Oct/Nov 2020 Poetry

Thirteenth Birthday

by James Miller

Thirteenth Birthday

That Friday I read first chapters
of Bantam paperbacks
in the only bookstore
for miles, for years.

Crouched on the carpet
with Samuel Delany and Joanna Russ,
who taught me of strange
and transformative

The birthday sweater chafed
my throat. I carried winter
cash, enough for two
alternate histories.

The Spanish sank
Elizabeth's fleet.
The late war ended,
or did not end.

Shrimp fried rice at the Market,
time enough to think of books
I had not courage
to buy.

Then eight bronze tokens
counted out into my palm
for vector games only.

Tempest, Omega Race,
all flat and frictionless grids.

Thumbnail piles
of shattered neon—
my three lives cooled
and fading

in thirty seconds,
          or thirty-one.


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