Miles

By Craig van Rooyen

Featured art by Mike Lewinski

It was dark, sure, but the city’s halo
whitewashed the stars.
We drank good bourbon from Dixie cups
to mock our sophistication.
Two black men and a white one
who needed a brother.
We drank to Ghana advancing,
not so naïve to believe
they had a chance against England.
We toasted our wives of many colors
and our barefoot children chasing fireflies
like the first night in Eden.
But it was Oakland.
So when the boy climbed the porch steps
cupping a winged and glowing offering,
I called him by the wrong name, as if
I did not know him, as if his father
was not my friend.
The brothers exchanged their look,
too polite to call me out
on a summer night in paradise.
And we all pretended not to notice
the bats that let go their roosts
to flap old patterns in our chests.


Suddenly I felt like humming
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” professing my love
for Serena, telling them all about my black Scout leader
whom I hadn’t thought about in years,
assembling, in other words, my own minstrel show
to prove how down I am.
All the while, the party soundtrack plays on
through hidden speakers, Kind of Blue 
from the end of that gorgeous terrible horn:
Live, no net, each note feeling its way
into the dark as if we can still improvise,
as if there is always another chance
to get it right before the night ends.
The boy, who isn’t Miles after all,
keeps coming closer
to show me his gift, opening the dark
hemispheres of his hands so I can see
the pulsing fireflies lift off
to join the others in the city’s halo
far above our heads.


Craig van Rooyen’s poems has appeared in 32 Poems, Best New Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Poetry Northwest, Ploughshares, Rattle, Willow Springs, and elsewhere. He lives and writes in San Luis Obispo, California and holds an MFA in poetry from Pacific University.

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