Joe Mills: Four Poems



The azaleas shimmer purple
against the white shingles
of the neighbor’s house,
luminous in the dawn air,
and although the dog tries
to pull me along, straining
towards home and breakfast,
I stand and stare.
Later I’ll remember how
Parsifal was paralyzed
by blood drops on snow
and how Frost’s traveler
stopped in the woods,
but for now, I think
of nothing, anchored by color
on color, the solid pressure
of purple and white,
of blood pulsing, of a leash
keeping me from falling,
then the planet continues
its rotation, the light shifts,
and the azaleas diminish
to where they are again
flowers, just flowers,
and I am turned back
to my life, to being someone
concerned with what
the neighbors might think
about a unshaven man
motionless outside their house,
to someone who has a dog
that wants to be fed.



The dog barks, but the caravan passes on.
–       proverb

The neighbor’s sick dog totters splay-legged
to the porch’s edge and barks as we pass.
He sounds like a sea lion coughing at the sky.
I consider running, pretending to be scared,
a gesture of generosity, like when my father
growls and tries to slam his hand on the table,
and I act intimidated.  I bet the dog, however,
would know he’s not chasing me away, and
then I recognize my father is just as smart,
and that it’s not me either is concerned with,
but another, the one who comes and refuses
to pass by no matter how much we may bark.


The Dog and I

We often hesitate now
before taking the path
down into the park.

After so many walks,
so many years,
we both know
what the return takes,

and some days
we’re just not sure
we have the energy,
the time, even the desire.

Yet we always go,
the dog and I,
sometimes she pulls me,
sometimes I her,

walking each day
the familiar path together,
slowly descending
then slowly rising.


We Were Just Going to Stay a Year or Two

The way my children speak sounds strange
to me.  They stretch out certain words,
adding syllables, and they have accents,
and it’s odd that I can name other children
around the block and that I know the jobs
their parents have or desire or have lost,
and that I no longer think anything of taking
the neighbor’s garbage can to the curb.
This is how it happens.   Roots simply grow.
In the spring, no one should bother asking
the dogwood if it intended to flower.