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Tragedy Wears Many Hats
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These are cuttings from Duke Miller's latest book, Tragedy Wears Many Hats.
    (Amazon link)

by Duke Miller

Cut Her Loose, One Star at a Time

    You must cut her loose, before she drags everything down
        Yet, you love her so and your ax is in the shop
    You recall the tombstones, a walk on a chilly day in the cemetery
    You’re at the state penitentiary, the one with the extra tall walls and there’s her first name written in stone and you freeze in place, her name is rare … the vortex begins, whirling, twirling, mass and air … you’re at eternity’s gate and your heart begins to beat fast and you can feel the blood rising into your cheeks, that’s how it works for you
    You’re in the female section of the plots, they don’t bury the women with the men, she needs it that way, it’s a comfort
    Two trustees in white clothing are cutting grass in the distance and then a corrections officer rides up on his warmblood and tells you to leave, outsiders aren’t allowed in the graveyard, prison use only, he says
    You look down the row and she’s standing there and her hands are shaking uncontrollably, I need a drink, she says, her face as pale as the words
    Look here, someone has your first name
    She stands looking down at the grave, should I dance on it, she says, not smiling, and the guard motions toward the car
    Let’s go, she says and so you drive to a grocery store and buy a six-pack, she chugs one down and melts into the car seat and rolls down the window and sticks her head out into the wind, drive close to a sign, she yells
    She’s a girl on the ledge, her feet are bare and you can see her painted toenails on the dashboard and birds have nothing on her, because over the years she’s grown feathers that are golden, beautiful in the dim light of her apartment, and she can almost fly, she’s working on it
    You only talk to her on the phone now
    She speaks in one- or two-word sentences, I guess it’s easier that way, you say, yeah, she mutters
    In one-sided conversations it’s important to ask questions, hoping for more than a few words, did you get much sleep last night
    Night is day for her and the circadian rhythm is just as important as someone hitting her in the face or the rainfall coming through her open window, without it, all sorts of damage is possible 
    No, she answers
    Do you remember that day at the prison, when we found the tombstone with your name on it … yeah, so what
    Well, when we went past the main gate, I stopped for a minute, we watched a group of prisoners being released, do you remember
    Maybe … and then it comes back
    At the front gate they are releasing ten prisoners, you stop and get out of the car and watch as the guard calls out each name, the prisoners all carry a paper-wrapped bundle under their arms
    The great state of Texas is cutting you loose, step over the line, the guard shouts
    The men take one step forward
    You're free now, the burger joint is down the street, good luck, and the men scatter like wounded quail and within a few minutes all of them are out of sight
    Free, she faintly says into the phone
    Everything is silent
    Right … free, I want you to be free, but I don’t know how to do it
    You can’t fix this, stop trying
    On most nights, you can hear the house shifting from three hundred years ago, the sound of someone sharpening a knife, curtains moving like lungs, a sick dog scratching at the door
    You stir in bed, thinking, and then you fall and fall again, head over heels inside the kaleidoscope, past the images and sounds and smells, your eyes hurt and your internal values are worthless in the face of too many mistakes and so, you arise and sleepwalk down the halls and through the doors and wake up outside, in the yard, with the confused dogs at your feet, and you look upward into the night sky and there she is, just to the left of Mars, planet of war, her holy body burned through with flames from a lost battle
    You can’t fix this
    Stop trying
    Cut her loose, you think, one star at a time

***

Orozco Without a Tongue

    Death is important to Mexicans, particularly around Halloween and Christmas
    They have filled dusty bedrooms, old kitchens, and entryways with sad, heroic, and vital sugar
    Mexicans have turned death into cake and without the cake, death would only be a private inconvenience, tasteless upon the lips
    There would be no grand, complex murals the height of storm clouds towering above the Mexicans, raining down terrible tales with color and perspective
    All the great painters would be without tongues, fingers, lovers, monkeys, armored cars, Molotov cocktails, and machine guns
    Take the tragedy of death away and everything good in life would have no meaning
    There is a spider crawling along a path through my hair
    It is eating lice eggs at the base of my follicles
    The spider wants to get to my ear, so it can spend the night and the spider is like Mary and Joseph searching for a room
    They call it the Posadas and it follows a few weeks after the Day of the Dead, where everyone is happy

***

I'd Like Some Answers

What of insanity ... sitting beside the candle maker
who still believes in light
She can't speak, tortured, disfigured
Her thoughts dispersed ... I'm attracted to her,
this warm form upon the dry dirt, as the dust and insects build kingdoms upon our heads
The kidnapped victims will dance later
My understanding and patience are gone
What of insanity
The victims orbit the planet and I can only communicate via satellite transmissions
Yet, I can see all of them and they are clear cut with sharp scissor, demanding relief and sustenance
Waterfalls and flocks of birds spring from their mouths
The horse trainer, who jumped from the speeding car
on the interstate and shaved herself to the bone
Molly, who escaped from the mental hospital ...
I took her to the bank and she said,
details are like blows to my head
Gena without hands, without a mind, without children

What of insanity during a war,
a famine, an epidemic, a genocide ...
what of love then ...
relationships during the really bad times
Can we say,
oh, he's schizophrenic in a city under siege,
in a camp, where people sleep as bones and suicide is a beautiful place
How to measure depression when a mother has lost all of her children to genocide or war
What does the psychiatrist say
when they find living bodies on top of the dead
I'd like some answers

***

Map of The Lungs

    The old woman slept on that foggy morning of fossilized snow, fearful in her turning, and lace cloth crept barefoot down the halls, through the doors, across the Persian rugs where the cats curled
    The sun was banished and we waited in our dreams for mulled wine and sweat bread
    My happiness blinked as I rolled to touch your warm skin, you were an ocean where the mountains rose beneath and the skeleton fish darted through slim channels, in never times, hours unkept, and I journeyed there, sighting upon your star-shaped pores, drinking at your eyes, never to live like that again, and I saw your map of lungs, there, at the bottom of the sea
    At the foot of our bed were invisible hands stretching from a dead fire, the cold ash of an old king, and the night was still sleeping in the corner … last night … when we talked of the future and woven time, and I said, love was without direction, lost keys, the beautiful horse on the hill, and you asked, was that really good enough
    In silence we made love, I needed to show you, and we fell inside, where life resided next to death’s first stir, and as we shuddered, there was nothing to be done except enfold the light
    Everything down the hall, through the doors, where the cats slumbered in circles, and outside the snow’s face twisted and the wind pushed lines against the fence, fossils piled high against the wooden slat, and it built, bone upon bone, on that cold morning of dreams, where my sort of happiness was enriched in ways unbeknownst to you, gifted by your deeply hidden lungs

***

Needle and Thread

    Where to begin … somewhere between the song and the vanished smile, like a room shifting into people sitting on uncomfortable stools
    Gravity of a liquid planet drowning her, drowning you … the doctor says, the colors are wavy, desperate … yes, she is in more pain than before
    Even though things have changed, you still think of her body as a garden unto the sun, a rich bed of dirt following the movement of light across the sky, flowers turning their heads, bees hanging in mid-air
    The little cat lies upon her leg and everything is the breath of moments and the cat becomes her marker, deeply graved on white bone, a sign of who she used to be
    You are in the pharmacy to buy a few things to treat her stab wound
    The cut is deeper than normal, more blood, more pain
    You walk down the aisle and throw the surgical supplies into a plastic basket, experience with sutures has come in handy and you learned everything from Marty back in the camp, the one on the border with Sudan, the one that went from a few thousand to almost a million and that is where you grew up, translating for the nurses in the clinic
    The heat from those days is still inside your pores, the bodies of the wounded wind in your mind, the hopelessness like a worm in your brain, and because of that, you know that you are sick, injured in ways that people can’t see
    You two are a real pair, two ghosts standing at the wake
    Funny, she was born in Africa too, and when you first learned her birthplace, it was exciting and felt right
    So now you are lovers and you must attend to your love and the guy at the counter looks at your supplies and says, are you going to war … you look down at the cash as you peel off a few bills and you don’t answer, because you understand the young man knows nothing of war, and so you just remain silent as you collect your things and walk out the door
    She is waiting for you in the apartment, probably still in the hot bath, watching the blood change to words that fan around her body
    It is the story of her life, printed on ripples and within clouds, but like most literature written by the heart, no one will ever read it, and she will remain unknown and it is for this reason, probably more than anything else, that you love her
    She needs you, someone to edit her life with needle and thread

***

Buy the book

**************

Duke Miller worked overseas for twenty-five years in mostly war zones and countries with civil unrest. Most notably in Rwanda during the genocide, Central America during various civil wars, Bosnia, Somalia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan's tribal areas, the Congo, etc. He never accepted a job in any agency's headquarters. He only did field work and almost always found himself in those areas where American and West European policies came down upon refugees, the displaced, and local inhabitants. Sometimes things went well, sometimes not so good. The map is not the terrain and the biggest mistake in the morning, often turned out by nightfall to be the best thing ever done upon this planet. He has two dogs: Missa Him and Matilda. He is nursing two broken ribs and a heart that won't cooperate.

Saying Nothing in Particular, by J.T. Twissel

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