Alice Mills | Selected poems

SpiderNaked

Nine years older, my aunt accepted my worship
carelessly. Between parties, she took me out on the river,
told stories of men and liquor binges. I was eleven.
I believed. We took off our tops to sunbathe
on the open, deserted river. I envied her breasts. We let
the little tin boat have its lead past clear springs
that edged the brown cypress tea river. A small-mouthed cave
yawned on the red clay bank. My aunt
wanted to explore. I swallowed
my caution. We rowed in,
the low rim admitting our bent heads.
A flashlight pointed down gave us a forty foot view
of a crystal-necked shaft. It seemed so much clarity; we held hands.
She lifted the light to see our chamber. All around
pocketed in sleeves of web were spiders the size and color
of a spaniel’s ear. We were never more equal, my aunt and I,
than when the spiders, startled
by the light, began to drop softly
onto our naked backs.

***

My youngest self

eyes closed

my youngest self
that midnight carnival
travels a distant road
no moon to guide
lights color the wheel edges
spin me out of body

fears grip the bars and roar
the lion’s teeth are sawn to the bone
the elephant shifts his weight from side to side
the scrape, scrape of the chains comfort him

music, tinny and insistent,
angers the apes
I hear it only as memory
buried like the carnie asleep
under the straw

the ragged circus trundles on
and the Ferris wheel shakes,
precarious on metal rails

something in me falls silent
a woman cries, a voice
I do not own

the road splays into fingers
through dark fields
where histories are sown
I cannot stay
I am not welcome here
in the early landscapes of my life
topographies of blind sight and mind

I will return later
search for markers
under tilth of heart and eye

***

Jesse James commits suicide

my boots always point
toward the devil’s liking

and the little widow who waits for me
on her little farm huddled
in the crook of the Green River
as it snakes unhurried through
Kentucky to Cumberland country

she let me know the tax man
was on his way to collect what was
due for losing the war

I knew what to do
rode into the steepled bank
in Columbia Square
took my portion of glory

she paid the cheat and
I, never one to turn luck away,
cleared out the thief’s
deal on the road to Missouri

no one saves me with dutiful tears
visions of a grisly cross and a man calling himself son

of a bitch Bob Ford thinks he knows
my every move reads my thoughts
like wanted posters
pick up that gun Bobby

now that my back is to you
coward that you
are and were when you hung

back from trains and banks filled with gold and fear
feel my will now

draw your .44 while I face the mantle and
the tired eyes of my mother in her oval frame
listen for the soft click of the hammer
pull the trigger and think it was all your damned idea

Alice Mills earned her MFA from the University of California, Irvine in 1996 and has taught in higher education as an English Professor for 25 years.  She writes poetry for many reasons, all of which remain better unsaid. Her most recent work is featured in the 2 River View, A Time of Singing,The Icarus Anthology, Cold Creek Review, and Dodging the Rain.

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