In a comic book a superhero says I am in a comic book and it’s revolutionary, but a character in a prose poem says I am in a prose poem, nothing. When Animal Man, by not entirely unlikely telepathy with animals, sees gutters enclosing his thoughts, actions imposed by powers beyond his knowledge, we understand our own lives marked by limits and boundaries physics is still discovering. I am in a grocery store, I think, wearing my tan cargo shorts and a blue T-shirt with a white sketch of the city’s art museum, where you would, ideally, prefer to be. The narrator’s son screaming for yogurt branded by a talking cartoon sponge while I study a carton of cage-free but not pasture-raised eggs, and what does that even mean, carton? I know what it is, a carton, but when has that ever helped? The reader puts herself in the character the author identifies with. Many of these shoppers are thinking shut your son up and I am thinking no one read my mind and my son is thinking now now now, as I wheel us swiftly down one aisle, past cereals and toiletries turning down RITUALS: the monks leaving Houston a week before the hurricane, their lessons on impermanence treated with the respect we give all abstractions. Knowing where we are, son—Asia Society, comic book, grocery store aisle—is knowing what we are inside. You helped color in the mandala; as it was finished, I asked the curator when we would witness its ceremonial destruction. Nothing was planned. It was going in a dumpster. The infinite is always connected with the sublime: we can’t get there but it never ends.
Most recently Joshua Gottlieb-Miller was Digital Nonfiction Editor at Gulf Coast; newer poetry has been published in Brooklyn Rail, Talking Writing, and Grist. Previously he was a Tent Fellow in Creative Writing at the Yiddish Book Center. Currently he works in a writing center, at a museum’s back desk, and teaching a senior memoir workshop.