When I joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, I was only planning on staying a few years. That was over fifteen years ago. In fact, the sentiment “that wasn’t what I expected to happen” is probably at the core of most of my work. I’ve published five collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently This Miraculous Turning. Every New Year’s Eve I resolve to improve my guitar playing and learn how to cook more interesting dishes; the fact that each year I genuinely believe this will happen reveals a fundamentally optimistic nature. My website: www.josephrobertmills.com
How You Know
How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.
First published in Rattle, Vol. 16, no. 1, Summer 2010
Baking with My Daughter
I want to do it, she says at each step
of the recipe, and I try to let her
even if it means broken eggs on the counter,
too much salt, and too little flour.
She splays the dough onto the cookie sheet,
using the wooden spoon as if it’s a combination
snow shovel and mallet. When she turns away,
I try to perform a kind of cookie triage,
finding those blobs with a chance at survival
and nudging them into a vague roundness.
After they’re finished, she holds one aloft
like a medal and tells her mother,
I did these all by myself, right Daddy?
I nod, saying nothing, and, for the first time,
wonder how many of my own victories
were smoothed into shape behind my back.
--From Love and Other Collisions (Press 53, 2010).
©2015 Joseph Mills