Horsehair Plaster by Nathaniel K. Miller

January 16, 2014 Comments Off on Horsehair Plaster by Nathaniel K. Miller

The wind-born whispers of trees beat soft corners into the house. We left it standing, hoping it might do the same for us. Houses do not shrink from the terrible task — pulling lives into the firmament. Old walls, well made, do not hesitate to revenge.

Over there, someone took a picture of this place when it was nothing but land and plans. The hat plastered to his sweaty brow as he layered horsehair with rank glue in slick applications, each a promise —

“They shall not enter,

You shall not leave.”

You can almost see him hold back a heave. The smell of the walls as they are birthed is wet and sour, and he barely refrains from retching.

Under strain from snow and sun, we heaved, too, through the echoes of the silences he made. Scraped knees and other damage done under the cool breath of the oaks was pulled into a deeper pain, a civilizing pain, by that cool darkness, the enclosure of attics, hallways.

To be hemmed in by doors, to be tripped into sleeplessness by jambs and pulled nails, to be brought low by a seething, ancient comfort, a price paid and paid again for not needing to wander through the endless whispers of oaks, reeds, and well-meaning moss. To be anesthetized under eaves, atop flagstones, beneath keystones and bedposts and woolen sheets until still.

To be just so slightly aware:

The pain of no trees in the sweat of your body, the burning itch of life between walls stuck to your skin in the thick summer night.

Our dreams scraped over that matte plaster on their way up the chimney, to be carried sunward by the echoing oaks, their idle lack of malice the only hope we saved.

But somewhere along the line, after the picture was taken, he did retch, the hat slipped down his sun-soaked face, the hair bonded to the hair and became walls. The walls, somewhere along the line, were raised, and we were not, but we grew up anyway, and somehow — somewhere along the line — we left, though we never found a far enough place, a place so free of structure or so full of well-meaning moss that the pain was not there, deep in our bones.

© 2013 Nathaniel K. Miller

Nathaniel K. Miller cannot easily tell what is living and what has never lived. He co-edits Pravic

These Woods by Nathaniel K. Miller

October 18, 2012 Comments Off on These Woods by Nathaniel K. Miller

The last time I came to these woods, we came to these woods.

It’s a shallow entrance to a deep green cove, a slipping footpath through grey fields. Down inside the belly, there’s moss and the remains of rain and a gulch, which I assume must have been part of the lakebed once. Bright green algae blooms punctuate the silt, and if you couldn’t find your way by those alone, petrified stumps imply vertices by which one could navigate toward or away from actual water.

Last time, we had an escort of sorts, a bee which hovered three feet over our heads, staying with us through the low swamp patch you didn’t want to take (full of mosquitoes; you were right), leaving us just as the snake hissed. She never showed her face, but who does? I stumbled through a web and you kicked a fat red spider off of my chest, a high kick that left me scraped and winded.

If I said this to you now, you’d say, “These things all happened at different times.” They happened in different woods, too, in different states. Harper’s Ferry, where the bridge beckoned and backward-looking butterflies laughed against the stench of summer and the lack of upkeep on the trail. “So it goes,” they whispered into plastic bags left by trail-markers. Blue Marsh, Nolde Forest, merging maps of dream-woods and real woods and the spirits they share or do not yet share. They will simply have to get along now. The Shinto spirits, proud as they were, suffered their recasting as Buddhist ghosts. I think our local watershed will fare just fine.

As we walked back to that cave-head path, where the green gives itself back again to yellow dirt, a hawk cast her shadow and then her voice. She said “Reconsider.”

I said, “I’m in the woods again, aren’t I?”

“What does it mean if a hawk screams at you?” Later, when we look it up, there are two general opinions. One holds that someone verbally assaulted by a hawk is close to his true purpose, that he is connected to the land.

The other opinion is that we were too close to the nest.

© Nathaniel K. Miller

Nathaniel K. Miller is just one voice in the Choir of Doubt. Perhaps you have heard their song? He blogs about speculative fiction and esoteric cosmology at

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