The Dowser’s Ear

By Wilmer Mills 1969–2011 Wilmer Mills
Empty cattle trailers
               Rumbled dummy thunder
Down the road all day, and now tonight,
Heat lightning flashes more of the same fake rain.
It’s just as well. I couldn’t get to sleep,
And now it ricochets across the sky
With empty loads of light. We’ve had a month
Of drought that tightens dirt around my pond.
The local wells are dry. But I’ve retired,
Threw out my wand. I hate this time of year.
               Roux can burn if flour
               Sticks in skillet butter.
I’ve been cooking up a storm myself,
My Daddy’s filé gumbo recipe.
He used to be a chef on oil rigs
Until the hurricane. I heard the waves
That killed him, and I hear them every year.
It’s emptiness that fills me. That’s my skill.
I hear the vacant rain before it falls.
It’s like the murmur of a spiraled shell.
               Hurricane weather, stewing
               Deep for landfall, spewing
Rain-a-plenty in the Gulf and here
In Tennessee they always have a lack
Of something. Two men called today for wells.
I told them both to go to hell, and now
They think I’m sinful, not to use my skill.
They stand to lose so much, but don’t we all.
I lost a lot in Hurricane Camille
And even now can’t hear the end of it.

               More heat lightning flashes,
               Absent rain that passes
Over clouds, and I can make it out,
Each gurgling current under withered fields,
Down kitchen drains. The neighbors think I’m crazy,
Up all hours, but they’ll never know
The screaming voice inside a breaker’s rage
Or how it simmers in my ear. I hate
The sound of water. Give me one good chance
To make it silent. I’d be right as rain.

Source: Poetry (June 1999).


This poem originally appeared in the June 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

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June 1999
 Wilmer  Mills


The son of agricultural missionaries, poet Wilmer Mills grew up in Brazil and Louisiana. Mills earned both a BA and MA in theology from the University of the South, and worked at a variety of jobs during his life including carpenter, sawmill operator, baker, farmer, and white water raft guide. He also served as the Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Acclaimed as a careful practitioner of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Summer, Nature, Relationships, Sorrow & Grieving, Weather, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Persona

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