Denver Poet Wayne Miller

Courtesy of Jennifer Drake

Plane crashes, random shootings and the sound of a sleeping baby are all fodder for Denver poet Wayne Miller. His latest book is “Post-” It recently won the Rilke Prize and is a Colorado Book Award finalist. Miller, who teaches at University of Colorado Denver and is the author of four collections of poetry, spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Excerpts from "Post-" Poems by Wayne Miller

Post-Elegy

After the plane went down
the cars sat for weeks in long-term parking. 
Then, one by one, they began to disappear 
from among the cars of the living.

---

When we went to retrieve his 
you drove the rows of the lot 
while I pushed the panic button on the fob.

---

Inside, a takeout coffee cup 
sat in its cradle, 
a skim of decay 
floating beneath the lid. 
I'd ridden in his car 
many times but never driven it.

---

When I turned the key 
the radio 
opened unexpectedly, 
like an eye.

---

I was conscious of the ground 
passing just beneath the floor--
and the trapped air in the tires 
lifting my weight. I realized 

I was steering homeward 
the down payment 
of some house we might live in 
for the rest of our lives.

“Post Elegy from pg 5” from Post-: Poems by Wayne Miller (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Wayne Miller. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org

Ballad (American, 21st Century)

That spring, the shooter was everywhere-- 
     shot from our minds into the hedgerows,
the pickup beds and second-floor windows,
     the hillocks and tentacled live oaks. And sometimes

he was tracking us with the dilated
     pupil at the tip of his rifle. His bullets spun
into the theater's stop-sign faces, the tessellated
     car lots beyond the exits; they tore holes

in our restaurants and vinyl siding, those fiberglass
     teacups we clamored into at the county fair.
Though you don't remember it, Little Bear,
     a bullet crossed right in front of your car seat--

then window glass covered you like bits
     of clouded ice, and the rain came pouring in
as I raced for shelter at the Wendy's off Exit 10.
     Every night we kept our curtains drawn,

and while your mother slept I sat alone
     in the bathroom dark watching the news surface
into the ice-cut window of my cell phone.
     They said the shooter was in Saint Louis

shooting up a middle school gym, then
     he'd gone to the beach, where he killed a girl
pouring sand from a cup into a sandwich tin.
     (Nevertheless, I pictured his face as a cloud 

of insects hovering in the blackest corner
     of the empty lot across the street.) At work 
they walked us through scenarios--what to throw 
      if he came through my classroom door,

how to arm the students (desks!) 
     for counterattack. And when he came--
and when those next four children were erased--
     they trapped him in a high-speed chase

toward the touchless carwash, where the cops
     encircled him and, rather than relent,
he put his rifle barrel to his mouth like the mouth
     of a test tube from some childhood experiment.

“Ballad, (American 21st Century)” from Post-: Poems by Wayne Miller (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Wayne Miller. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org

The Debt 

He entered through the doorway of his debt.
Workmen followed, bringing box after box

until everything he'd gathered in his life
inhabited his debt. He opened the sliding door to the yard--

a breeze blew through the spaces of his debt, 
blew the bills from the table onto the floor.

The grove of birches and, farther,
the beach of driftwood and broken shells

were framed by the enormous window--
that lens-like architectural focus of his debt.

He drove into town on the coiled springs 
of his debt; when he bought fish at the market 

he proffered his Mastercard. The dark woods 
stretching inland were pocked by lightfilled cubes 

of debt. The very words he used to describe
his surroundings were glittering facets

of debt. Each visit, we smoked on the deck 
and, over drinks, he reminded me 

with love and genuine pride: one day 
all this debt would be mine.

“The Debt” from Post-: Poems by Wayne Miller (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Wayne Miller. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org