Frankie McMillan ~ Three Prose Poems

What baby wants

We got him a rock­ing horse but our baby com­plained it was made of wood and it wasn’t very nice for the tree, and we tried to explain how one thing always dis­places anoth­er, but our baby was hav­ing none of it. He lay in my wife’s arms, a tiny frown on his face. A milky  drib­ble ran from his mouth. You have to eat, we said and eat­ing means tak­ing and we talked of all the dif­fer­ent types of fruit; dark cher­ries falling in clus­ters, peach­es rain­ing down in a high wind, straw­ber­ries pok­ing up from the earth. Our baby sighed, butted his lit­tle head into the breast.

When we offered him fruit, he threw it on the floor. Trampled it with his chub­by feet. Red juice squeezed up between his toes. That’s not very kind, we told him. Our baby start­ed laugh­ing. His lit­tle chin wob­bled. He shrieked with joy.

We put him out­side under a tree. Birds made their nests in the high branch­es above. Our baby wrote a the­sis on ‘aer­i­al domes­tic­i­ty.’ We were amazed at the lan­guage he used. At night he slept under a pile of mag­no­lia leaves. It was good to hear the faint rustling sound and know he was still alive. My wife stood by the win­dow, bare breast­ed, her arms raised over her head.


Walk, Run


I don’t know whose idea it was to kill the snails but we only did it because they were half dead any­way, crushed up in our pock­ets and what else could we do but put them out of their mis­ery. We chucked them against the brick wall. Watched them froth up, make a sliv­ery mess as they slid down. All except one that bounced off the wall and we had to kill it again. But just so nobody thinks we were bad you have to know we dug graves for those snails.  Scraped the dirt away with our hands. Piled moss in so they had a soft bed to lie on. We stuck a twig on the mound to mark the spot. Somebody said we should salute the dead snails so we did that too. It was get­ting dark, that sob­by time when you want to fly flags or pray to Jesus but we end­ed up singing the National Anthem and that felt pret­ty good. A group of snails is called a walk.  But that’s when they’re alive.


We run for Jesus. We run the streets, we run with our hands in our pock­ets, we run back­wards squawk­ing like chick­ens, we run our faces stuffed with bread, we run past pigeons, dar­ing them to snatch it from our mouths, we run like the Evangelists on wet Sundays, we run like play­ing cards falling from Joey Wheeler’s hands, we run like he burned his smoke into our thighs, we run past the lake full of sunken bicy­cles, we run like old fire­men star­tled from sleep by the ringng of bells, we run straight into church, bread drop­ping from our mouths,  we stop run­ning when we see Jesus, we stop to kiss his mar­ble feet.


Horse Love

If some­one saves you, you’re either mad at them or love them for­ev­er and it was that way with me and Rhonda. It wasn’t the usu­al sort of love. Or the usu­al sort of save. She doesn’t pull me clear from a run away horse, drag me out from under its bel­ly, the sharp hooves flail­ing the air. What she does is walk into our liv­ing room, hands on hips, eye­ball my ner­vous uncle and say, ‘Tammy’s not going dri­ving with you any­more.’  My uncle just about chokes on his cake. He can see Rhonda is the sort of girl who could say any­thing. He doesn’t yet know what she knows, whether she might be the canary about to sing, to put an end to the Saturday dri­ving lessons down lone­ly roads, girlkeep your eyes on the road, watch that nasty bend, while the car starts and shud­ders and picks up speed through a cor­ri­dor of trees.

He calls it a mean­der. I’ll take the girl for a mean­der, he calls to my moth­er, head out the win­dow of his Chev. My moth­er is a tamed thrush. She cocks her head, coos that would be love­ly, Ted.  She tells me I’m lucky to get free dri­ving lessons and not to give him any trouble.

Rhonda push­es me towards the door. ‘Go,’ she laughs. Down at the pad­dock we prac­tice being hors­es, shak­ing our manes, run­ning wild. Then we turn, approach slow­ly, ever so slow­ly until our noses touch. Our nos­trils flick­er, our rub­bery lips puck­er. Rhonda’s breath is warm on my cheek. She’ll either bite me or kiss me, I nev­er know which. Later she’ll say this is anoth­er one of my made-up sto­ries about her.


Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and oth­er small fic­tions was list­ed by Spinoff as one of the ten best New Zealand fic­tion books of 2019. In 2016 her col­lec­tion, My Mother and the Hungarians  (Canterbury University Press) was long list­ed for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. In 2013 and 2015 she was the win­ner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Day com­pe­ti­tion. She has won numer­ous awards and cre­ative writ­ing res­i­den­cies includ­ing the Ursula Bethell writ­ing fel­low­ship at Canterbury University in 2014 and the Auckland University Michael King writ­ing fel­low­ship in 2017. In 2019 she was award­ed the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship.  Recent work appears in Best Microfictions 2021 (Sonder Press), the New Zealand Year Book of Poetry ( Massey University) and Atticus Review.