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James Cihlar

Little Miracles

The luxury of summer
after graduation, no eight-track blaring Cat Stevens
up the walk. Long days stretching from the porch
to the street, with the shadow of my brother and me
in a photograph. If I could see time from above,
I would treat the days like countries on an excursion,
dallying here, resting there, inhabiting the boundaries of another
before moving on. So sweet the extant of the grid
but sweeter still the joy of putting things off,
kissing, tying a shoe, learning to tell time,
easy things, things done in a snap.

No writer is happy. Today the phone rings at eight a.m.
No one has done enough. We are all waiting for little
miracles. Get out of bed and win an award.
People talk about the real world, Kate Ronald said
in graduate school, what do they think this is,
pretend? Too small, too poor, too loopy
to know how business works. Manipulated
bastards calling the shots, untethered
from common sense.

Walking up the long, cracked cement in senior year
I opened the screen door to my mother on her knees
soaping the wall-to-wall, a half-eaten sandwich in her hands,
Bobby Goldsboro in the air. Like her, I hoped
for a sudden savior, a happy surprise, I mean,
a summer job at the end of summer, college acceptance
on incomplete applications. I’ve worked for men who counted on
last-minute miracles, novitiates to zeitgeist,
incapable of strategic planning,
the discipline of months.
On the news a gaggle of cops
kicks a downed man. The professor explains
because they uphold the law
anything they do is right.

My older sister and I exhibited wacky,
risky behaviors. Kicked in the seat of the pants out of the house,
we slept in the park overnight. With Morgan Kidder,
I smoked pot in my bedroom, my family in the next room
watching Three’s Company. My sister sheared her hair off with scissors.
When I needed a place to live,
I knocked on doors.
When I was running out of money,
I bought food for next week.

In the office, I had the boss from another planet,
a twenty-first-century determinist.
Desperate, I began to speak in clichés.
You can’t be all things to all people.
No good deed goes unpunished.
If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.
Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.
My life is an open book, I said.
He returned fire with a flaccid
it is what it is, you know what I mean,
and I can’t be bothered.

My younger sister never went to college.
At thirteen she taught herself how to drive a car.
After silently watching our mother for years,
one day she sat behind the steering wheel and turned the key.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 84, No. 3 (Fall 2010)

James Cihlar
Photo Credit: Brad Stauffer

James Cihlar is the author of Undoing (Little Pear P) and the chapbook Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House P). His second volume of poetry, Rancho Nostalgia (Dream Horse P), is forthcoming. His poems have been accepted by American Poetry Review, Court Green, Lambda Literary Review, and Forklift, Ohio. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Of the jobs he has held, he says, “In sixth grade I was a crosswalk guard on the corner of Dorcas and 10th Streets. My very first paid job was as a cook at Satan’s Pizza. I was drawn by their painted storefront: red flames on bottom, orange flames in the middle, and yellow flames on top. Later I worked temp jobs, dumping sour milk at a dairy, breaking the sun-hardened crust on the surface of an open grain bin with a shovel, and loading donated furniture from curbsides into an open-cab truck. Additional jobs include being a production coordinator, managing editor, poetry editor, fiction editor, marketing and sales director, and visiting professor.”