person Joseph Mills, two poems

Joseph Mills is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and has published six books of poetry with Press 53.



I’ll eat you up! – Max in Where the Wild Things Are

The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth. – Insult found on Easter Island.

There is nothing the dog won’t eat,
or at least try. Fast food wrappers,
crusts, house shingles, cheese rinds,
bugs, bricks, rubber bands, feathers.
Since everything in this world is,
potentially, edible, how will she know
until she takes it into her mouth?

John James Audubon would spend hours
watching birds, then he would kill them
and spend hours sketching and painting them,
creating art of astounding detail. Some say
afterwards he would cook the birds and eat them
in front of their portraits, and some say, no,
he was careful to put the drawings away first.

A boy wrote a letter to Maurice Sendak,
saying he loved Where the Wild Things Are,
and Sendak wrote back, including
with his reply a small original drawing,
which the boy, in his excitement, ate.

At the gym, a young girl in a wet bathing suit
runs screaming from a parent holding a towel,
“You are going to bake me in a pie!

The dog and the artist and the boy and the girl,
there is something to be learned from each
just as there is food for thought considering
those times you took someone’s flesh
in your teeth, the cusp of biting,
the pleasure in the desire and denial.


How to Teach Your Children About Indeterminacy

When they spill milk, clean it up. When they spill milk, sigh heavily. When they spill milk, clean it up. When they spill milk, clean it up as you give them a lecture that includes sentences like “I don’t even know why I buy you stuff when you just pour it on the floor.” When they spill milk, ask them to be more careful. When they spill milk, clean it up. When they spill milk, walk out of the room and leave it dripping down the counter and spreading on the floor. Leave it there for as long as you can stand. All day. All week if possible. Leave it there until it dries and stains and becomes a permanent part of the counter so that every time you see it you’ll be annoyed again. When they spill milk, clean it up. When they spill milk, clean it up. When they spill milk, put your head in your hands like you can’t believe this happened again, you can’t believe what terrible children they are, you can’t believe how careless they are, you can’t believe how determined they are to ruin your life, how selfish and thoughtless they are, how they’re milk-spilling monsters out to destroy every vestige of your happiness. When they drop the iPad on the floor, cracking the screen, and look at you in terror at the whirlwind they know they have just conjured, say “accidents happen” and give them a hug. When they spill milk, look at them for a long long time, without blinking, without breathing.