Joseph V. Milford

POEMS taken from After The Mermaids Have Gone, Vol. 1
(a series of 400 poems—numerically titled)


I can not explain your love of pink flamingos.
Can you? I love cheese crackers because my grandfather
Loved them. He would eat them by the handfuls chewing
Grotesquely. Possibly, your grandfather ate pink flamingos
Out under the lemon tree in California? Maybe that is why
You covet pink flamingos. You want to consume them. Your
Grandfather turned pink one summer from eating these exotic
Creatures and they were pink, you told me, from eating
So much shrimp. Maybe you should eat so much shrimp that
You become a pink flamingo? Maybe if I eat enough cheese
Crackers, I will become the moon? I am not sure what either
One of us is made from or why we like making the things
That we do. I wonder why you ever liked me—I am far from
An exotic bird front yard sentry. I am no black-beaked
Majestic facsimile of Zeus near a mermaid at the sea’s edge.
I can’t explain your love for most things, nor my own love
For most things. I will stop, here, under the lemons, who are
Trying hard to ripen under smoke clouds of California burning.


Spots on the pear ripening on your table
Like the birthmarks you have touched upon me.
I wonder what my worries are—are they plagues
Or persimmons? Are they ruddy pears or cancerous
Marks upon the skin? I wonder what my desires
Are? Are they cancers and ripening, simultaneous
Man climbing and also falling off of the mountain?

I’ve known many reckonings. I like that word—
Like “wrecking on the awning” of something.
Like falling out of the sky as a too-heavy dawn.
Like landing in the cloudspit upon the ferns
In the steam of morning’s afterbirth born into
The stage after reckoning, which is the growing
Of the new skin. The scar tissue. Or gorgeous new

Flesh and its spotted silk. To take another hajj
To you would kill me. What new mythology can I have
Taken out of me with the Cesarean? What new beast
Douses his head with gasoline to be shorn? Dew is
Not on this moaning hinterland. Dew is not to be found.
Storms are heckling our place of renown—the wreck
Is like your hair on the pillow and the sheets are too white.


Flying dragon in the rearview
Mirror I am becoming
The sinking submarine in the
Over the shoulder mirror
I am shimmering like the
Atlas who dropped your world
When you thought you were
Bowling like I was supposed to be
Something like when you see
Lights in your eyes from rubbing them
A free acid trip or bicycle crash
Or as if the thing under the bed
Was full of flowers and not blood-lust
And the mirage of a man beyond
All reckoning—I think of a time
I was drinking in a hedge behind
A bank watching everyone shuffle
In and out and I think maybe I
Figured something out, but I can’t
Yet “get out”—over your shoulder
The shadow butterfly hoverer
Is breathing quite softly like the
Dark hallway you run down sometimes
Because you are still a child
And the dark wants more than
You can give it—love is like a solemn
Hallway as well—do we secretly want
The closed casket? I touched my grandpa’s
Hand when he was in wake and still wish
That I hadn’t. I am becoming the floating
Coffin again in your maelstrom. I am
Also the lamprey swaying at the bottom
As glittering creatures troll by.
What mythical beast would you make me?
Wouldn’t it be so crazy if I
Became a mythical beast myself. Just me.
There, red hair on its chest, a grimace
Of bad teeth, hair like rotting flowers
A guitar with four strings tuned
To ancient memories only.
A stone around my neck that was
Supposed to and could not drown me.
And I sat down for breakfast
With beer and you sat on my lap
And said, “C’mere—this place has been
Needing you to do its laundry
And eat its leftovers for a very
Long time, and I need you to re-stitch
My dress of poems you wove with your new words”.


Like a cat with its claws on the quilt “making biscuits”, you would always rub the palms of your feet together in your sleep, over and over. Tectonic plates grinding under you as a child in Los Angeles. And you grind your teeth at night so loud it wakes me up. Not sonically, I don’t think, but just the grist and texture of it. Reminds me of the deep mines of you where I did a great deal of hard labor. The world is cracked worse than my cell phone screen, and piles of thumbdrives are not organized. I wonder if I will ever kiss you behind your knees. I wonder where you are right now with pancakes so pleased? The buckets of olives of all kinds at the grocery in the deli make me think of you for some strange reasons (which I do know, so they are not that strange, but like déjà vu or a scent suddenly in the room, the ghost gives me that word). Which Halloween costume will you pick to wear to work today? Which pair of coveralls covered in different works of modern art will I pick to sit at the desk all day? You had a pet amoeba on a leash, and I had a pet leash on a wind. I always just wanted us to unwind—not to the point of confetti or government military office shreddings, but maybe to the point of freshly boiled linguini. We are like stink bugs together—no one smashes us in their homes because of our emissions, and then we die soon, in only a day or so, falling from the ceilings and are vacuumed up. You are a birdsong only heard by dogs. I am a catcall only heard by dead authors. The noise of the Harley parade outside as you think the world is snoring around you and you making a campfire rubbing the soles of your feet together. You have a carnal quality, a menacing anatomy, a charnal aura, a barrage of vimanas. You did not think I saw you that day, out on the patio, when you resurrected the dead chipmunk, whispering secret words I could not hear, then let him run off into the tall grass. I was in awe of you after that, but I was always too afraid to speak of it, too afraid to ask.


Two misinterpreters
At echolalia, interlopers

One with tongue on flesh
One with mind as foreign tongue

Then reversal in the bed
Much like a Sargasso of the ever

Unsaid and the things that were
Uttered which should have never

Been played by angry orchestras
Often I felt like the early inventor

Of the first flying devices
And apparatus—the two of us on a hill

You with a clipboard making notes
After every prototype crashes

Then walking home just asking
About what we should have for dinner

You with your notes on gravity and torque
Me with my notes on flight plans and wind

Joseph V. Milford is the author of the poetry collections CRACKED ALTIMETER (BlazeVox Press) and TATTERED SCROLLS AND POSTULATES, VOL I. (Backlash Press). He is an English professor and Creative Writing instructor living south of Atlanta, Georgia. He also edits the online poetry thread, RASPUTIN, A POETRY THREAD.
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