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Matt Miller was born and raised in Lowell, MA. He earned a BA at Yale University and an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College. He is a former Visiting Professor of Writing at New England College and has taught writing workshops at Stanford University, Harvard University, Endicott College, and the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. He has published work in Connecticut Review, DMQ Review, ThirdCoast, Beacon Street Review, Entelechy International, and Renovation Journal. He has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and his first book, Cameo Diner: Poems, was published by Loom Press in Fall 2005. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.
Matt's poem at Third Coast
For Walshy and Mitch
From the dark concrete gape of a rented garage,
across a New England dust and heat August,
as the 6:15 commuter rail sighs past the tall weeds
and rusted box cars of Gallagher Terminal
and hunches south toward Boston, a wail of dying
metal crows the morning out from under its own
shadows—a landscaper sharpening the blades
of his mowers against an electric sander’s bony
spin. Sparks wasp across forearms, which are three
days dirty and lashed thick with veins. He stiffens,
gliding the blades back and forth to rub from
yesterday’s dulled brown this morning’s sharp cut
of silver. A Marlboro hangs from his bottom lip unlit
as his eyes become buried in the rhythm. He forgets
the press of sweat, the pain in his back, the bills
and the billings, the ice coffee melting in the pickup.
Forgets it all just long enough to get lost in the whine
of the blades as they pass under the wheel. Until
the sharpening is done. Then with a torque wrench
he tightens the blades back onto the mowers,
changes the air filters, loads them onto the trailer
along with shovels, rakes, saws, and backpack blowers
and heads out for the rows. The rows of old women
always late to pay, of young mothers who want just
one more thing cut, of men who will do a better job
when they have the time. The rows of angry corners,
lawn ornaments, painted mulch, hive husks, and stones.
The rows upon rows that he must cut before the day
wears out and dulls into dark behind the roofed hills.
Flanks shredded by shark
or prop, the humpback rolled
sleepily in the lungcrush
of breakers slamming salt
barrels onto a beach by Half
Moon Bay. Even from the cliff
we were caught by the yellow
stink conscripting the wind,
the waste into sulfide and
the clouding over of blowflies.
Crowding onto the sand we
watched the massive decay
at work in the waves. Torn
flukes slapped in the push
of foam, as if some last claim
of life at once betrayed by
the pink bladder ballooning
out of its belly, like bubble gum
blown too thin to hold. And
its eyes, once covenant
with the sea, were shuttered
to the gulls gathering in the
foggy August light. Our lips,
if they moved, did so in silence,
muted as prayers on the breeze
as we closed in. Even in its purge
of fluids, its collapse into maggots,
its froth of gravewax and fate
the whale still held sovereignty,
some godswallow of nature.
Dear Inventor Lover
Dear inventor lover, come poking at me with your knives and tweezers,
calibrate my robot deviations with your serrated calipers!
My skin is a film of cracking solar panels rotting with laptop smallpox
from an anthrax that swaps spit with wireless hookups!
And my eyes, goddamn my eyes are burning from the digital
belligerence I lean into like a bought boxer or some battered
wife afraid to be left alone with herself. I have nothing left
for myself except some hits of E and laughing gas.
Look, my hangnails are loose wires sticking out of fingers all crooked
and cracked from scratching at the lid of the casket. I rip
at the wires, tugging circuits and sinew through my weakening
widening pores and what’s left of my flesh.
Oh, you should see the sparks and fire fly from my hands!
I could quicken life in still waters with the lightning leaving me.
I am sad and filthy with flesh! I need to replace myself with plastic
struts, with epoxy chemicals, with nanotech nose hairs,
with soft cybernetics and laser optics. Make me a machine! Make me safe
for the earth! Tickle my feet with your micro fibers!
Make me small enough to travel on waves of light and firing synapses.
Muscle and ligaments have been made redundant by gears and wheels
which were made obsolete by cable and hypertext then made a memory
by tasty psychotropics and finally all of it to be unplugged into nothing
by the snuffing out of the fission and fusion of a fat and cocky sun.
So let me be your laboratory! Tinker with me. Replace my parts!
They are only there to rot anyway! Cut me loose into liquid crystal! It’s okay.
No one is watching anymore. The moon has turned away. Be the pilot
of my improvement. I supplicate myself to you, doctor, to you, scientist
to you, television, to you, professor, to you, weatherman, to you,
cozy mother, to you, coarse lover, to you, memory implant. I want
to kiss you and when I do please pull my tongue out
with your electric pliers. Please, please impart to me your sweet synthetics.
Frankenstein me my perfection. I’ll name all your beasts.
The Devil Watches the New Idol Tryouts
The daylong auditions were held in one
of the last abandoned shipyard warehouses
during the mean middle of winter and were
judged by a panel of eight, mostly men—
Ivy-MBA looking types in dark suits and
leather sandals. Arriving together on one bus,
some of the older gods were there to try out,
bringing with them their quivers of lightning,
goatskin drums and pipes, masks and feathers,
lamps, mistletoe, flaming swords and all kinds
of crosses. Sadly, some of them had gotten
hair plugs or wore girdles to hold back great
golden bellies and the amazed look on their faces
betrayed a conspiracy of Botox injections.
They all got equal time. Most of them nailed
their lines but none of them earned even the hope
of a call back. They never really had a shot.
Every part to be cast called for someone, well,
younger, sleeker, with more soft lights and switches,
gods you could plug into your skin, that came
with their own soundtracks, that you could stick
in a vein or swallow like a baby stone,
that were user friendly, that had bundled add-ons
and cheap accessories for quick customization.
All pimped out in plastic and chrome, chatting
so incessantly that all you could hear was static,
the young gods were cocksure as they read
for roles from chemical to coaxial. Most of them
hadn’t even bothered to look over the script.
It didn’t matter, because they sure looked good.
And they had tested well with consumers
male and female ages twenty-five to sixty.
The judges couldn’t help but show their teeth.
Hell, with orders to fill, how could they not?
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