Poetry by William Miller

Ghost Hunting at Gettysburg

Local kids, kids from
as far away as Philly,
roam the battlefield
at night.

They pass bottles,
laugh, flash their lights
on the rocks at Devil’s Den.

They know little of the history,
only that the South
lost here, then lost
the war.

One thinks he saw
a man dressed
in blue run into a
a hollow, a rifle across
his back.

All have heard voices,
sharp commands,
“halt!” or “strike the tent!”

All have felt
they are about to be
shot by a sniper
hidden in a tall tree …

These strange nights
end, and they return
to cell phones, the web,
classes they suffer through.

But thoughts of the battlefield
distract them from
the hurdles to a good job,
a wife, children.

If they really saw something—
a wagon rolling by,
heard the moans
of wounded men,

if they saw soldiers digging
the graves of those
who died for a flag, a cause–
that might change everything.

Life was about mystery,
chasing after it,
believing there’s more
than skin and teeth,
but ghosts, too,
their war still fought.

Mall Walkers

They meet at the south end
by the dry fountain,
dry for an hour.

Some use walkers,
others canes; a few
are shaky but upright.

They move slowly,
in a careful line, talk
about bone doctors,

Medicare, the price
of a decent funeral:
“Throw my ashes

to the wind; I always
liked the outdoors!”
They laugh and pass

locked shops for
the young trying
to look younger:

makeup counters,
exercise machines,
bras that push up, out.

At the first turn,
an old man falters,
drops to his knees.

The line breaks
and becomes a circle
of concern.

Brought back to his
feet, he says he’s fine,
though they hover until

he can keep up. To prove
he’s all right, he tells
a filthy joke about

a preacher and a pig.
Everyone laughs and some
try to tell even worse.

At the end, the doors
about to open,
the fountain gush,

the oldest lady tells
the dirtiest joke.
“A hobo ate a woman’s

pie, then asked for
seconds; she said sure
and hiked up her skirt!”

The mall walkers are left
with that, still laughing
while their serious sons

and daughters help them
into cars where dirty jokes
are never told, old means old.


Lazarus

In the bright light
of market days, he forgot
the cave, the call,
the rising from shadows.

But he heard the whispers
in the booths as he
walked by. He lived
again, yes, but was he
“clean” or “unclean?”

No one clasped his hand,
embraced him when
leaving; small children
scattered when he
crossed the village square.

He wanted to go to
Jerusalem, ask the rabbi
who raised him,
why he now had
to die twice.

But he had been
whipped, mocked,
nailed to a Roman cross.

Lazarus heard rumors
that assassins
were coming to kill him
for simply being alive,
“his greatest miracle.”

But Lazarus grew old,
much older than
the first time,
and seemed the ghost
of a man who once laughed,
drank from the common well.

No one would call him
forth now, the grave clothes
still binding him.

God killed him the first
time, so he might be
raised from a rocky tomb.

The last choice was his,
go down meekly like
an ewe, or take a knife
and bleed by his own hand.

There was magic
in that final choice,
mystery in control
of the death
he died alone …

Women wailed a second
time. The rabbi chanted
from a sacred scroll
words, more words.



Thunderbird Drive-In

Every Friday night,
we parked the Impala
in the gravel
between speakers.

My uncle and cousin
sat up front; the youngest,
I watched from
the back.

“Patton” was long, slow
and bloody.

He slapped the soldier
but led his army across
the deadly fields of France.

My uncle said we could
use “’ol blood and guts now.”

The war in Vietnam
never ended, a war of mines
and snipers, firefights.

And we saw “Dirty Harry,”
a city where a psycho
wore a peace-sign belt buckle,
killed for fun.

The police were weak;
the law protected killers,
but one man, one gun,
made justice real.

He fired his last bullet
into an evil heart.

Then “Easy Rider” came
to the wide, night screen.

When the bikers were shot
at the end, my uncle and cousin
said they deserved it.

They were “drug dealers.
drug takers and worse …”

I didn’t say anything
about their cool clothes
and hair, the freedom
to come and go …

In a few years, I’d fight
in the jungle, unless
there were too many
caskets on the runway.

The best I could hope for
was a job in a steel mill,
a runner through hot
dark pipes …

Maybe I’d ride across
the desert all the way
to Mardi Gras,

give my middle finger
to anyone who hated me,
loudly different.

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About William Miller

William Miller is the author of five collections of poetry, 12 books for children, and a mystery novel. He lives and writes in the French Quarter of New Orleans.