On Aesthetics


Here the boy is fifteen

when his father’s friend Paul—
six foot six and seething

because his saxophone career
ended twenty-five years ago

and, ever since, he’s taught
middle school—calls the boy

a little prick, a little piece of shit,
because Paul has tried

to play a Stan Getz album
for the boy, and the boy

has looked bored after saying
something vague about

the prog bands he likes,
and so Paul rises, rocking

with the ocean of anger
inside him, and tells

the boy—that little shit—
to stand up and face him—

and the men have been drinking
on the deck for four hours,

and the boy is terrified,
and then the boy’s father,

a foot smaller than Paul,
lurches into the man’s bulk

and tells him not ever
to fucking talk to his son

like that, not ever, and Paul
says the boy’s a little shit

but OK OK take it easy,
and steps back and, sorry,

and now the father is pacing
around the apartment,

caught up in the language
still surging inside him when

he falls against the table,
scudding it across the floor,

and Paul and the boy rush over
to lift the father and carry him

to Paul’s bedroom
and lay him down slurring

unintelligibly, and the boy
is frantic because maybe

his father is having a stroke,
a heart attack, but Paul

goes into the kitchen
saying not to worry, he’s seen

this sort of thing before,
and holds up the nearly empty

fifth the father has chugged,
and this is where the boy

wants out, wants to leave,
but there’s no place to go,

he’s caught inside this space,
Stan Getz still playing,

Paul’s saxophone case open,
the boy notices, beside the table,

and I think this is too much
narrative, too much play-by-play,

which is why I’ve given up
every time I’ve tried to write it

these past fifteen years—
since before my father died—

but now distance
provides a useful objectivity,

so when I watch the boy
lie down beside his father,

finally, in Paul’s bed
I can see the darkness

around them for what it is—
shared breath,

which is what this poem
is made of.




picture of featured poet, Wayne Miller
Author photo by Chris Kannen

Wayne Miller is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Post-, which won the UNT Rilke Prize and the Colorado Book Award for Poetry, and We the Jury, which is forthcoming in 2021. His 2015 co-translation of Moikom Zeqo’s Zodiac was shortlisted for the PEN Center USA Award in Translation. He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver and edits Copper Nickel

Miller last published with TLR in 2017, TLR: Uncle



read next: J. Robert Lennon, “Ten Short Essays


“On Aesthetics” appeared in TLR: Contents May Shift (Summer, 2020)