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Three Poems by Joseph Mills


After dropping acid, Danny danced all night

by himself in the corner of the dining room.

He was there when we went to bed

and when we woke. “I understand it all,”

he said, before collapsing on the couch.

“Everything! I’ve written it down,”

and he had.

He had scribbled revelations

on paper scraps, receipts, bills, the tablecloth.

None of it was legible.

No one liked Danny.

He was overweight and socially awkward.

I don’t know where he got the acid or

if someone slipped it to him as a joke,

but that night gave people something

else to mock him about.

Except for me.

I was jealous. By then I was a veteran

of Bible retreats and religious schools,

and I recognized the beatific when I saw it.

That it came from drugs made no difference;

a tab was a trigger, not a cause. God works

in mysterious ways,

but why Danny? Why

give him such a glimpse?

Whatever happened

to Danny years afterwards – and I don’t know

which is yet another failure – he could say,

“Once I danced literally all night long. Once

I understood the workings of the universe.”

How many of us can say that, even for a moment,

we’ve felt things make sense? How many of us

have had such a vision to celebrate or regret?


After we turn in grades, we go on a hike,

picking a trail we’ve never done before

even though we’ve lived here for decades.

We’re careful because it’s on hunting land.

We crunch the fallen leaves loudly, talk

loudly, say occasionally, “I’m not a deer!”

loudly. The sky is a crisp, painful, blue.

There are views through the bare trees

that wouldn’t be seen other times of year.

We talk about books and films. We talk

about the map and the trail signs. We talk

about our families and finances, a coffeeshop

that’s opened downtown, a restaurant

that has recently closed. At some point,

they mention the most recent lab results,

the estimates from the doctors. I share trail mix.

They offer slices of apple. We begin to walk

faster because the days are shorter now,

the path unfamiliar and quickly growing dark.


He starts dancing late in life

for his health. That’s the reason,

the excuse, for finally doing

what he has wanted to do for years.

What does it matter now

what he looks like? If he is good

or bad, looks suave or foolish?

It’s simply exercise. For his health.

He comes to the weekly dances

to gratify his doctor. It is a type

of prescription or therapy. In fact,

the shoes should be written off

as a medical expense. As for the hat,

the one he paid so much for,

the one he adjusts in the mirror

before he comes, that’s nothing.

That’s just to keep his head warm.


A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills has published several collections of poetry with Press 53, including "Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers" and "Exit, pursued by a bear." His fiction collection "Bleachers" was released in the spring of 2019. More information about his work is available at

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