Friday May 24

Gottlieb-MillerJoshua--creditLaurenGottlieb-Miller Joshua Gottlieb-Miller holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston, where he was a poetry editor for Gulf Coast. His work has appeared in Indiana Review, Blackbird, The Journal, Birmingham Poetry Review, Linebreak, and elsewhere.


 Lucid Moon

A visitor from the future comes
to tell me that I’m dead.

Or close enough, he says.

Augustine says it is better
to want something than to have it.

The Tao says desire withers the heart,

I think aloud. I wonder if I really believe that.
The Buddha teaches we are trapped

in the prison of the I, he tells me.

He kind of looks like me. He has this way
of talking and listening to what he is saying
and then waiting for you to finish talking
so he can start up again. Only by you,
this time I mean me. He says he is me

from the future, and when I

don’t believe him he says
he has come to take my place,
and sighs and looks at his watch,

and now I feel like the watch
being looked at. To avert

something terrible? I ask,

and he smiles like everything.
You need to stop

wasting my time, he says.

What I don’t realize is that I am writing
myself a letter, not to be opened

except in the event of my death.

If I don’t read the letter,
it means I am not afraid to die.

What I fear is that I am

never going to be the man
who can stand up to all the people

I think I might become. I am not

like a bodhisattva driving
in a flash flood, picking up speed

as the water takes the car,

the wheels no longer touch ground,
though they continue to spin.

I am never going to read the letter,

he says, and for a second I almost
believe him. It sounds like a promise.

Most of my Secrets People

Caitlin’s soul is a fine powder
so we drive to New Orleans where drinks
take their names from natural disasters

and poster board in the closed novelty shop
brags that happiness is not a feeling
but a way of life. Caitlin wants

a stripper’s whispered advice in her ear
while she sits calmly in all that
sheer silk covered lap. I’m broke

and married. Pat myself on the back
every time I don’t look a stripped girl
in the eye. If only optimism

was what the Gnostics meant
by potential. After the hurricane
the stumps of trees waving us on…

Their butcher paper smiles: bored girls
advertise transcendence
outside a club’s skinny entrance.

We’ve got a lead from a clerk
at the record store re: the best
harmonica player in town.

These girls have t-shirts almost
to their g-strings. It’s worse to look away
and then back. Kafka wrote literature

must be an axe to break
the frozen sea within but he asked
his wife to burn his papers.

I don’t know if Caitlin, my friend
and neighbor, hears my wife and I in bed,
yelling at each other. We make up

too quietly. Most of my secrets
people know about
are fairly mundane. JS Mill said

he’d prefer to be Socrates unhappy
than a pig content.
I’ve heard girls Caitlin has

brought home. At first I couldn’t
place the sound. I closed my window,
put my book down. JS Mill

would have been sorry he’d gone blind
before coming to New Orleans.
Why there is a blessing for randomly seeing

a beautiful person on the street.
Circe wasn’t evil for turning men
to pigs but for leaving them

their reason. Look, but don’t—
Wash over us, thinning night, Bourbon
Street humid as spring touching

a wet flower the highway covered
until the last storm. The Gnostics
make me feel less bad about self-knowledge.

That was kind of their thing.
They thought this power could exist
in everyone but potentially, not actually.

Bored girls sink into their smiles.
Drunken books bob under the ice.
Highways peel away. We follow

a harmonica playing, can almost hear it.
Night swaggers like a blank rose open
in a tattoo on a girl’s neck.


Dan saw a car skid out on the other side
of the highway. Just hit some black ice,
the barrier, engulf itself in flames. He had a kind

of existential crisis about not being able
to stop and help. About not stopping
and helping. A kind of existential crisis?

I want to know which kind. Snow
dancing in the wind off the frozen lake,
shadow calligraphy, spring supposedly

on its way. Fish waiting beneath the surface
of the water. I would secure my oxygen mask first,
before I’d help the person next to me, I say,

but that’s okay. That’s the right thing to do.
I thought what I’d said would get through.
I need help now, Dan says. Kids wander

further onto the water. Dan believes in ghosts
because he hasn’t been haunted by one.
What if it was you, Dan says, sitting next to me

on the plane, and I secured my oxygen mask first?
I want to hold his hand with my brain.
But after that, I say, then you’d help me.

photo credit: Lauren Gottlieb-Miller