by Joshua Gottlieb-Miller


Markets softened when China shut factories down to create cleaner air
for the Olympics.



All my friends’ fathers
and my father
and yours. “There are always
winners and losers,”

my father writes.
Has he ever been afraid
of being right? Once
a professional idealist,

now a lover of beauty, art
and culture. Rejoice
for a season. Foolishness
has obvious advantage.

Belief in more things
rather than less.


I thought this erasure was about my father, how strange to say dad’s arc, I’ve barely even called him dad. I thought reading my father’s columns I would understand him. I do, I question: dad as character in story, alchemy and dad as story dad as story with The End. I can go to the website, look up new hire (less new every day), see the magazine share his byline, content classification: influencer, industry leader, opinionated. Arc and ark.


If you are reading this you are not reading my father’s columns.




Listen, engaged, as my father talks. Talks more, writes things down for me when I’m driving even though he’s not one to gossip or complain. I’m glad I get to be a good son, ask about his past, where he worked—What did you do in the eighties? Survived Reagan—compare notes with This American Life’s trash hour, The New Yorker on Egyptian garbage or witches’ knickers, art history: The Maintenance Artist, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, NYC, late seventies, shaking every sanitation workers’ hand, “Give a Hand to the Garbageman” (he thought that was really cool). Jae Ko’s Kraft Paper relief sculptures stacked like frozen waves. Bryan Zanisnik’s comic childhood bedroom. A back-stabbing rival of my father quoted in my state newspaper on cardboard theft reflecting market strength.


We can’t collect what isn’t made.


Now he says he’s trying to gracefully retire for the next two years and I won’t be surprised if I don’t make it past the summer. I’m not sure which sentence contains the other.
One of my weaknesses, Josh, is I’m not a very good self-promoter. If you think I’m a very good name-dropper, you’ll learn all the names I’ve dropped I had in fact known. He’s told me this before.
And Josh don’t put this in your damn poetry as I pulled out a blank page.



Sand, limestone, soda
ash, cullet, crushed bottles
and the color brown,

green or blue
shredded, densified,
baled and briquetted.

Film and sheet, lawn
and garden, only the best
comes in glass.


Paper made from milk
jugs. Carpets, coke
bottles. Laundry

detergent: just a hint
of battery acid. Shampoo,
motor oil, cosmetics

packaging; reality
is a behavior
we need to accept

but we cannot


Grass, leaves, tree
and brush trimmings.
Texture, air

circulation and drainage.
Moderates soil
temperature, enhances

nutrient and water-holding
capacity. Yard waste decreases
erosion, inhibits

weeds, suppresses
plant pathogens.
Life-cycle life-style,

net affluence. Doing good
doesn’t begin forever.
Even then.


Producing little of its own paper pulp, China relies on the recycling bins of other countries to be its forests.


1/6th of US recycling is exported to China. This dramatic increase in exports of paper recyclables has resulted in the best, most stable markets in years. Strong prices made the difference between success and failure for many curbside recyclers.


Recycling is an imperfect cure if these products are exported to operate under conditions that show complete indifference to worker health and safety.


Anything less makes a mockery of our belief that recycling makes the world a better place.


“For aesthetes, I offer Garbage: A Poem, by A.R. Ammons,” my father writes. “How can you complain about a poet who declares ‘Garbage has to be the poem of our time because/garbage is spiritual, believable enough/to get our attention, getting in the way…”
“And finally, for the musically inclined, who can resist ‘Your cash ain’t nothing but trash!’ The Clovers couldn’t, neither could Steve Miller nor Huey Lewis. You shouldn’t either.”
“Garbage is just garbage. In and of itself it is neither good nor bad.”



filthy air, lousy
haze near polluting

power plants, ocean
vessels and trucks used
to get paper

to overseas mills
cry havoc,
a slaughterhouse

getting everything
out of the pig
but the squeal.


and capturing
land materials. Methane

for electricity, or
flare off
recovered gas.

sequestering carbon;
ease pressure

to cut down forests.
Emissions decline.
Waste generation

increases. In many
other countries,
energy utility

produce emissions
that would give

an EPA inspector
a heart attack. But look
on the bright side.


Countless studies
reduce air and water pollution,
conserve natural resources

and save energy
when recyclables stay
in this country. Taken off

those ships, diesel exhaust
from trucks, emissions
from power plants

in China, part of the smog
in Los Angeles. Benign
neglect. If recycling

is going to save
the world, shouldn’t we
save all of it?


My father’s worked three jobs his whole professional career. His reward, so far for keeping his: two employees’ workloads, split and added to. He still worries he’ll be put in a position where he’ll have to ask to be fired.
I’ve started adjuncting. Somehow I’m more contingent as a teacher than an at-will stock-boy. I’m employed at every stage of the writing process: Lost the retail, kept the Writing Center and grading; I’ll need the money soon.


Some people think Washington does not know best. I grew up in Oklahoma, I never thought Washington knew best.
DC, city of my birth, miserable, polluted swamp, where he can do the most good. Here you live your ideals by announcing them: “As for me, I will continue to make compost in my backyard. If you are in my neighborhood in the spring, stop by and enjoy my flowers.” People good at PR are soulless, my father adds. Facts do not need souls.


“I too have made the mistake of bagging the recycling and throwing it in with the garbage.” I’m glad he feels the need to write this!
Hating chicken hawks. That we took karate together when I was eight. Hunters make the best conservationists. Desperation, the slink of public drunks, his own father’s shame. He’s not those things. We live in a litigious culture, he’d often say, but he knows a lawsuit’s threat. Is he what he is or what he is not? What he does or did?
Why he makes such an effort to be a good father—his wasn’t always there—I hope its inverse has its own logic as well. Why take the time to join your morality and reason? He always claims his latest columns are particularly fine. “When reality hits the road,” he writes, or “It’s time to go hunting where the ducks are,” gung-ho, he means it.


Yet some people seem to believe that recycling is automatically a moneymaker. If only life were that easy.

Their hauler has to pay for the crew and the equipment used to collect and process those recyclables. They also have to cover all of the other costs associated with running a business. Yes, the paper, cans and bottles you put on your curb have value. But rarely is that value enough to cover those costs. After all, if our old newspapers or plastic bottles were really valuable, we would sell them ourselves.



Deinking mills use
flotation technologies,
cities, snow-melting

machines. Crates, buckets
and pallets. Junkyard
needs a daily cover.

Dumps become
landfills, economies
of scale. Basic

oxygen. Electric arc.
The complexity
of their design

and the variety
of spent materials
complicate recycling.

Trash is what we used
and no longer need.
Paper becomes paper.


I used to say if I was having a baby, it was going to come out of my big mouth. New year’s my wife is pregnant: we are enthusiastically ignorant! My parents come to visit. When you’re with your dad and writing about him, actions become more closely associated with their meanings: we bike together, I pass him up an over-pass and stop on the other side so we can turn back. Old enough I’m constantly asking my dad questions again. As a child because I didn’t know, as an adult because I’m afraid I won’t get another chance.
We turn home. I pass him again in the other direction, but then he passes me. Paper stubbornly refused to go away when predicted in the mid-nineties…then spectacularly.


Rejecting recyclables contaminated with trash, China’s erected a “green fence” policy. Where will this waste go, coming back home? “Teaching people to put their garbage in a container at the curbside instead of throwing it into the street didn’t happen overnight,” my father writes. “Teaching people to separate out their recyclables won’t either.”



Only patience, realism
and education.
Even the best policies

have limits. Green
fence rejections
are ecologic, politic,

and economic:
cooled, their mills
aren’t screaming.

But garbage
can’t be sold
to end

markets at all.
A hard line
in the ocean.


The Chinese government continues to insist that the United States and Western Europe lower their greenhouse gas emissions, even as it argues that China, currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, should not be forced to lower those emissions. They want to keep on polluting in order to raise their standard of living. In other words, “smoke means progress,” and dirty air means more of the good things in life.

Joshua Gottlieb-Miller has poems which can be found in Grist, Four Way Review, Pleiades, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. “Circles” is a chapter from a manuscript combining poems, prose, and erasures of his father’s column on recycling issues in Waste 360 magazine. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston.