to be and then Terry said, stop here, this is where they found Ma shot through with six bullets, two in the head, somebody wanted to certify the deed
In the distance we could see the old wooden house, falling down into the past, and the cattle guard where the drunk let us in, and we remembered the half-dressed women sitting in a row on the living room couch and how one of the girls kept saying, Ma is a really good person, and then another one beside me said, well, even Hitler had a dog, and we all went blank, and I tried to imagine Hitler’s dog sleeping with him, but I was only 17 and Blondi hadn’t etched herself in my mind yet, and then the girl who knew about Hitler’s dog, put her hand on my knee and said, hey, honey, let’s go to my room, I want to show you something


Maps of the Earth

Two old guys in the park, obvious hospital material, stared at something in the air

They were citizens of I Had My Chance and the-end-of-the-world-in-tiny-doses was their lot

One watched his wife fall into the rock pulverizer, the other studied his house burn down ... both had unanswered questions

Random thoughts came to me as I watched them get sunburned

One of them reminded me of an old Pathan who lived in a watchtower the Brits built during the colonial period, the kind Winston Churchill manned

The Pathan was a guard or something in the Hangu Pass and he scared the shit out of me that day, carrying an old Enfield and a can of gasoline ... maybe he intended to shoot me and torch my body, which seemed right for this stretch of the border

For some reason, having my body burned brought back the Indian on the Patuca who hit me in the head with a pipe ... I was out for the night, muttering to the boat captain ... and I could see stuff like this ... a burned-out plane on the edge of the desert, and I laid down in the shadow of a sand dune and watched a snake move sideways across a little rise about fifty feet away and I worried about going to sleep, sharing my shadow with a fucking snake

I looked hard at the old men in the park and noticed that instead of skin, the men had maps of the Earth covering their bodies, and the sun was turning the maps red, and cities were on fire, and children ran onto the blue color of the maps thinking it was water


The Mexican Kid

I'm in bed hiding from what's outside

What I used to be is trying to climb over the walls like mistakes with hands and feet, and then I hear something else

A plaintive sound a few streets over, and it gets closer with each passing minute

It's the kid who plays trumpet with one hand and beats a drum with the other, he always seems hungry, eyes barely visible beneath a bandana, his face hammered by a violent father

The tune is for the condemned, los damnificados, and Mexicans have a number of these kinds of songs ... for the dead and the dying, fighting bulls, the poor getting their bones picked, battle flags and the women who carry them

When I hear the song, I visualize a line of people, old and young, on a ridge walking toward some ultimate destination, everyone silhouetted by the setting sun

The trumpet player is feeding the black days sent by the northern hurricane, the almost constant cold rain, damp rooms, and I have heat on my broken ribs and my dogs refuse to go outside, they are weak and spoiled, not the way they once were, but who am I to judge dogs since indecision has become the butter for my toast

There are people who can look and know things in an instant, I am no longer one of them

Okay, I used to be ... maybe I was a silent explorer without maps, instinctively knowing the way, never pulling over for directions, telling priests and therapists to fuckoff

Now I'm space dust, moving without direction, existing without reason

My frozen eyes look down at some patient on a table ... naked form distended, numb ... and I cut unsteady and unsure

I hit bone, the heart and lungs ... I pick at bits of dissolute flesh, blood staining my hands, internal tissue like a frightened animal in a trap

None of us are whole, we live inside tiny moments, molecular holes and the split time changes our lives, by the drop, with white gossamer, our fear rises like heat haze

Everything in a box

In the same category as a space dog in a capsule, moving into a deep field surrounded by the void

All quiet now and I can feel your heart beating on my chest like space dust on stretched hide, and the boy, his trumpet and drum, have left my ears, there is nothing but white noise, and I am lost, but only for the moment, but then lost again, such is my passing in this storm with my beloved Genevieve


Buy the book


Duke Miller: I no longer worry about days or even months. I can't remember much about time. I don't answer the door or the phone. I like it that way. I keep watching Tater Tot and Patton, over and over again. The movie is about two drunks who have differing reasons to drink, but their stories sort of melt into each other on the plains of South Dakota. My mother was born near where the film was made. Anytime a movie devotes images to cows eating in a grass field, well, you know you've got something. It's free on Youtube right now. Both of the main actors deserved Oscars. Of course, they didn't get them. FYI, I'm still who I say I am. Still alive here in SMA. Still trapped in the past, but I like it that way. It's fairly easy to get a hold of the past, not so much the future, and I hate the present. Thanks.

Saying Nothing in Particular, by J.T. Twissel

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