Trace Elements: A Poem by James Miller

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Trace Elements

At the colloquium they promise we’ll get paid if the rain comes or if it stops, and we’ll get paid when the college pitches tents on the ruins of the San Joaquin mall, where slow machines spent two years pulling JC Penney down brick by girder, and we spent our lunch breaks across the street in the Olive Garden parking lot watching mortar dust pufting in ripple heat, but one weekend there were seventeen contractor trucks not three, and by Sunday afternoon the grounds were flat as tarmac, and we wanted to spread out on that blankness like gleaners on harvest homeland to lift up trace elements, twist-ties for Nature’s Own wheat bread, rubber bands just right to hold green onions together in the crisper, threads of defrosted cornsilk, but the tents resemble temples, their scrub-day washtubs are full of baptismal fluid, so you dunk for lice and come out ready to teach three branches of government, Auto Cad, how to draw blood, but when the tents are folded and the vans pull out they will dig a pond for ducks and paddleboats, with ice cream crows on the shore and quarter-mile markers for faculty working on heart rates, and we should fill out comment cards on leaving the auditorium, be sure to answer all questions, they are especially interested in suggestions, what to name the new water, which Roman emperor deserves our tribute in perpetuity.

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