Mind-Body Problem

When I touch your skin and goosebumps lift,
it’s your mind that surfaces there.
When your iris tightens mechanically
around your pupil, that aperture
becomes for me the blacked-out
cockpit of your mind.
                                        It’s your mind
that touches your tongue to mine,
your mind that, when you’re driving,
lowers your hand to my thigh
almost mindlessly.
                                  Your mind
like a pilot light inside your sleep,
your mind that beats your heart—
slower, then faster—infusion pump
in the chest, flooding your mind.

But your heart is not your mind.
The curve of your hip; the soft
skin of your wrist is not your mind.
The tumor growing in your brain
is just your brain, I say.
                                         The shape
of your face; the sound of your voice,
which I love so much, is not your mind.
Your mind spills through—fire

I can’t stop watching from the far
side of this darkening valley.

More by Wayne Miller

Nocturne

Tonight all the leaves are paper spoons
in a broth of wind. Last week
they made a darker sky below the sky.

The houses have swallowed their colors,
and each car moves in the blind sack
of its sound like the slipping of water.

Flowing means falling very slowly—
the river passing under the tracks,
the tracks then buried beneath the road.

When a knocking came in the night,
I rose violently toward my reflection
hovering beneath this world. And then 

the fluorescent kitchen in the window
like a page I was reading—a face
coming into focus behind it:

my neighbor locked out of his own party,
looking for a phone. I gave him
a beer and the lit pad of numbers

through which he disappeared; I found
I was alone with the voices that bloomed
as he opened the door. It's time

to slip my body beneath the covers,
let it fall down the increments of shale,
let the wind consume every spoon.

My voice unhinging itself from light,
my voice landing in its cradle—.
How terrifying a payphone is

hanging at the end of its cord.
Which is not to be confused with sleep—
sleep gives the body back its mouth.

The Affair

1

It was a desire to jump narratives—

to find himself suddenly
encircled by different lights

in the distant hills. To find
the hum of the engine

conveying him forward

had altered its tone. The self
had to be asserted

against that which seemed

merely given: the body’s
untranscendable location—

to step outside it, outside
what was visible

in the mirror in the room.

2

He found himself threaded
through the mouth

by his only narrative,
the body that held it

propelling him forward

through the dark, the light
of that narrative

reaching out to strike
the ground before him

in his only voice.

Carillon

Phones were ringing

in the pockets of the living
and the dead

the living stepped carefully among.
The whole still room

was lit with sound—like a switchboard—
and those who could answer

said hello. Then
it was just the dead, the living

trapped inside their bloody clothes
ringing and ringing them—

and this was
the best image we had

of what made us a nation.
 

Related Poems

Having it Out with Melancholy

          If many remedies are prescribed
          for an illness, you may be certain
          that the illness has no cure.
                              A. P. CHEKHOV
                             The Cherry Orchard

 

1  FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited 
behind a pile of linen in the nursery, 
and when we were alone, you lay down 
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on 
everything under the sun and moon 
made me sad—even the yellow 
wooden beads that slid and spun 
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude. 
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death; 
the pleasures of earth are overrated."

I only appeared to belong to my mother, 
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts 
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases. 
I was already yours—the anti-urge, 
the mutilator of souls.


2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, 
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, 
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. 
The coated ones smell sweet or have 
no smell; the powdery ones smell 
like the chemistry lab at school 
that made me hold my breath.



3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.



4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner 
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away 
from the massive pain in sleep's 
frail wicker coracle.



5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw 
that I was a speck of light in the great 
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole 
human family. We were all colors—those 
who are living now, those who have died, 
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm, 
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood 
you came flying to pull me out 
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear 
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.



6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me 
upstairs, lies down with a clatter 
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing 
saves my life—in and out, in 
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . . 



7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat 
wears my clothes, speaks 
in my voice, dispatches obligations 
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying 
to be stouthearted, tired 
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine 
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night 
I feel as if I had drunk six cups 
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder 
and bitterness of someone pardoned 
for a crime she did not commit 
I come back to marriage and friends, 
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back 
to my desk, books, and chair.



8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work 
but I believe only in this moment 
of well-being. Unholy ghost, 
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet 
on the coffee table, lean back, 
and turn me into someone who can't 
take the trouble to speak; someone 
who can't sleep, or who does nothing 
but sleep; can't read, or call 
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do 
against your coming. 
When I awake, I am still with thee.



9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light 
I wake at four, 
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air 
presses through the screen 
with the wild, complex song 
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment. 
What hurt me so terribly 
all my life until this moment? 
How I love the small, swiftly 
beating heart of the bird 
singing in the great maples; 
its bright, unequivocal eye.