The Hemlock Path: A Collection of Poems by Carl S. Miller

The Hemlock Path

A pencil-thin line of dirt between green,

the wear of a rare foot

tunneling through nettle and devil’s club,

draws my reasoned step.

In some places this path grows wide,

we dance across staircase roots

and reach for top-shelf berries.

In places it splits,

some chance choices inevitably ending

in bum den Busch Lite and soggy clothes.

And sometimes it nears the edge of the wood

where weedy seeds blow upon us

from a dusty road gravelling outward from Nazareth.

Outreach Under the Overpass

There were feet washing stations at the park under the overpass –

part of a free food, concert, and proselytization event.

I was serving greasy cheeseburgers out of a sloppily converted trailer

for the Christian couple that owned the restaurant where I worked.

During one of my breaks my boss’s wife asked will you let me wash your feet?

I said sure (well what could I say?) and she led me to a folding-chair seat.

She knelt her pumpkin body in the scraggled grass and tied back orange curls,

then untied my caked, musty sneakers, slipped them away

and peeled back my socks, one at a time, with slow fluidity.

A large plastic, steaming tub was set between Katrina’s knees and my feet;

warmth filled me like a thermos.

She began to pray as she rubbed wet hands upon my ankle and heel and arch

and soapy fingers probed between soapy toes.

But soon she was praying in tongues, loudly,

maxing out the awkward-meter – people were looking –

so I just closed my eyes, allowed her fingers and rough caress to baptize my sore muscles.

I was a lump of dough beneath the fervor of fingers and hypnotic incantations.

When it was over I had to float back to my seat, like the tail end of an anesthetic coma.

Katrina was smiling and toweling my feet and looking like a mother into my eyes.

She produced a fresh pair of socks and slid them up my calves,

put my shoes back on and tied a double knot, bunny-rabbit style, in each.

I wasn’t about to offer to wash her feet in return; I don’t think she expected me to.

But after we had torn down tables and turned to end-of-the-day scatterings,

Katrina and I wandered away

and I pretended to pray – let her believe she had saved my soul.

How a Son Loves a Father

Something titanic had infected my brain,

musing, multiplying—

tendrils branching into barbs

of possible revenge.

But I had barely outgrown baseball cards

and PG movies

by the time he withered into a cancerous nothing.

I couldn’t just smash in his face,

already sunken like an aging jack-o-lantern,

or crumple his brittle body into a tumbleweed of bones,

or punch his gut until he vomited gods.

He was that worm,

caught on warm asphalt,

after a night of puddling

between grassy patches:

only suited for pity,

or the bottom of a muddy boot.

So we all turned away,

leaving him to bake in the sun.

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