A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose

Joe Mills

is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts who has published two collections of poetry:  Somewhere During the Spin Cycle and Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers.

He also has edited a volume of academic criticism, A Century of the Marx Brothers, and written two editions of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries.

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Left Behind

On Sunday night, Mom cooked pot roast.
Afterwards my brother and sister washed
the dishes while I would be handed the platter
to take to the basement. There, I’d assemble
the meat grinder, screw it to the worktable,
stuff wedges into its gray funnel, and turn
the wooden handle so ribbons of roast
spiraled into plastic Tupperware. Above me
I would hear footsteps, the usual arguing,
sometimes laughter, sometimes singing,
but by the time I finished and ascended,
the kitchen would be clean and empty.
I would put the bowl in the fridge,
dismantle the grinder, and wash the grease
from its gears. Now, seeing bumper stickers
warning, “In case of Rapture this car
will not have a driver,” I wonder if
I already have some sense of how
that will feel. Maybe it will be like
coming up the stairs to find only the light
over the stove still on, the dishwasher
humming, everyone gone, and your hands
full of slick metal and leftover meat.


On Looking at Frida Kahlo’s “Little Deer”

We notice the suffering, of course,
with its human face, the arrows
suggesting the cruelty, even sadism,
of whoever shot it again and again,
and we wonder at the attention
to detail, the painting of each piercing,
the insistence on her pain,
which evokes pity, then annoyance,
but eventually we begin to consider
other questions, like what animal
we would be. A bear? A lion?
Wouldn’t it be better to be something
no one wants or bothers to hunt?

She shows her face and changes
her crippled body into a deer.
I would want the reverse. I would
give myself an elephant head,
not on this middle-aged sagging torso,
but on my younger chunky self,
the kid who wore Huskies and kept
his t-shirt on when swimming.
This is the power of art, to become
neither hunted, nor hunter,
but Ganesh, the elephant dancer,
the trickster, transforming the arrows
of outrageous fortune into incense sticks,
easily burned and casually swept away.