Two poems by Dr. William Miller

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Japanese Wallpaper

When my father built

our new house, he had

Japanese scenes

rolled on the dining

room walls.

He’d lived there for

two years when

he was a teenager,

his dad a soldier

during the occupation.

He loved the islands,

climbed Mt. Fuji-San

and looked down

down at the small

world below him…

I loved that wallpaper,

the waterfalls and bridges

the travelers

on the narrow

mountain roads…

When my mom

and dad fought about

a woman I’d never

seen, I tried hard

to understand.

When the curse words

began, I traced

those winding roads,

amazed by the smiles

of those with

the heaviest sacks

across their round

shoulders… My dad

moved out, didn’t

say goodbye or when

I’d see him again.

After that, the house

fell down—broken pipes

a roof we couldn’t

afford to fix.

Finally, my mom sold

it at a loss. I didn’t care;

I hated that house, would

only miss the dining

room walls.

While the movers

worked from room

to room, I found

the man who climbed

the highest peak.

He held a long staff

and had no fear

of the dark mist ahead,

invited boys like me

to follow after him.


 James Erastus

After the war,

after Kernstown

and New Market,

he came home to fields

burned black.

He couldn’t vote,

own a gun or even

a piece of worthless land.

But he was only

a boy when he signed up,

still one on the red-dirt

road to town …

Years later, he worked

his small farm,

worked it for food,

hay for the mule.

He had four children,

one who looked

just like him, same hair

and eyes.

But the flu that killed

so many killed him too.

He made the coffin

on sawhorses

in the dirt yard,

sat up all night

with his son’s body …

And he grew old

in a world of cars

and telephones

he couldn’t afford.

But he never complained,

drove the wagon,

talked when he

wanted across

a rail fence,

or by firelight …

He forgot about

the war except

in odd, broken dreams,

though it came back

at the very end …

He talked about

digging the grave

of a soldier not much

older than him.

And it seemed as if

that boy didn’t die

for a flag but for

him, took his place

in red clay.

William’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, The Southern Review and Tar River Poetry Review. He lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans.