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William Miller

Latchkey Kids


Summer in south Florida, no air except for giant fans
that spread more hot than cool—I taught drama
to seven poor children.  

I was poor, my first teaching job, three an hour, 
no rulers, no paper or scissors, Elmer’s timeless glue.
We twisted fairy tales into odd, 

funny, shapes.  They acted out “The Three bears” 
as  robots; Goldi was a spoiled brat who took what
she wanted since getting what she wanted

was all she knew.  This little girl, the smallest,
played a passed-out bear and said all the bears
should be passed out drunk like her parents

in front of the tv.  Too funny, too real, my parents
did the same, their friends, strangers, crashed
out among empty beer bottles,


greasy paper plates.  I had to step over bodies
to get to the back door while the sun came 
up slowly, the only light I could depend on.

My boss said the parents would be offended 
on “Parents Night,” refused to let them perform.
I spoke up, even cursed, was fired


on the concrete spot.  I left without a word,
like parents leave and never said goodbye.
But they had seven names, faces, seven different

stories of neglect.  Latchkey kids we were and still are,
wait for a grown up to come home, tell us when
to go to bed, turn out the light.




First Drink

Small for my age, skinny to my tennis shoes, I wore glasses
with lenses coke-bottle thick. My country cousins laughed
at me from the high tree branches, said I’d never last a week
in these woods, not this far south.

We’d driven all night, someone was sick, dying.
My dad drank from a flask in his sports coat like it was water.
His uncle met us at the door, the scariest man
I’d ever seen, a tall, lean ghost in denim overalls.

His eyes were bloodshot; he pinched my shoulder hard
when he said my name. He asked me to wait on the porch,
let the old folks be, a shadow was in the house. He gave me
five dollars, said I only need three: two for anything

a kid wanted, comic books, candy, hamburgers. I had
to follow a trail across the dirt road, pay a man and bring
back a plastic jug. It was winter, skeleton trees, the body
of a dead dog with flies on it, a smell I’d never smelled before.

A fat man sat in front of a gray, pot-bellied stove. Copper coils
dripped drops the color of water into a mason jar. There was
a race car parked beneath a shed, the number seven painted
on its side. He laughed at me, said this was no place

for a city kid but took the money when I told him my
last name. I looked thirsty, he said, and I was, took a sip
from the jar that knocked me to the ground, fogged
my glasses. “It’s not poison unless you drink too much!”

And the world spun like a crazy top. A crow flew overhead.
“I knew your granddaddy; I know your daddy and now
I know you.” Nothing was the same after that, a drop
in the blood, blood mixed with blood, the circle complete.




Three Men on a Bridge

That face is too familiar—
melting skin, the mouth
of horror, a scream in waves
of thick, lurid paint.

But two men walk behind,
unhearing, as if the warning
had not been sounded,
the world solid stone.

Unending, the wail, the cry,
is one man’s only, shatters
roots and sky, everything
but indifference.



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