Two Poems by Miller Oberman


The Ruin

Down the cobbles and across the canal
where the sodium lights of illegal houseboats
bob in the current, my compass gets stuck.
There my friend points, and we go to the chalk-marked
door, tug the chain and pulley and roll under the gate.

Someone dancing, masked, half lady liberty,
half skeleton.
The steam vents
chug over the musicians wearing nothing
but brass: tubas, trumpets, trombones
blast the crowd. A crush of warriors
stomps the beat, clashing swords, percussive.

Someone unbuttons their stolen
prison uniform, pulls a chainsaw from between
sweating thighs, starts it, hefts it,
cuts a gaping window to reveal the canal.
We watch the water glow,
Someone’s passing around clear spirits
in corked jars. Bitter
as winter berries, it sizzles the tongue.
Like tasting sparks. Like licking a raw stripped
Someone with hair made entirely
of peacock feathers starts the generator,
plugs a mic into an amp and after the electric squeals the cord, rasps
we are here, we are here

We open the cathedrals of our chests and roar. My friend leans into the wind
blowing through the fresh cut hole,
eyes round as shields, hawk-gold. We do not have to touch
to touch.

We dance. Hundreds. Thousands.
We shake the night with Peacock
in the slinky dress of shimmering wet tar.
The canal catches fire, trash islands burn like
wicks floating in kerosene.

Some of us have the beaks of hunting birds,
the oiled armor of cockroaches;
what the old book calls
We are unclean.
We burn what they build,
make nothing to replace it, dance
in a radioactive bone-joy,

and my friend, born in the seam
of a coal mining town, grins at me
in our ruined city, in magnesium
flare-dust, burned and burning.

Dear Lengthening Day

Come, swim under
bitterness, seamstress.
We are two suspended
up in the wet. Milky crestings, fringed
bare trees
our only bulb to fend off rain.

How red the fire reeks below.
Ocean and all its fiery ships
lapping, lapping at your dead feet,
and my limbs are light-freighted and I am lapped in flame,
loose-jointed and afraid of nothing,
wind-whetted, white throated.
What seems most ourselves sinks to jet.

If the throb in the thin shell is real
and fishblood denser than our blood,
you must not go alone into that place.
We do not live among them.
They overlap, they tongue to tongue,
they keep what is sharpest to themselves,
the bone that has no marrow
gathered in a cold mouth.

Later, the snow came, and I
had a change of temper.
Soon shall be the cough of birds,
the deep dead wave,
wounds in the rain.

Let the night be drained.
I am the scalp of myself.
I know it. But don’t look at me.
Forgive me
a bliss, a lightning blood.
It was rainy weather and I wept by the hearth.

About the Author:

Miller Oberman is a 2005 recipient of Poetry Magazine’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship. His poems and translations recently appeared in or forthcoming in Poetry, The Nation, Tin House, and Beloit Poetry Journal. His translation of the “Old English Rune Poem” won Poetry Magazine’s John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for Translation in 2013 and his poetry collection Useful was a finalist for the 2012 National Poetry Series.

A doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Oberman studies Poetry and Poetics with a focus on Queer Theory and Old English translation.

Read Miller’s poem “On Trans” at the Poetry Foundation.

“Dear Lengthening Day” is a cento.