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.