The Death of the Frontier by Wayne Miller

It is during sleep that the distinction between
good men and bad is least apparent.

In the dream, we wandered farther

into our thoughts,
toward the waters at their edge,
the overhanging cliffs—

we forded rivers, sometimes

snow fell on the squat cactuses,
the taut canvas covers;
it slipped through the steam

bursting from the horses’ nostrils.

When our wheels broke,
we balanced on the thumbs
of our footprints,

dragged the children behind us

on palettes we’d gathered
from the City’s back alleys.
We attended to our huddling

voices, dark around the fire,

we tipped our heads back
to examine the stars, though
at that remove our words failed

to describe them. Their whispers

floated over us,
behind us, wrapped the horizon
we kept pushing toward.

When the thread of the idea

we tugged on as a guide
led us through the emberlit camps
of strangers,

we stabbed them in their sleep;

and when we circled the wagons
in the night, we made
of ourselves a city—

like an animal bristling its fur.

Then, slowly, we awoke:
we were back in our beds,
the lights of the City

in the windows, the bridge—

an idea threading the bay.
At breakfast, we sat quietly
for a long time, the paper

open before us, its letters

winding down the page.
Now where would we go,
what should be next? The day

was crisp, the light, polleny—

and up the street, that film
we’d wanted to see for years
was still showing.

by Wayne Miller
published in Conduit, Summer 2010

and also on Poetry Daily, June 2010

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