All posts by Christopher L Miller

First in Flight

Kardi zipped out the door while humming a tune
her antennae picked up from the local airwaves.
Good vibrations, it seems, was this station’s theme.
The announcer’s voice, smooth royal jelly.

She’d spent last night inside that snug, crowded hive
working her last shift at Queen’s Pollen Packing.
Often, she’d nap after filling her cells,
but this time, rest gave way to excitement.

Kardi tried catching z’s, tried numbering sheep,
but those sheep that came didn’t hop fences.
Instead, they wore bee suits, cute headband antennas,
kept sleep at bay with sheep-wiggle-bee-waggle-dances.

She’d been fast-tracked from packing to foraging flowers
without having to stand hive entrance guard duty.
Today, oh, today! She’d get to sip fresh nectar,
stuff her new leg-mounted pollen baskets.

Thought with elation she’d burst
if she wasn’t first to lift off from the beehive hangar.
While the other girls dozed, Kardi skedaddled
from her six-sided room to the staging area.

All systems were go once the sun’s melted gold
poured over the flower-dotted hillside.
With her audio tuned to Beach Boys on KBUZZ,
out Kardi zoomed before her sisters.

– Christopher Miller

Soup Curling

“The Sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send soup back at a deli” – George Costanza in “The Marine Biologist” episode of Seinfeld.

While George may not be the most insightful guy in the world, he does wax eloquent on occasion. Just look at the depth of this statement.

On first listen (or read through), George’s statement reels Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea from the mind’s ocean. Perhaps this is no mistake given that George’s line comes from a story that he tells his friends – the story of how George pulled a golf ball from a whale’s blow hole.

Though, it is worth mentioning that rather than trying to land a marlin, George is lured into rescuing a beached whale because he has lied about being a marine biologist.

A second pass through this line ties the angry sea to the bowl of soup. Imagine the choppy, white-capped waves bumping into one another, stirring up foam as they stagger to the shore.

Now place that hectic scene into a red-lipped porcelain bowl situated on a chipped saucer resting on a faded, mustard-yellow counter-top. Add a wrinkled, liver spotted hand in a sweeping collision course arc that sends saucer, bowl, and soup flying across the counter, and you’ve got one hell of a scene condensed into a single statement.

Throw in a dash of Andy Warhol, and the result might be a blottered psychedelic stew. But, perhaps, that is beyond the scope of George’s statement.

– Christopher Miller

Spent: The Poverty Simulator that Hits Close to Home

Did you ever want to just get away like in those old Calgon commercials? Well, if the game Spent were a bath powder, the only people you would see soaking in this caustic substance would be those poor victims Dexter kept tucked away in his oil drums. No joke. Created by McKinney for Durham Urban Ministries, Spent provides a glimpse of the hardships associated with living at or below the poverty line. In this game, players attempt to make limited funds cover living expenses such as rent, groceries, travel expenses to and from work, and a variety of unexpected bills that pop up along the way. Spent is just about as close to hard-nosed adulting as one can get – that is if you’re fortunate enough to have internet access, electricity, and a computer to play this real-world simulation.

When I learned that some of my English tutees were going to play this game as part of their lesson on the U.S. housing crisis and poverty, I figured, “Hey, I’m broke and have been trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents my whole life. I should do well at this.” Little did I know – no this isn’t Stranger than Fiction, though I could probably write a book about that phrase – that even my long-lived experience would fail to carry me through 30 days on my first attempt. This brutal world sim is realistic enough that it may even lead one to question whether some deranged computer like Kubrick’s HAL 9000 or Valve’s GLaDOS created the game to torture humans.

The decisions Spent presents to players ring true to Yogi Berra’s saying, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime no more.” Indeed, a dollar doesn’t cover much in this game. Just as in good old reality, Spent forces players to work crappy, low paying jobs, pay rent that’s just too damn high, and risk getting fired for staying home to take care of a sick child. Oh, but don’t worry. If you must stay home to take care of the kid, you do get the chance to recoup lost funds. The player is given the opportunity to smash the germ-ridden rascal’s piggy bank to recover $12.38. In addition, the player can also steal the child’s $10 birthday card – just enough money to cover the gas needed to get to the plasma collection center and the grocery store (better stock up on that dollar ramen). While I did not choose to rob the kid’s bank or take the birthday card money, I can see how those options become tempting when one is trying to find out if there are separate ends, let alone trying to make those ends meet.

Perhaps the makers of this game will find it suitable to create a Christmas-themed edition. Oh, what fun we’ll have telling the little ones that Santa has to skip over our house this year because of that impromptu trip to the vet after the cat chewed on the frayed Christmas tree light cord and electrocuted itself – or better yet, you have to tell the kids that if they see Santa in the house, they better shoot his ass because it’s just the crackhead from up the street dressed as Santa, and he has broken in to steal the $45 worth of Christmas presents you were able to buy.

All in all, this simulation serves as a good introduction to the harsh realities experienced by folks who must live paycheck to paycheck. While some of my comments are tongue in cheek, it is important to remember that this game tries to teach a tough lesson. Spent serves as a reminder that life is hard, and we should not take what we have for granted. No matter how bad we think our lives are, the likelihood exists that someone somewhere – maybe even a neighbor – is facing tougher decisions.

Get your Goat: What’s for Lunch?

Billy: This homework tastes really good. Where’d you get it?


Bubby: Bessie says she got it from mu.


Billy: All Bessie ever says is “mu.”


Bubby: She never claimed to be more than the average cow.


Billy: Why do I eat lunch with you every day?


Bubby: Because you don’t deviate from the norm.


Billy: Ok, no more math homework for you.


Bubby: Kiss my asymptote.


Billy: I’m approaching my threshold.


Bubby: Yeah, but by my calculations, you’ll never reach it.

– Christopher Miller

Allure

Sunday afternoon in the garden
I am graced by your presence
a dozen paces before me.

Your hips are a metronome,
sin in their sway.
Hypnotic. Left, right, left, right.

Orange tiger lilies
watch in envy. Your approach
intended just for me.

Floral patterned, sheer
pastel yellow sundress
hem flutters about your knees.

Polished pink toes,
faux leather sandals.
Footfalls pace my heartbeat.

Beneath dogwood branches,
I am planted, watching you.
My dear, you are hypnotic. Left, right, left right.

Black hair mingles
with gentle fingers of the breeze.
Sunlight is your halo.

Smokey saucers of mocha
beam through clear lenses
and twinkle with a grin.

Butterfly wings tickle
my insides. Breath pauses
in my throat.

Rubenesque curves
strum nature’s melody-
a lust-filled bassline

that brings me to life.
Anticipating your touch,
my temperature spikes.

Wind-swept ember,
you glide into my arms.
We spark. We kindle.

We kiss.
Toe tip to toe tip,
enveloped, both burning.

Collapsed in the grass,
flames lick our skin,
searing green blades beneath us.

– Christopher Miller

Train of thought

At dusk, I open the door, step outside, down the brick steps
To my right, just above the muggy tree-lined horizon,
a waxing crescent moon dipped in crimson hangs
in the evening October sky, soaks up the last rays of natural light
A flickering neon sign of a lone star forces itself into existence

In the distance, a rider winds back on the throttle
A motorcycle engine responds with a throaty gurgle,
bounces sharp crackles off home fronts, propels its rider up the two-lane highway
I dig the lighter out of my front pocket, thumb the flint wheel, and light up a smoke–
a dirty habit that I should probably quit

But quitters never win, I think to myself as the headlight of the growling cyclopean machine illuminates the northern side of our warped mailbox
Angry pistons rock back and forth, expel snarls and snorts, pierce the silence
As the two-wheeled beast careens past our driveway, a tune, faint at first, oscillates toward me

“Hey… ye…eh…”
grows more distinct
“I said hey! What’s going on?”
I take another drag, exhale. Piston beats dance against my skin
“And I try, oh my god do I try”
A steam engine rumbles, disrupts my thoughts, knocks the Fourth Volume of Musical Knowledge from my mental library shelf
“I try all the time, in this institution”
I dig through its overturned contents, look for the chords that tie the song to its artist
“And I pray, oh my god do I pray”
Rock, 90s Alternative
“I pray every single day”
Bands with numbers in their name
“For a revolution”

The taillight spills its faint auburn glow over the white and yellow-lined pavement to be consumed by the stillness
I extinguish my cigarette, turn, climb the steps
4 Non Blondes continues to sing along the country stretch of 421 South
where pine trees and cotton fields wait their turn to listen

– Christopher Miller