Drinking Black Balsam After the Thriller

Leslie Adrienne Miller | Poetry

We hurt ourselves on the film
about the motherless daughter
and the daughterless mother

dubbed in languages we thought
we didn’t speak. To get to it,
we had to cross a dark park

in rain, emptied (by what?)
of people, light, and birds.
Incrementally here, we’ve grown

to understand that men are not
the daggers, nor weather, nor
miles of dark cobble, slicked

and scored by the river’s slaps
against the pier, the clang
of buckets dumping coal

into the holds, and wind
that never comes from the same
direction twice. We can go

anywhere alone on foot,
take in turns and walls black
with abandon, or sudden

lumpy fields of moss where
once a warehouse teemed. No
one is coming back, 30 years

on, for that derelict deco
façade, or the pocked cheeks
of identical women guarding

the music hall. Forests
are keen to retake not only
the town, but to clasp the human

forms back into stone,
into planets and parent stars,
prickles of light in night sky

into syllable and frame that we
who think we live on the ground
will never understand. The mother

who’s lost her role is not at all
like ours, and yet wasn’t the piano
our instrument of torture once

as well? And wasn’t the silver
tray of tea and biscuits
something, yes, we thought

we could sit and take from her
without obligation, without
fear? It’s not, after all,

testosterone and a pistol
in the belt that are coming
to charm us from ourselves.

What we loved and lost
wraiths here, above wet cobble,
picks her dainty way through

streets that empty suddenly
of the day’s wall of wind
and darken with a soft hiss

they call velis, which stays
near a body like a shade,
and melts or disappears

too slowly or too quickly,
and becomes the forgotten gothic
of all maternal embrace.