WAYNE MILLER

ALLEGORY OF THE HOUSE

When it was clear there was nothing left
between us and the valley’s flooding—
that even nature had come to live
inside the body of the State—

we built our raft of logs and plastic barrels
around the house, cut the pipes
that bound us to the stone foundation,
and waited. On the second day

the river came over the flood bank
like an endless, unraveling cloth
and slid down into the family grove.
At first, the house just sat there,

water climbing its side—but then
we could feel the structure loosen,
and the scene that had filled my window
all my life began to tilt. Those ancient,

familiar oaks drifted to the right
and disappeared—but soon
the house caught hard against them,
and for three days more we rose

precariously up their side, Sis and I
pushing ourselves back with an oar
to keep the spreading branches
from swamping us. In the morning,

we found the house triumphant
atop the water. We’d become
the tallest thing, sailing softly
over that space in which we’d lived.

Each night, I lie in bed and watch
my window hold the moving world—
all of it unlocked and turning. I know
our ancestors are heavy seeds

buried in the fiction below the surface,
but the distant shoreline slides around
and past as though we’re a compass—
and how can the earth beneath us,

the liquid air rolling over and around
our presence, ever be still again?
 
 
 
 
21st CENTURY MUSEUM

The people enter
but do not know they’ve entered.

The café, too, is an exhibit.
When we dine there, we are clearly

not the art. (If the food is
is a fascinating question

around which a panel will coalesce.)
Closed circuit televisions

open onto other rooms
inside the building—rooms

that are unreachable
to those who bought a ticket.

When a bomb goes off
in one of the many screens,

the gathered audience gasps.
The whole structure

rests on a sturdy foundation
of ice. In the basement,

the massive furnace
is a snared octopus of tubes.

It stretches upward
through the floors in praise

of what? The black
beyond the windows—

the black we pin our language to—
hovers one degree

above freezing. Words
like embers—impossible to tell

if they’re floating in the distance
or clinging to the glass,

listless as moths. Move along,
the guards will say—

though if you stop to listen
you can hear the City

exhaling toward us all,
for which we must be grateful.
 
 
 
 



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