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William Miller

Coleridge and Hairspray

I dated a beautician for six weeks.

I met her online,
and though I knew we’d
have nothing to talk about,
she was very sexy, loved
live music, too.

We had good, dirty sex,

danced on a smooth,
pine floor, crashed
at my apartment late
at night.

She’d talk about her day,
weaves, dye jobs,
this real bitch from Ensley
who wanted her hair
cut like Jennifer Aniston’s.

And sometimes when she

was drifting off, I’d
talk about what I knew,
poems, poets, Coleridge
since I’d taught him
for years.

He loved one woman only,
Asra, who didn’t love him
in return, but his perfect
love for her lasted until
his last drop of laudanum.

And I wondered to myself

if it were better to love
like that, hopelessly,
instead of sleeping
with one woman
who soon became another.

“Sounds like a fucked-up dude,”

my girlfriend said,

then fell noisily asleep.

I lay awake for the longest

time, thinking about

fuck buddies, friends
with benefits, women
who carried fresh condoms
in their purses.

Asra, Asra, I thought

in the darkness,
you were the better choice.

Last Sunday

Last Sunday, in the Treme,
I was walking past this
storefront church and heard
a hymn I hadn’t heard
in years: “Jesus is Calling.”

And suddenly I was in
a Birmingham basement
church, singing that song,
believing those simple words.

I felt a longing, a strange
longing, to answer
the altar call, confess
my sins, let the preacher
dunk me three times.

The song ended,
and the moment passed;
I lit a cigarette and walked
the cracked pavement,
under the live oak trees.

But I heard those plaintive
words on and off
all day, in the bar,
my girlfriend’s creaky bed,
in my loft reading a novel.

“Softly, tenderly, Jesus
is calling--” I threw
the book down
and stepped out
into the courtyard.

The moon was up,
a full moon over the Quarter,
older than any church
or Sunday hymn,
than Jesus himself.                                                


It was a mystery,
a beautiful mystery I
always loved to see
in the day or night sky,

accept and never doubt.​

Inked at 40

Her breasts had turned
heads since she was fourteen,
even more since she ran
away  from home,
stopped wearing a bra.

She slept with many men,
never felt guilt the next
day, just left quietly
while they snored.

But then she met the man,
an ex-marine, an aircraft
mechanic she didn’t
want to leave in the morning.

They clicked in every way,
loved country music,
line dancing, going to bed
at sunrise but not
to sleep.

Then came the rice,
the babies two in a row;
weight she couldn’t lose
with diet soda and crackers.

Only her breasts, even larger
now, were left of her
old body, the body all
those men wanted.

Her husband, tired from
night shifts and diaper
changes, now kept his
hands off her.

The babies grew;
her husband grew more
distant, and one day
she turned suddenly
into the parking lot
of a tattoo parlor.

She browsed the wall
of designs: serpents,
a thorny rose,

She told the man
at the table what she
wanted and where,
leaned back while
the needle pricked
the top of her right breast.

When she saw the pistol,
the smoking gun
plain to men
who still admired
her chest, she smiled.

Somewhere inside
the wife and mother
was the bad girl
who did it good
whenever she felt like it.

Inked and dangerous,
she had all that skin left
to tell who she really was,

always would be.



William Miller is a widely published poet, children's author and mystery novelist.  His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah among others.  He lives and writes in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

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