POETRY – Five Poems by Joseph Mills


Enter Shylock


He’s become so annoyed by the title
he no longer says it in conversation.
Instead he talks about “the show”
and hopes no one notices.
But it’s his play. Google his name,
then any of the other characters.
People wait for his entrance.
It’s him they come to see,

although, to be fair,
maybe the woman too
who has the great bit with the boxes.

So, if not Shylock, call it
Shylock and Portia. After all,
they own the courtroom scene.
They dominate the posters.
They get the marquee billing.
Who gives a damn about
what’s his name. Antonio.
A nobody
and the playwright knew it.
So, at best, the title’s puzzling;
at worst a failure of nerve,
a lack of imagination,
or just the act of a prick
who won’t give credit
where it’s due.

But it’s blasphemy he knows
to criticize
The Bard.
He might as well spit on a Bible,
so he bites his tongue and mouths
his appreciation of the part.
Laughing or crying
isn’t going to change the fact
he’s not the merchant,
but the merchandise
to be cut up each night and fed
to a ravenous, merciless, audience.



Enter Juliet


Later she would have regretted the naked photos
and indiscreet tweets. She would have looked
through yearbook pictures and shook her head
at the hair and clothing and posing, at the sequins,
at how oblivious she was to her own gawkiness,
at how she had thought she knew everything
of importance. Later…
but there is no later for her.
No stepping from a shower in front of a mirror
and thinking, My God, what happened to my ass?
No dressertop of expensive creams for her hands.
No nights sprawled on the couch with someone
who, despite her weight and wrinkles and gray,
feels for her in a way that beggars description.
No waking, stiff, together, morning after morning.



Exit with the body


The body gets dragged into the wings
and put wherever there’s space,
but this gets harder to find
as the run goes along.

The lopped off hands and heads,
the guts lugged from the stage
night after night, pile up
until even the loading dock
and parking lot behind the theater
have mounds of bodies.

This is what’s behind the curtain.
A landscape of wounds and wreckage.
The bloody remains of these dreams.



Enter Prince of Wales…


Doing bong hits between classes,
and sometimes during,
under the bleachers, in Johnny’s van,
behind the dumpsters,
we knew we were disappointments
to our parents who wanted us to be
the kids who got good grades,
talked of college, had obvious ambitions,
and we honestly thought we could be
if we chose to, and even that we would be,
eventually. We would. This dissolution,
this dissipation, was only temporary.
In a couple years, we would throw off
our loose behavior, rise and shine,
put our shoulders to some wheel,
O, everyone would be astonished
as we became who we were
destined to become,
but that would be later
after these salad days
when we had a muse of fire
cradled in our hands,
showing us the world
was an insubstantial pageant,
a dumb show whose parts,
we were refusing to play
at least just yet.



Dead March


Why the orderly procession,
the neat rows,
the solemn filing in and out?

Why the polite contemplation
of the black box?

There should be a howling,
a roiling of people
coming and going,
not just stage left and right,
but through windows and doors,
climbing walls and backdrops
like Harpo in A Night at the Opera.

No one need bother turning
to locate an exit;
every direction is one.


A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published five collections of poetry, most recently This Miraculous Turning. Visit his website here.

Featured Image by Kenny Ong

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