We search for its burst berries

dying in a blaze of orange-red,

its vine a tough, coiled tangle

choking any plant on which it spreads.


Celastrus scandens in the dead

language used by Carl Linnaeus,

we know it by its common name

tinged with autumnal shadings.


On country roads where old folks live and fade

in sight and mind, on fringes of spent

farmland, we spot its berries, brightest

after hoar frost, clustered monuments


to their own impermanence.  No hothouse scented,

horticultured, neatly tendriled vine,

 its sprays of flame-bursts decorate

our living room, iconic


as “Ivy League” and “halls of ivy,”

but emblematic of fall, a live study

in physical decay, like

the ruin of my once-athletic body,


and a slumping pole barn painted cherry red.



               A widely unpublished old poet with a promising past, John N. Miller was born in Ohio (1933), grew up in Hawai'i (1937-1951), retired  in 1997 from teaching literature and writing at his undergraduate  alma mater (Denison University, Granville, OH), and now lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, VA.


Living part-time on a small farm in central Ohio gave me the chance to hunt for bittersweet and to know  where I could usually find it.



Copyright 2009