Poems by Joshua Gottlieb-Miller

The Hunger Temples


My wife is sad that I’m not sad
that she’s sad. Moments like these
I’m happy to try and understand
where she’s coming from, if not
where she’s going to. Soon enough
I’m going to start getting sad,
I don’t know how to feel sad
when I’m supposed to. I should
chase her, probably to the coffee shop
collecting her sadness. My sadness is not a tiger
but a field at the edge of a cliff I am not aware
that I am approaching, because I probably shouldn’t
take my eyes off this tiger. I should not
draw a bath, but if I do I should be lonely
as a monk in a hot bath, because maybe a little too holy,
maybe a little too assured of my sin. Which is worse:
loving myself or loving that I love myself? Halfway down
the cliff, but she waits for me, of course,
being a tiger and this being a parable and not even mine;
and there being, of course, also a tiger below
licking its lips while the mice begin to chew on the vine.
A ripe strawberry beckoning from cliff-side,
just within my reach. How sweet it tastes,
the parable! I call my wife and ask her
to bring home strawberries. We talk for a while
and our sadness—now it has become
our sadness—seems like it has passed
as quickly as the eye of a storm.
It’s a little sad how quickly we are leaving
this sadness, putting distance between us
and this sadness, as if this sadness not only
no longer matters, it’s not important, forget it,
don’t forget the strawberries. The increasing minitude
of this sadness! The tigers climb so carefully,
their muscles little engines of appetite
—they don’t even know how strong
they are—and they don’t know, after all, what’s above
or down below, yet still they advance, their claws
small temples honoring hunger about to be,
but not yet fulfilled. While the mice chew
and the strawberries redden, and the parable
lets go and flies. Even our stories die,
leaving us nothing. A broken vine
lapping at the side of a cliff, like a tongue.






The benefit in Houston, for the single heart
transplant in Austin, took place two weeks
after the nuclear meltdown in Japan began
killing thousands. The transplant took place

a week after the benefit, and this is the third
poem I’m writing about it because in the first
poem I addressed a hypothetical you because
I don’t know you and you are not hypothetical.

You are Dean Young who I once said I just don’t
know what to do about—but I was misheard,
they thought I said I just don’t know what to do
about being young, which is still true. People

mostly drank Shiners at the benefit and tried
to envy the metaphor of the poet being kept alive
by an external heart whose electricity ranged
throughout the city pumping into your body

wherever you were. It didn’t rain in all of Texas
that night, as trace radioactivity gathered
in reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest, which I
read about in the morning and you might have, too.

And by you I still mean Dean Young. Clouds with traces
of rainwater poisoned from over thousands of miles
away—over the island my dad visited for six days
to give a speech on recycling two weeks before

the earthquake and the tsunami made sustainable
garbage practices the last thing on anyone’s mind—
collected all over the coast. Mostly he walked
back-alleys and ate whale with sake, after which

the bill would be presented upside down. Or he pored
over maps when he got lost on the way
to the graves of the forty seven ronin dead
over three hundred years, having committed seppuku,

their own dead master avenged. There must be
something wrong with me thinking it’s possible
to bring up so casually forty seven dead men
or several thousand, even you Dean Young,

and you’re not dead. Even just wanting
to call you Dean, which seems presumptuous,
like comparing your blood circulating to poison
rain, which I did in the poem I pretended

wasn’t about you even though God asked me
in the poem about my crisis of purpose
and who’s supposed to care and it still
was about you. Does it matter, Dean, if I keep

trying to understand? Orpheus punished
for going to hell to get good material. But not
the poet for his heart not failing. But the ocean
for being in the way. But the reservoir, for

collecting the poison. Did I mention how much
fun I had drinking with friends at the benefit,
and how ashamed I was by the meager profits
from my single whiskey sour that went to you?




Joshua Gottlieb-Miller’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Indiana Review, Blackbird, A Poetry Congeries, The Journal, and elsewhere. Most recently he was a MacDowell Fellow. Currently he works in a writing center and a grocery store, and volunteers with the Writers in Prisons Project, in Madison, WI.



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