ORDINARY, MOVING - William Miller Poems


Poems » william miller » ordinary moving


is the name of the game
laughing, talking where the ball bounces
in the forgotten schoolyard
one hand, the other hand; one foot, the other foot
you know the one
(Saturday Afternoon Kid
blackball-cracker, scotchmint-muncher
handkerchief-chewer extraordinary)
clap front, clap back
ballthwack on the boardfence
front and back, back and front
arms of old beeches reaching over drop their
sawtooth leaves in your hair
  (as I was sitting beneath a tree
  a birdie sent his love to me
  and as I wiped it from my eye
  I thought: thank goodness cows can't fly)
tweedle, twydle
curtsey, salute
and roundabout
until you're out

the shadows turn, the light is long
and while you're out you sing this song

     this year, next year, sometime, never
     en roule-en ma boule roule-en
     we'll be friends for ever and ever

              Pimperroquet, le roi des papillons
                se faisant la barbe, il
                  se coupa le menton
                    une, une, c'est la lune
                    deux, deux, c'est le jeu
seven, eight     trois, trois -- c'est à toi!
nine, a-laura
ten a-laura      echod, shtaim
Secord                 hamelech bashomayim
                                echod, shtaim, sholosh, ar-ba ...

     whereja get the cold, sir?
     up at the North Pole, sir;
     what were ya doin there, sir?
     catchin Polar bears, sir;
     how many didja catch, sir?
     one, sir; two, sir
                  Salome was a dancer
                  she did the hootchykootch
                  she shook her shimmy shoulder
                  and showed a bit too much

     my boyfriend's name is Fatty
     he comes from Cincinnati

     my boyfriend's name is Jello
     he comes from Monticello

          ini ini maini mo
          que cheleque palesto
          que jingale lestingo
          ini ini maini mo

     and this is the way you played

ordinary throw the ball against the fence, catch it
moving same thing, don't move your feet laughing
mustn't show your teeth talking
shut, your, mouth
                          one hand that's how you
catch it the other hand
one foot pick it up, you dope the other foot
clap front, clap back
                             front&back, back&front
tweedle with your hands like twiddling your thumbs
only overhand
twydle underhand curtsey, salute
and roundabout
                         catch it and
start from moving

over the whole thing without
stirring from the spot slap
your leg for one foot wave your
arms for roundabout on through laughing ononon


particle, atom, molecule, world
solar system, galaxy, supergalaxy, cosmos

but start with small, the ball on the wall
that's how it went, and begin again:

  my boyfriend's name is Tonto
  he comes from New Toronto
  with twenty-four toes
  and a pickle on his nose
  and this is the way my story goes:

          like a slug
        and grew without
      a thought or wish to
     something like a fish a
    frog a bird a pig a golly-
    wog and ultimately red and
     born a blueblack head or
      peppercorn or bald or
        blind or idiot or

             I = I
            I? = ?I
            ?I = I?

            I = not
           = (s/ m)uch
            = notme

(rockabye baby the cradle is hard
yer pa got it outa the junkman's backyard)

the thing that I thought was the moon
turned out to be Mother's face
or Sister's or Brother's or Dad's or the cat's
-- there's notme all over the place

(but I want the world's food in my belly
I want all the things I can see
I want all the toys in the world in my arms
and I want all the arms around ME)

  black skin, drum belly
  little stick leg
  Papa paint the sores on
  hold your hands and beg


What shall we name the baby?
William? or James? or John?
Matthew? or Mark? or maybe
even Napoleon?

  sticks and stones can break my bones
  but names'll never hurt me
  and when I'm dead and in my grave
  you'll be sorry for what you called me

whatcher name?
Dickery Dame
ask me agin
and I'll tell ya the same ...

... the secret power, the personal key
the three golden hairs in the forehead of the Giant
the stone in the yoke in the egg in the duck
in the rabbit in the basket in the chest beneath the Oak

in the Oak of the Golden Bough
in the magical Mistletoe:

'In the whole of the East Indian Archipelago
the etiquette is the same
no-one utters his own name...'

  Sha-ame, sha-ame!
  everybody knows yer na-ame!

Whatcher name?
Mary Jane
wheredya live?              comment t'appelle tu?
down'a lane                   je m'appelle comme mon pere
whatcher number?         et ton pere?
cucumber                      mon pere s'appelle comme moi

it's Dinger Bell and Dusty Miller, Moishe Tochas
   and Lumber Bonce
it's mwele and Elkeh Pipick, Scaevola, Pepito and
   Tanglefoot ...

what do they call'y'?
Patchy Dolly
where were y' born?
in the cow's horn


where were ya born? I didn't hear ya
roundabout and begin again
well I'll tell ya

  my father was born in England
  my mother was born in France
  but I was born in diapers
  because I had no pants

(cross my heart and hope to die
if I ever tell a lie )

where were you born my pretty lass?

born in the still-house bin
ifn Pappy hadn picked me outa the mash
they'd'a called me Stone Blind Gin

where do you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?
way down south where the taters grow

where do you come from, Vinegar Bill?
where the Gila sleeps in the sagebrush hill

where do you come from, Popoli
in your laplap jockstrap sewn with bead?
I'm growing up in New Guin-ea
under the eye of Margaret Mead

laughing, talking, one hand, the other hand
one foot, the other foot
that's where the shoe is


how's your old man earn his nicker?
potter? piper? peapod-picker?
packer? knacker? sailor? stoker?
bumbailiff? or bailbond-broker?
doctor? proctor? thane? or thief?
dustman? postman? on relief?

  my old man's a dustman
  he wears a dustman's hat --

aah, knock it off, Noddy
we already been there

my old man's a navvy
a navvy by his trade
he wheels a great big barrow
he swings a pick and spade

my old man's a navvy
he get's a navvy's pay
it doesn't fill a rotten tooth
or scare the wolf away

I'm growin up to earn my keep
as quickly as I can
an I guess I'll be a navvy
just like my old man

  my father works in the A & P
  my mother clerks in the baker-y
  my sister dances in the hula show
  and they do it for me, me, me

my old man's a psychiatrist
he has a psychiatrist's couch
he doesn't stick any needles in
but his patients still cry ouch!

he thinks I'm slightly paranoid
or maybe rather manic
I tell him I'll turn out all right
if only he won't panic

if you got anxiety
my dad will worry for you
at 25 bucks an hour
it's what psychiatrists do


Why? -- Z
butter your bread
if you don't like it
go to bed

Why? Why? Why?
¿Cuándo? Pourquoi? Far vus?

why does a chicken cross the road?
no hablo español

waarom steekt een kip de weg over?
pourquoi non?

¿ cuándo la gallina cruza la carretera?
vais ich?

perchè Garibaldi alla battaglia di Calatafimi
  portava le bretelle tricolori?
to hold his pants up, stupid


how and when and where and why
stars and sun and moon and sky

canals and craters, dunghills, dunes
tell me what's beyond the moons?

beyond the moons the sands are deep
they spread through all the purple skies
in them are Giants who never sleep
but watch the world with burning eyes

they're just like us, with sharper claws
huger pincers, fiercer jaws
and if they catch you -- goodbye head!
goodbye little crystal bed!

so wrap your feelers round your feet
fold your thorax nice and neat
the sun is high, the hour is late
now it's time to estivate

  I lay me in my quartzy pool
  I pray the gods to keep it cool
  to keep off demons far and near
  and wake me when the winter's here
  to dance with joy on all my legs
  and live to lay a thousand eggs


  Mother Mother I am sick
  call for the doctor quick quick quick!!!
  Doctor Doctor shall I die?

  Yes my child and so shall I ...

Do you ever think when the hearse goes by
that one of these days you're going to die?
a-whoo, a-whoo ...

the dark the hairy scary dark's where
the nightblooming neuroses grow:

Mummy the THING'S under my bed again!

they wrap you up in a big white shirt
and cover you over with tons of dirt
a-whoo ...

under my bed, my childhood bed
only the dustflocks blew
in the midnight caverns of my head
the goblins spawned and grew

they stuff you into a long long box
and cover you over with mountains of rocks
a-whoo ...

but my children's fears are wider, wilder
fiercer, freer
in their delirious feverdreams
angry shadows chatter from the bookshelves
and Caesar's legions fight all Gaul from the staircase
           imperial ibises rise
stark and threatening from the reeds of the rug

and the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in
and the ones that crawl in are lean and thin
and the ones that crawl out are fat and stout
a-whoo, a-whoo ...

deposition by J.E.G., acquaintance of writer:

  The storm was raging and the wind was howling outside the
  castle. Inside the castle the lights flickered of. There was a
  blood-curling shriek. A Black figure stalked up the corridor.
  Bloodstained was his hands. I ran down the corridor and fell.
  Quickly I got up. I ran down the corridor only to find a girl
  jabbed in the back. As I ran farther I fell in a pit. It was a don-
  jon! I felt myself being chained to the wall. I struggled to
  free myself only to get whipped in the leg. The lights went on,
  I found the Black thing ready to cut my throat! I prepared to
  die. IM DEAD! IM DEAD! I screamed.

your eyes fall in and your hair falls out
and your brains come tumb-a-ling down your snout
a-whoo ...

  Hap-py Birthday!
  Hap-py Birthday!
  children are crying
  people are dying
  Happy Birthday ...

here you're in
there you're out
that's how the world goes


rise, Sally, rise
open your eyes
the earth turns east, the sun turns west
turn to the one you love the best

  Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy come over
  I wish, I wish your wish may come true
  the sun is up high at the top of the sky
  you can't cross my river unless you wear blue

bushel of wheat, bushel of barley
all not hid, holler Charley!
bushel of wheat, bushel of rye
all not hid, holler I!
bushel of wheat, bushel of clover
all not hid can't hide over

look out, World! here I come!

we sing from near, we sing from far
you brought us here, and here we are

we sing from far, we sing from near
nobody told us why we're here

we sing by night, we sing by day
nobody told us what to say

in love begot, in lust begot
nobody asked us what we thought:


my warriors have pitched their tents
where Tigris meets Euphrates
I suck the stubborn teats of goats
and feed upon the date-trees

I hunker down upon my heels
(they call me chieftain's daughter)
and I crack my lice between my nails
and flick them in the water

  we have to sing, we sing a song
  it's all of Time and twice as long


  Black sheep, black sheep, have you any wool?

  Yes, Master Coxe, my fleece is fat and full

  Shearer, shearer, clip him to the fell
  and take the wool to little John who lives by the well

I sit and pick at wool
I pick at wool all day
I have no time to go to school
I have no time to play

the shepherds tend the flocks
the shearers clip their backs
and sell the wool to Thomas Coxe
who stuffs it into sacks

and when the bags are full
they bring them in to me
for every day I pick the wool
he pays my penny fee

my hands are cracked and sore
I pray to go to heaven
and hope perhaps he'll pay me more
next year when I am seven

  I sing my song the whole day long
  from morning light to even


I am a little chimney sweep
a poor benighted chap
I knock about the dark all day
and no-one cares a rap

the soot grinds down into my groins
each time my brush goes whap!
I'll die from cancer of the nuts
if I don't get the clap

  we sing our song, our song is long
  it's large as life and twice as strong

if you should see a chimney sweep
your luck will turn to bad
so always keep your eyes away
from a chimney-sweeping lad

but if by chance they light on one
don't let it go at that
-- just hold your collar till you see
a horse, a dog, a cat ...


  here upon the altar
  lies the bleeding victim
  we slew him without falter
  -- that was why we picked him

  O mighty Rongo, here's your fish
  wrapped up in tidy parcels
  was ever god served up a dish
  of such prodigious morsels?

all the gods are bad ones
and some are worse than others
the god who gave me his name
had demons for his brothers

he chose the altar for me
the axe to split my head
the leaves to wrap my ears and nose
for the prize when I was dead

the missionary came then
and he took me in his arm
he swore his God would strike them dead
if they did me any harm

my father broke his spear in two
the prayer-king stove his drum
and as a joyful Christian child
I sing of Kingdom Come!


  one day he gave me peaches
  one day he gave me pears
  one day he gave me fifty cents
  to kiss him on the stairs

the missionary ladies
have taught me to sew and cook
to plant flowers in pots
and embroider French knots
and write in a bluelined book

they have taught me to read the Bible
and to frown and turn my back
on Corporal McGlash
when he twirls his moustache
and calls me the Rose of Ladakh

but my mother will come and fetch me
to my home on the mountain side
and I'll turn back my face
to the ways of my race
in Shamlegh when I am a bride

and turquoise and silver will bind up my hair
instead of a flowery hat
my three husbands will plough
while the fourth milks the cow
-- but I won't tell the pastor that.

  I gave him back his peaches
  I gave him back his pears
  I only kept the fifty cents
  and kicked him down the stairs


Mammy, Mammy, tell me true
when shall we be free?

Hush, chile, eat you chickenfoot stew
don't say dem things to me
  ole Uncle Jack he wanta git free
  foun his way north by de bark on de tree
  cross dat river floatin in a tub
  paterollers gibm a mighty close rub

Mammy, Mammy, all de years
Massa laid us low

Hush, chile, hush chile, all you tears
won' make him let us go
  old Aunt Dinah jes like me
  wuk so hard she wanta git free
  but Aunt Dinah gittin kinda ole
  she feared of Canada cause it so cole

Mammy, wanta board dat Freedom Train
feel de sun shine on my haid

hush, chile! don't talk out so plain
or you mighty close to dead!
  ole Uncle Billy, mighty fine man
  tote de news to Massa, fast as he can
  tell Uncle Billy you want free fer a fac
  nex day de hide skun offn you back

and still we dance and still we sing
Juba dancers in a ring!

Juba dis an Juba dat
Juba skin dat Yaller Cat

Juba jump and Juba sing
Juba cut dat Pigeon's Wing!

Gadder roun, chillun, thank de Lawd
old Abe done set us free
Massa in de cole cole groun, praise Gawd
in de Year of Jubilee!

  Missus an Massa, walkin down street
  hans in dere pockets, nothin to eat
  Missus git home, wash up de dishes!
  patch up y'ole man's raggedy britches!

  Massa run home, git out de hoe
  clear de weeds outa y'own corn row
  de Kingdom Come, de slaves gone free
  ain no slaves in de Year Jubilee!

two four six eight
we don't want to integrate

  ('I dunno what they complainin about what with
  Bull Connor givin em free street
  baths an dog shows ever day')

put down you heel
put down you toe
  ever time you turn aroun
  you stomp Jim Crow!

git off you knees
hold up you head
  ever time you turn aroun
  Jim Crow dead!


  get a piece of pork and
  stick it on a fork and
  shove it in the mouth of a Jewboy, Jew ...

a skinny kid, a Yidl kid, I run the streets of Kiev
the sh'gutzim kick my shins, the cold winds blow me like a leaf
a skinny kid, a Yidl kid, with swinging black earlocks
for furtrimmed ladies and their gents my father fixes clocks
he cheats them just a little bit to make up for the tax
I call them Pan and Panya and I spit behind their backs
a dirty sheeny ragged Yid I spit behind their backs

  Jewboy, Jew
  Jewboy, Jew

I am Belsen number 7829
I know not blue sky nor to see the sun shine
blind, I hear others die. I am called swine.

  and still we sing and still we sing
  and through the wires our voices ring

does no-one hear? does no-one come?
Lord of the World, my mouth is dumb


  Bach Jones a bag of bones
  a belly full of fat
  and when he dies he shuts his eyes
  now what do you think of that?

at Aberfan where I began
I never grew to be a man
the slag ran down toward the town
I cried and I was still
God lost my name and no-one came
I died beneath the hill

still in their dreams our voices sing
through stone and slime the echoes ring

  Rhys Owen was a holy man
  he went to church on Sunday
  to pray to God to give him strength
  to whip the boys on Monday!


the light swings west, the shadows follow
the ball is hollow
on the wall

curtsey, salute and roundabout
we go by turns but never out

we turn the world away from night
we raise the sun, we bring the light

if we don't act the way we should
too bad for you. We're here for good.

and begin again