Sunday, December 5, 2010

5 Poems by Joseph V. Milford


You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar
But he was tougher than a two dollar steak
And crazier than a sprayed roach—hell, if you

Put his brain in a gnat’s ass, the damn thing would
Fly backwards. That dog won’t hunt. I told him,
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

He looked like he’d been beaten by a bag of nickels.
He was out all night stealing the bridles off of nightmares.
I aim to worry-wart the cowlick off that scalawag, fixin’ to.

You never sell your mule to buy the plow. Any clodhopper
Knows that. Either fish or cut bait. There’s no time to waste.
And you best be careful—the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s tail

All the time. Nobody pisses on my leg and tells me it’s raining.


I was once a legend.
Then I was scrapmetal.
Then I found a map.

I was once a carwreck.
Then I was a cartographer
Without legs in a swamp.

I was once a pole of the earth
Bored and reverberating;
I walked away from the factory.

I was once a manufacturer,
A metal-melder with trademarks,
Any practical invention no one loved.

I became a hometown hero,
Missing a few fingers,
Always able to give flawless directions

To anything crude, abandoned, local.

Underprivileged Youth

These days, most want to be crows and ravens.
These cataracts make pretty smogs, I reckon.
By my figuring, you walked out of a snagstorm
To hand me a mushroom cloud. I call it cotton candy.

Gnats whisper about the kitchen windows.
Palmetto bugs crawl their cartography in the grass.
I have a deeply submerged under the porch soul.
You’ve felt it in every catfish you ever ate.

These days, they try to subdue a great upheaval
By giving us so many helpings of upheaval. Trifle
To trifle, you will buy yourself back from those
Who sold you before you knew you had value.

It’s genius. I love it. Economics like a duck-billed
Prospectus that lays eggs and still needs banks
To be its tits. Now this is politics not poems.
Those with guns on their wings never knew a difference.

In the old days, most wanted to be otters or wolverines.
Maybe sables. Maybe badgers. I remember realizing
That sleek was not loyal and cunning was not reliable.
I found this in an alley, a corpse in a brown paper bag.

Often, the daffodils are the worst army I have seen.
Their lush green and gold taller than my two-year-old
Unless I pay a stranger. I am shorter than weeds now.
I am spiderwebs on oaks. I hold things like crows can

In their small leather and bone hooks. This way
Of strife is only an anthill doused with gasoline.
A teen-ager pregnant with vertigo will drop her
sparkler and kill a world with the end of her summer.

My Wife’s Skin

This time I gave her the pelt
It had been marked petulant
She smelled it before kissing me
Then she kissed it—I felt vindicated
And I worked for mendicants
The pelt was holographic and skimmered
I suggested that we could put it
Through many vents or processes
Which could make it less pelt and more
Silver but she really attached a lot
Of pelt to it—this was my mistake
Then she, for a moment, let me hold the pelt
For safekeeping, even though it pained her,
She went to a place where this generosity,
Or its stamp, was not avant or vogue enough
I put the pelt in a window several stories high
Hoping it would jump or fall or hiccup out
The pelt in that window wrapped its imagination
About my oblongata and I became its animal
Upon her return, I was skinned, but willfully
She wore me well unto I was tufts and lint
I never loved like that before—I found myself
Floating about her as mites chewed me in air
I thought to myself about myself when I once
Watched clouds on my back, thinking I was on earth
But I had always been on a cloud watching
Things I thought were clouds, or better yet, worse than that.

Moreland, Georgia Nocturne

I woke with runes across the bridge of my nose.
(They might be freckles or indentations from quilt wrinkles.)

I woke with angels outside my balcony.
(Hummingbirds at their feeders on the porch,

We put hummingbird food out like people think wind.)
I woke with knowledge of ancient Celtic alchemy.

(Still these transformations happen in ovaries of tiger lilies.
They blossom in the yard under thunderstorms.)

I awoke with a Mohawk; its roots were the World Tree;
its spikes were the constellations.

(Sincerely I went to work and taught my classes.)
I woke with a musket in my hand and went to kill bootleggers.

The rabbits ran from the back of the house away from the wild cabbage.
I woke with the snake in my head and was King George.

I saved all of Europe from Satan and Dragons with a painting.
(The salamanders [I wished he was a chameleon], the camouflaged

little dragons make me laugh as they writhe about linoleum.)
In the back yard, 50 feet or so from the house, is a ravine, a dead riverbed.

I know that there was once a railroad behind this house—a tract.
I woke knowing I was here to be a dying loser, never a writer. Writher, I mean.

I thought when I saw it that it was a riverbed but it was formerly a railroad track.
To me that is a direct message to me called a symbol.

Once you get a symbol, you must make a language for it. Tongues and braids.
Takes time and responsibility. Runes across our noses.

I know now that ever-everything has conspired to put me here.
You all know the same thing as you look out over your tier,

Over those runes on the bridges of our noses
Into the infinite things

That love us and wait for us. To compose words like rings
around their fingers to make the bonds seem real.

To make the bonds a composition.
To make you compose, but then, really, I see now that we are strung

Christmas lights over a garden; we hang there in fright
waiting for the worlds we created in snowglobes with dry ice

to kill the worlds we live in in our offices,
in our hospices, in our ravines that were once rivers, traintracks—

make a fist, a pact, an auspice
(Then, put your hand over your face.

Then slowly draw your hand down
until you see your eyes.

Now you are doing this
in a mirror. I’ll bet you—

if you can stop your hand upon your eyes
you are further along than me

because I draw my hand down and cover my mouth
and I scream).

You have wakened the wrong man in the middle of your own dream.
It’s okay—we’ll call it even. We share this labyrinth.

We both will until you wake writing runes. Coming to terms
With the dry riverbed and the new tongue.

Joseph V. Milford is a Professor of English at Georgia Military College south of Atlanta. His first book, Cracked Altimeter, was published in 2010. He is the host of the weekly Joe Milford Poetry Show (, which he maintains with his awesome wife Chenelle. He also edits the literary journal Scythe with his wife from their shack in rural Georgia. Currently he is happy with the Atlanta Falcons football team.