Fiction - Dropping Balm, Summer 2001

by Sarah Miller

The Garden of Fugitives, Pompeii

They lie in a long row, like a chain gang

curled around each other. Imagine

a party of frozen climbers, roped together

on a mountain. You almost have it:

here is the tortured twist of an arm, here

a hand clawing at a down-turned face, here

a gaping mouth and muscles tensed for flight.


Now give them names. The boy crouching

on a barrel, face locked behind his fingers,

could be your son. The woman curled

around her stomach, making a hollow

between her knees and breasts, carries

your brother’s child in her belly.


Look at the man whose head barely rises

from the ground, whose fingers reach out

toward the tourists holding their ice cream

and cameras. His eyes look like yours.

Do you see it now? Do you see the dog

scratching at his collar as if the leather

burns his skin? For a thousand years

they all have gnawed at rock and ash.

Invitation on K’s Windshield

I confess: I loved a man.

He told me everything I needed to hear,

took me by the hand, led me outside

under a clouded moon. We stripped ourselves

and naked threw our bodies upon each other.


I have never told anyone how my mind wandered,

considered the light angles from nearby park lamps

and the odds of being caught in the open.

There were six blades of grass around my big toe,

three wrapped around the little. I felt them

while he moved his body over mine.


If you want my body, I will give it to you.

Others have had it since he first broke it open

that night on a wind-swept hill.

I am hardly a stranger to the way sweat dries

on skin and breathing softens and slows.


If you want more than my body,

you must find in me what remains

of the girl who walked up that hill and teach me

what there is in the slow movement of bodies

against each other, the feel of skin on skin,

the touch of lips that is more than sex.


Teach me, and then if ever in the future

our paths should part and another asks me

over breakfast or late at night under a half-moon

Who is the first person you loved?

I will confess I loved a woman.

Spreading the Ashes

After granddad’s death, grandmother road-tripped

to Florida. I imagine the urn strapped

in the front seat of her south-bound convertible, 

her leathery hand smoothing the bronze, promising 

At the next stop . . . 

                                    She walks into Reception, 

speaks to the concierge: I would like to check in; 

I am leaving my husband here. In the afternoon 

she sleeps by the pool; he floats on a green kickboard, 

rocking in the wake of livelier swimmers. 

                                                           A phone call: 

she admits the ashes remain unspread. She couldn’t 

feed him to the world’s largest alligator or toss him

out to sea like fish guts from the pier.

She explains:

she has plans, brochures of Disneyworld. She’ll send

postcards: pictures of her in the backseat of a roller coaster

smiling for the camera flash as momentum carries her onward,

black plumes trailing from fists clenched high over her head.


© 2005 Sarah Miller

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