The poem below doesn’t have a shape yet, so it will probably change considerably before I send it off. But I am going back to Iowa in a few weeks, and I can’t get the book or Boo out of my mind, so I might as well set it down here, let it eat a piece of pie and listen to the jukebox.
“Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Walking Around in Boo
Milo Miller was my Boo Radley, my mockingbird.
Every Saturday afternoon,
Milo delivered ice to the R&E Cafe
for a slice of rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream,
when I was 17 and worked as a waitress
for two dollars an hour and tips.
Everyone in town knew Milo.
With teeth so splayed he could not close his mouth
and black-rimmed glasses as thick as church windows,
he was a child-man with a craving for sweets
(and he often asked me for a second slice
when he knew he was allowed only one).
One day Milo asked for my senior class photo,
while we were playing “Go Fish”
and listening to “Old Black Water” on the juke box
when the restaurant emptied after the lunch rush.
And I gave him one, signing my name on the back.
Twenty years later, he still carried
a dozen photos of “his girls” in his billfold
and I was proud to be one of them.
And now, when I fly home once a year,
I always hope to see Milo riding his bicycle
or patrolling the fairgrounds
because I still hope he will remember me
and smile and pull out his wallet
and ruffle through the soft-edged pictures
until he finds mine.
But I still remember, when I was much younger,
back when Milo was still a teenager,
how town kids would peek in his bedroom window,
throw gravel in the alley behind his house,
provoke the mad boy and rile up some fun.
Their taunts often won out – with Milo chasing them
with a bat or a kitchen knife
(at least that is how their stories went)
all the way to the old high school.
Their screams would wake the neighbors
and the town cop would turn in by the street light
and walk a crying Milo back home.
I was a farm kid, so I didn’t know much about Milo.
Except his name.
If you were slow or said something stupid
or struck out or got picked last,
you were “a Milo.”
If you tattled or couldn’t read or spell or got left back,
you were “a Milo.”
And I was none of these things
but I was “a Milo” anyway
because my last name was Meylor: “MY-LER.”
And so began my strange connection to this man.
As I pack for another trip home,
I wonder what his world is like now.
And I wonder if I will see him this time
and if he still likes rhubarb pie (so do I)
or if he still rides a bike (so do I).
Milo is my Boo Radley, my mockingbird.