November 13, 2020

Andrew Miller

LET THERE BE LIGHT A LITTLE

That year, each night, in a polyester tuxedo
And a propeller tie, I would climb up
The narrow stairs into the theater’s loft.
Inside the red running-lights,
In the housing of each projector, I opened
The five gates one opens to thread the film.
The 70 mm lens was like a golden idol
We kept in a velvet box when the theater
Was closed. The mechanical gates fed
The god through a thousand sprockets.
They snaked the film before the hot light
And back to the reels where they lay flat
On circling tables of steel. The best ushers
Could lace a movie in under fifteen seconds,
But I was never best, feeling, of course,
That the blankness between films belonged
To me in the way a teenager feels things do,
Staring out into the great empty sail
At the front of the theater below, darkness
Partial and yet primal. No, it was not God
I felt myself to be, who had dropped out
Of college already twice and had the manager
On my case for coming in late stoned.
Still, looking out over the audience below
Awaiting to stare in rows of one direction,
I was God, a little. “Let there be light,”
I said, and with the snapping of a switch
Began not one but many worlds shining
In the darkness. I saw them all,
And said of some that they were good.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020
Tribute to Service Workers

__________

Andrew Miller: “The poems I have submitted to Rattle’s issue on service work are—for the most part—reportage, and this means that when I look back over my early work-life (perhaps all of my work-life!), I see how it is filled up with what my old teacher, Philip Levine, would call ‘stupid jobs.’ Work as a suburban teenager or young adult in the California of the 1980s was not, for me, filled with dignified labor. My employment history (that modern appellation for the list of jobs that constitute a lifetime) was filled up with jobs that left me feeling I was infinitely replaceable. And I was. Service work guarantees that. No shoe salesman or cashier is irreplaceable. The name tag pinned over an employee’s left breast certifies to this fact; it is something that can be unpinned, the uniform transferred like a faded tabula rasa to the next man or woman who will fit it. So it was that I worked graveyard shifts in a liquor store, reading Ancient Greek literature in translation for my college seminar class; worked in a rat-infested movie theater lacing up the previous season’s releases to empty theaters; worked filling glasses of cheap champagne for the concessions stand at the Fresno Civic Center on Opera Nights; worked selling TV advertisement for time-slots on television stations when no one was likely watching. All of that is perfectly true—or true enough, and most of it is adequately reported in my poems. What is missing is the certainty that once I had left those stupid jobs, there was someone else who took my place as though I had never been there at all. If I could make a succinct dedication at the top of all these poems, it would be for the employees who have replaced me. These poems are for them.”

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