Two poems by Alice Miller

Fourteen Mistakes

‘You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes’
Razumikhin, drunk in Crime and Punishment

How we learned to create a thunderclap
in a lab with dust and mirrors

How we designed a clap to blast
away every echo

How we moved to new cities
and wrote our addresses in loose font
on the back of every envelope from
every drawer in every office we visited from Auckland to Brooklyn to Hackney

and spoke our names
only with accents formed
in locales we’d lately visited
so no one could guess what we were

How we drizzled cold grease between
our fingers till we forced what we touched

to gleam

And I sewed you into an old sweater
worn so bare it was no longer cotton

but two life-sized holes

How we posed for an unseen creature
as we imagined it shifting
between trees trying

to steal a better look

(How desperate we were not to recall
the horrors of ourselves)

(And how the echoes kept arriving
like swallows crashing

against windowpanes
trying to make glass air)

How we baked silence
behind glass

till it warmed and grew

And when an architect asked
to build a garden inside us

we pried ourselves open and let him in
until we were filled with paths and gates
we did not own the maps for

And when we realised the architect had left for good
how proud we were still to’ve been
an acciaccatura to his chord

How in the mornings we woke, still drunk,
with rain pattering the windows,
and mist draped through trees,
waiting for our old brains to wake

And when we finally admitted
we wanted to go home
we couldn’t be re-admitted

till we re-mapped our own insides
found the end of every path
crafted a key for each gate

and acted cured
of all we’d claimed to know

And by the time we could see

we were doomed

it was winter.

And we drove to the edge of our adopted city
rubbed salt in our tires
threaded snow through our fingers
and listened to the melting layers

of all we hadn’t done
the towns we wouldn’t visit
the people we’d never meet
and let it all trickle around us like music.

(previously published in Blaue Stunde, Edition Solitude, 2016)

Born Breathing

Because I have never quite caught the moment when you stand and breathe on top of a mountain in a country where you were born, and

because I have never been trapped in an underground cavern with a single candle and no water, and

because a man I was once in love with just sent me a photograph from Colorado of a famous man’s baby booties and his gold death mask,

and because he was so gentle I had to push him away,

and because because means by cause of, and causes multiply as a matter of course, and because our arguments come to us like breath,

I am trying to keep the seconds still, in this bed overlooking a window blasted white by mist

while I look on the dark web for a definition of the seconds after a wisdomflash, where

you re-see each tip of tree, each gasping leaf, each scrape of thin snow, when

your naked, foolish self can’t be argued with, and

your death mask is, for that second, wiped clean.

(previously published in Poetry London and Blaue Stunde, Edition Solitude, 2016)

Alice Miller is a poet from New Zealand living in Berlin. Her latest book, Nowhere Nearer, will be published by Pavilion (Liverpool University Press) and Auckland University Press in 2018. Her first book was The Limits. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the International Institute of Modern Letters, and was recently a fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.