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The Set in the Woods

March 19, 2018

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I stand on the edge of an artful world,
Where the red of the fire
Is dimmed by smoke.
Don’t be alarmed:
Everything is under control.

Only the eyes
Flash like traffic lights
Beneath the pale sunset moon
Of a temporary town
In a dried-grass clearing.

We have work to do:
“Quiet on the set!” they cry,
Out of pure habit—
Nobody is saying anything anyway;
Only nature speaks its night language.
They seem dissatisfied with the semi-silence,
But uninterested in its source.
Who wants to concede that the world goes on without us?

Even the wild dogs
And the dying leaves
And the face of a child in the forest
Go unnoticed, unheard, unseen, except by me,
Here on the edge, lost on the job
In the temporal space between last and next
And not-quite-now.
It’s never quite now with me.

I am not exceptional,
But somehow I am an exception,
Dazed by incomprehensible pauses in the action,
By my own elusiveness when community beckons.
I never knew life had such breaks.
I thought the story told itself, beginning to end,
In such a way that made it difficult for the characters to simply run off.
I wander into the woods, no purpose, no plan.

Like a hero from Cooper,
The child steps on a twig beneath dry leaves.
The twig—such lonely applause!—cracks;
From behind the cover
Of a lightning-struck stump,
A dog turns with a start,
A muffled growl, and then
A bark.

The child jumps,
The shimmer of surprise upon him like a feather on the soul.
Where had that dog been hiding?
And how did he get lost out here
Among the cedars?
The boy drops to his knees
And against my unspoken recommendation
Pets the lost mutt.

From the edge of the clearing
I smile to myself.
The kid is safe, I assume,
A local boy. I turn around
To those traffic-light eyes
Which now flash in the dark
As the director’s commands
Drown out the dog’s bark.

Greg Blake Miller
Outside Golitsyno, Russia, 1993

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