Brenda Miller

Terminal

Actually, it’s good to be quiet, to
be a waiting stone, while that word
caroms around the room.
Does he mishear it
as Eternal? The one time I want
false understanding, meaning
garbled in the ear.

He folds his hands, carefully.
I see his clenched jaw, offer no advice
or observation, just keep quiet
for once, don’t lie and say
it will be all right.

Meanings of “terminal”:
nadir, ending, point
of no return, but also
point of activation: bud
quivering at the end of a branch,
railcars lined up to depart. He often

sat at his computer crunching
the numbers, looking
up routes to get somewhere, all those
various destinations. A terminal—
waiting room where you
expect something wonderful to begin—
your anticipated journey, your
zenith, your best time ever.

 

That Doesn’t Count

Fluorescent light in his nursing home room,
no other illumination but
from the dim window, now drawn shut,
sometimes flickering blue light
of a baseball game or
the news, his eyes closed,
double vision,
all inward
to see
pain
as if
pain has shape
and substance you
can grasp. He winces
often, bedsore growing
at the base of his spine where
all the nerves converge. That doesn’t
count, he says, as if some pain’s more
noble—no morphine, he says, no thank you.

 

Coyote

We thought
it was a fawn at first

and then a fox, or a mutant
blend of both,

but it looked too gray, and thin,
and cowered

as it ran
between the graves.

It stopped, looked back,
kept running—

not a lope, not a gallop,
not a high-footed trot—

more a fast slink toward the trees.
Would it have attacked

the dogs? my mother asked
more than once

as we crept forward in the car,
hoping

for one more glimpse.
We’d been walking

the dogs off-leash
after visiting my father’s grave,

placed stones inked with Happy birthday!
and We miss you!

among the mosaic of stones already
left behind. One year gone,

and I wanted to feel
something, something more

than the vast indifference of death,
but dry grass

reflected nothing, and the earth refused to stir.
That animal—

could have been a coyote, could have been
anything—signified nothing more

than a wild creature lost among the dead.
Perhaps the trickster, the one who fooled

his neighbors countless times.
I drive my mother so slowly

along this narrow road,
our dogs safe in the back seat. Would it

have attacked? she asks again,
craning for one more look.

 

Brenda Miller is the author of five essay collections, most recently An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016). She also co-authored Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction and The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University, and associate faculty at the Rainier Writing Workshop.

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