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Wayne Miller


A Prayer (O City—)


O arrow landed deep in Harold’s eye—


O voice 

pressing upward against the sky—


O light and steam. 


(When the western windows

of the City go pink, the rooms behind them

lock shut with clouds.)


O clouds— 


     (Slipping down in the morning

to part around the skyrises, to marble

the rooftop shanties and gardens,

the hammocks and clotheslines.)


And graying water tanks— 


  (Our water lifted 

into the clouds—and me, drawing it 

down into my cup, my breath 

pressed to the shimmering surface.)


O City—


  (That breathes itself 

into the glass—that pulls me to the window

I press my gaze through,

I press my face to—) 


O City—


  (And the makers, 

who drew the City through the membranes 

of paper and canvas, 

giving the city to the City—) 


      O City—


(And our tables and demitasses,

woofers and fire escapes,

kisses in doorways, weapons

and sculptures, concerts

and fistfights, sex toys and votives,

engines and metaphors—.)


City of Joists—


(The City shot through with them.)


City of Doorways—

     (The City opens us,

and we step through.)


O Light-Coming-on-in-a-Window—


(Since you’ve opened the fridge,

opened your book, opened your room

to the room next door.)


O City— 

 (Pushing through the dark 

like the nose of a plane.)


O City— 

 (It could be a bomber, 

night-black, the instruments on auto,

the pilot asleep in his lounger.) 


O City— 

 (In the hull below, words 

are written on the bombs in Sharpie.)




(There’s also a folder of letters lying off to the side in the dark. 


In one of them, the pilot’s brother describes some fingerprints he’s

found pressed inside the lip of a broken jar. 


He’s an archeologist. The prints are from the jar’s maker—just after

the Battle of Hastings, near the end of the eleventh century.)




Dear Auden,


The City in its ball rolled forward—


(the same City that, in its jar, 

had engulfed the hill).




The City was the wall I lay on, 


then the City 

was the voice I spoke into.




When gunmen exchanged fire


across my yard, the City 

filled the bullets, which so briefly 


breathed in their motion. 




Later, the City was silence 

threading through birdsongs. 




I listened from the sun porch, 


which seemed to hang

above the rotting picnic table.




The City was looped in the ring


I gave my lover to say: we would 

live together inside the City.




Each July, the City hissed with light

at the sparklers’ blinding cores. 




When the City spread its darkness


over me, I loved the warmth

of the susurrations, and when the City 


lifted me above the City


I leaned my head 

against the egg-shaped window. 




             O Auden—O City— 


what abstractions I had: 

the illusions I swung from 


along your neoned, crisscrossing, 

paperflecked streets




I once believed 

formed a bower of iron. 


Flooding the Valley


Then the City rose in the valley, 

filling first the long furrows 

in thin glassy lines, then 

the roads, the pastures, rising 


up through the porch boards, 

the floorboards, lifting bales 

of hay from the fields, climbing 

the fence posts, the woodpile, 


rising in the sooted chimney 

stone by stone, up the staircase 

to slide across the wood floor, 

soaking the featherbed, 


past the top of the banister, 

the grayed vanity mirror, 

climbing the trunks of trees 

until the leaves were swallowed, 


the City then scaling the long 

sides of the valley, dilating 

as it rose toward the sky, 

up its own great wall, where 


cars lined the roadway, 

where hands lined the railing—

then down the long chutes 

in white braids of froth, 


the City spilled out.



The Feast




The table at which we sat had been destroyed in the war, then rebuilt

from its pieces recovered behind the glassworks.


The food was sumptuous. Beyond the leaded windows there were

hedgerows budding in lilac and white. When a streetcar passed clang-

ing, I suppressed a sudden urge to ting my glass with my spoon. 


Being strangers, we had little to talk about. So when at last Adam

stood, we tipped forward into the words of his toast with the zeal that

only strong liquor imparts. 


From then on, things were better. We began to laugh. By eleven, I

thought the night was a real success.




I was lying just then—in truth we were terrified. We watched our-

selves twist in the bells of our water glasses. How could we know who

might stand to speak next, or what things he might say? 


None of the servers could talk in our language. When an airplane

buzzed the street, we all flinched in unison. 


In the hills, there were distant bursts of artillery—then vast swatches

of silence.


-from The City, Our City

BIO: Wayne Miller is the author of The City, Our City, The Book of Props, which was named the “Best New Book of Poetry of 2009” by Coldfront Magazine, and Only the Senses Sleep, which received the William Rockhill Nelson Award in 2007. He is also the translator of I Don’t Believe in Ghosts, a collection by Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and the editor, with Kevin Prufer, of New European Poets. The recipient of the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the George Bogin Memorial Award, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and the Bess Hokin Prize, Miller currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and teaches at the University of Central Missouri, where he co-edits Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.

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