BOOKS & THE CULTURE / Miles My grandfather’s mouth: a closed gap, narrow and crooked as a pencil sketch. Five lines ripple his forehead, disappear at the temples, a stone skipped on a lake. Thin dusting of hair, whiter than the whites of his tired eyes. Eyes too cold to jump in, swimming holes in March. Right thumb sticks out, tries to escape the frame, the bleached collar. The windows in the house behind him sag, little broken faces. * He has lived behind glass longer than I’ve been alive. No one talks about him, as if he is still in the room. I only know small scraps of him, like bits of blue between clouds, just enough to patch a pair of pants. His black lungs gasped for air at night, birds flying into closed windows. My father wears his forehead. He says Miles was called “boy” until, at five, he named himself. Was he looking at a sign? Did he know he’d travel years into my pressed page? He rode under trains when he was young, though no one says where, or why he stopped. When he married my grandma, they were too poor for a house. So they lived in a tent for months along the banks of Muddlety River. They had five girls, one boy. He moved them twenty-seven times, disappearing into a new whiskey bottle or a new mine. * A canary beats her wings against his black rib cage. She has tried to fly through his eyes, travel the cold distance. She would fold her wings if I held her soft body in the cup of my hands. When I listen close I hear her still singing * I don’t know which stories are real: they blend and chip like fossils, like the coal he used to mine. I want to break the skin thin as ice over his picture, pull his hands from the pockets of his only suit, pressed carefully and worn for the picture. Touch my face to his and swallow the miles. ANDI YOUNG Boy Struck by Lightning His feet burnt through his cleats. He sailed in the air, the other boys say, he flew. Their coach kneeled beside him in the ruptured mud and sent hot air from his lungs into the chest, the boy’s ribs creaking as he blew. A filament of saliva glistened between the cooling mouth and his own, tired lips. Breathe, dammit, breathe, he said, and pounded the ground near the bluing face. When the other boys go home, they dream of the light. They know it found them and pointed one out. When they wake, they won’t speak. Their parents explain chance, promise it won’t happen again. Counselors come, kind adults who ask them to draw what they fear most. But the boys know better: they saw how everything they had been taught was false. They pity the ignorance of everyone grown, the houses and jobs, table manners, altars. In the center of their eyes they carry the truth: earth hungers, and her tongue is fire. JULIE CONVISSER Ai ndi Young grew up in southern West Virginia and now lives in Berkeley, California. She works as a bookseller and freelance journalist. The word “miles” takes on an enlarged, luminous air in this poemhow many miles do we each travel from the worlds of the old photographs passing down to us through our families? Julie Convisser lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Her poem was written after a boy in the Portland suburbs was struck by a bolt of lightning during soccer practice. She kept thinking how the world would never seem as “safe and orderly” again to the other boys who had witnessed the startling event. Naomi Shihab Nye Note: Our poetry editor regrets she will be unable to accept more work until December 1997, due to a backlog. Thanks, trusty writers and readers! JULY 4, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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