Joseph Mills

The clock striketh


If exiting the theatre

you feel the same

as when you went in,


demand a refund

at the box office,


find your way backstage

to where the actors are

drinking and taking off

costumes and makeup,

stand in the doorway,

like an accusatory ghost,


hold on to the ticket stub,

and, when Death comes,

show it and explain

the account is unbalanced,

you’re still owed

for those hours,


because that’s the deal.

You give part of your life

to be changed somehow.


But don’t try to lie,

because Death’s there

at every performance,

in the back row,

watching, fascinated.


[She picks up some pieces]


Each day she was free

to get anything she wanted

to eat or drink.


Nothing was denied her

at the table,

and sometimes she amused herself

with requests like:


Small half goat-milk no foam latte

and half snake-milk cocoa-less mocha

in a pre-warmed silk venti cup.


But she knew it was an illusion

of choice          of control.


No matter how large,

the castle

was still a box and she

a prize within.


Each day someone asked

what she wanted

            and what she wanted


was a sunburst telecaster

with humbucker pickups


what she wanted was


who would play hard


what she wanted was

a solo one way ticket,

a storyline that didn’t end

in marriage

or suicide,

the keys to the cars

                                    and doors


and these could be hers


but what she wanted

was to not be asked

            and not be given.

Enter Gardeners


When Anne finally saw some of her husband’s plays,

she recognized phrases from discussions they’d had

and exchanges she’d recounted with the fishmonger,

dyer, glovemaker, gardener . . . .

 She didn’t mind,

but it was odd to realize all the times she thought

he wasn’t listening that he always had been listening,

collecting bits of conversation like change

in a desktop jar then spending it later, in London. 

She wondered now that he had moved back to Stratford

and stopped writing, how he felt about the words

around him.  Was he still storing them somewhere?

Or, having become a rich gentleman in a New Place,

did he consider them mere farthings and halfpennies,

currency too small to pay much mind to any more.

Joseph Mills teaches at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He has published five collections of poetry, most recently This Miraculous Turning.



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