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From the Afterlife of the Rich


We were rich. In the dark valley
the highway formed a pavé river

and down in the orchestra pit
the players were clothed in our
sustaining contributions.

Our portfolios swelled and contracted
inside digital rib cages
and that silent breathing

was the breathing of a spirit that's
beyond you. When we left,
our houses filled with security—

mute and clear, like still water.
When we returned, that presence
withdrew into our secret codes.

All summer long, a mist
rose off our lawns—I'm sure
you'd say like steam resurfacing

from a buried nineteenth century.
(It was recycled water,
on a timer, for the grass.)


We were the rich. We glimpsed the poor
smoking dumbly on their stoops,

lugging gas cans to their drained vehicles.
We filled their televisions

as though we were
fictional characters. We recalled
their revolutionary songs, we could see

how they coveted our luxury hybrids.
They looked up to us, you know,

with the blankness of a field
of tiny flowers. When they agitated,
it was like a breeze

out of nowhere passed across
their surface. That trembling was lovely

when observed from a distance.
In a minute it would stop.


But our lives, too, were visited
by elemental tragedies: deaths of parents,

illnesses of children, fires
that absolutely failed to light. Poet—

with your miniscule economy
simply no one understands—

I know what you'll say: your art
was there for us, and yes, it was.

More importantly, in those moments
of terror and empty, useless grief

our primary need
was sympathy—real sympathy—

which we, like all the living,

Wayne Miller


Spring 2017

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