Poems by Peggy Miller

How to Suck an Orange

She was Helen Street.
Rolled over me like a steam roller on a maple leaf.
She taught me how to suck an orange.
She was older than all of us, gorgeous. Smart.
She’d been in the Navy, performed tonsillectomies
and learned to shoot an M16
before she ever came to nursing school.
So slender that her tiny silver watch
circled the wider bones of her wrist.
She wore it with the face thumb-side.
She would roll the orange hard on the desk,
stick her finger through the side of it
and break the membranes by feel,
her eyes going soft and visionless as her finger sought
and punctured the cool sections one by one, mulled the pulp.
She sucked out the juice
squeezing the rind flat.
Some things you never forget.


Woman Catches Falling Star

A woman went to bed one winter night in the season of
meteor showers when some stay up late to watch the
sprinkling debris of Euclidean space. But this woman
retired early, just as soon as the dishes were washed and
dried, the cat was out and the thermostat turned down.
Later while she slept the woman was struck by a blazing
meteor. She had been dreaming of bears, bears, bumping
and scratching at the door, bears eating raw fish in the
dining room, and the cat saying, if you do not die now you
will be bored for the rest of your life. Out of some dark
and unimagined corridor and headed precisely toward this
one small woman, the screaming remnant of a star slammed
through the roof, burned through the mattress and floor
and was found embedded in the cement of the basement,
still smoking. Though the woman sustained third degree
burns on one arm and the left side of her body, she recovered
and thereafter was known to sleep with the window open.

— reprinted from EXCURSUS

This Moon Day Night

“my greatest fear is that my reasons
for going will be incomprehensible to those
who follow, and the work that has consumed my life
forgotten” — The First Woman on the Moon, Todd Fry

You have heard rumors of the woman
who landed on the moon in 1881.
They say most of the details are forgotten.
They say she was a scientist. No.

But the woman was indeed thirty-three
years old at the time of her voyage.
She was so tired. A farmer’s wife
who worked hard, and spring was the hardest.

Daylight, and so the work,
stretched far into the evening
and the fields required many hours
if there were to be vegetables
enough for the bitter winter.

There was a toll to be paid
on the back, the hands lost their youth
to roughness and if she was lucky
she wouldn’t get pregnant again until November.

So it was that as she planted rows
of onion sets, half acres of potatoes
and beans, flax, the long shadows of afternoon
turned into evening and the moon rose,
huge and soft at the end of the furrow.

The woman blessed the light
by which she could finish her work
and rest an hour longer in the morning.
As she worked with even speed
moonwind swept her muddy skirts.

This moon day night the woman
learned to travel far and fast
across prairies up mountains
through crowds at the county fair
and little tea parties among cedars.

And before she returned to the house
to make a late supper
the woman gained escape velocity,
surmounted the clouds and swished
through the blackness of space counting stars.

When she reached the moon,
the woman stood and looked for a long time
at this land of curves and circles,
this territory of vaporous rest.

She walked along ridges of silver-white craters,
planting a few potatoes as a gift,
scooped a handful of silky moondust
and carried it home in her apron pocket.

–reprinted from VISIT THERE