My father would take me to hunt
for beer cans along back roads,
easing the truck along the shoulder
and stopping at each swatch of metal.
It didn’t matter if a can was dented
or rusted, I was going for quantity,
trying to build a wall display
from floor to ceiling, like the one
in Steve Costello’s basement
that he and his dad had bought
at flea markets and conventions,
an impressive display of cone tops,
flat tops, Iron City Steelers cans,
and entire Schmidt wildlife sets.
Whatever my father thought of this,
he would wait, seemingly patient,
smoking Kool after Kool, as I scrambled
around ditches, and he would admire
anything I scavenged from the weeds,
saying, “That looks like a good one,”
when I would clamber back to my seat
with another Stag or Hamm’s or Blatz.
Steve said we were wasting our time,
that nothing collected this way had value,
and I knew he was probably right,
but as my father and I drove the berms,
with Paul Harvey on the radio
and me cantilevered out the window,
I would feel a sense of possibility
as if at any moment we might find something
rare and wondrous and worth keeping.
Joseph Mills has degrees in literature from the University of Chicago (B.A.), the University of New Mexico (M.A.), and the University of California-Davis (Ph.D). As he was working on his third one, his mother asked, “Don’t you know that stuff yet?” A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. His published work includes poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism. He has published five volumes of poetry with Press 53: This Miraculous Turning, Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet; Love and Other Collisions; Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers, and Somewhere During the Spin Cycle . Joseph and his wife, Danielle Tarmey, are the authors of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries (John F. Blair, Publisher). The second edition was released in 2007. He blogs about various topics at “The Practice of Attention” and occasionally posts on Twitter @JosephRMills.