Beware of the Dogs: 
A Guide on How to Be an     American

Cole Miller

Photographed by Ray Swartz.

My American Pool

Here I sit, in front of the old box TV, with ruby
eyes and sweaty feet, as my cousin struggles with
the bathroom door. Dimly lit and poorly painted, our small apartment witnessed my death and rebirth as a child.

            Greener grass.
            My Dad would insist.

            I wonder how far I must take my newborn to find the land. Or does it sleep in the heartbeat between me and my Mom during a thunderstorm?

My American Breakfast

            I don’t know if you say my name the way
you used to, but I still remember the tattoo on your
back that you got for your baby sister. Fever hands
from under my blanket, share your warmth with my
core, find the key inside.
            Eyes bright like egg-whites, you’re
leaving me for California. Our dog days all
sweated out in puddles on asphalt,
even if just for a blink, can you show me the
place on my neck that still smells like the day you met me?

My American Church

        I’m sorry grandma, I don’t think God loves me as much as you do. My yellow walls know the words I wish to say to Him, but I don’t think He
wants to listen. Let me trace your aged love back to
your youth, to find the girl who holds me on her lap.

My American Skin

            Quiet like a whisper, you stepped through the screen door into my sanctuary. Eyes wide with wonder, noting the pictures from when I was
young. Now watch me take your cigarette into my
lips. Explore my knee scars and birthmarks; my
boy holds secrets only shared in the night, only shared with you.

            Sometimes, when there’s nothing left to
see, I’ll show you my skin.

My American Babe

I’m my Mama’s oldest. I remember when the
bathtub became too big for two. I remember when I was leaving home, headed up North, you clung to your child, like you were an oyster, and I was the
            The nights of sneaking out to meet my
midnight wishes are over, say your final prayer. You’re sweeter than cheap wine, but I’m not your Only, and you’re not my believer.
            Still, I’m asking the Lord, that hangs above my grandma’s grave, if the answer is hiding in my jacket pocket, next to the birthday card you waited to give me. I still have it.
            I know that this old love is stored in my bones like an ancient scroll.

            I’ve felt it—
            Through pubic growing pains,
            wisdom teeth and wishbones,
            green eyed girls and dead goldfish,
            hotel rooms and bedrooms,
            doe-eyes and black cats,
            broken arm casts and Valentine’s Day
            cards, Americans and not,
            and with the red thread of fate binding
  your hands to mine.

I love you Babe.
                            I love you Mama. I’ll be home soon.

My New America

            I’m not much for sappy endings, but I’ll
save the best for last.
            We are much older now, and it’s a weird
feeling to remember a memory, but I can still see your failed braces and summer freckles. I still see my boney knees and your chubby hands trying to pull the family dog from the bushes.

            It’s a sore sight for sore eyes to see us in
the mirror together, again.

Stand up straight.

        You’re still not as tall as me,
        but I’ll let you kiss the dent on my
forehead anyway.
        Our last summer of love,
        and you’ll tell me,

            I’ll see you later, whether that’s in this life,
or the next.

Cole Miller is pretending to not remember his grandpa's favorite story so he can tell it again.