from Millie and the Baffle Book
Poems by Carrie Green

Millie MacAdoo, Librarian-Detective

— Lexington, Kentucky, 1928

Hair bobbed, what they call strawberry blonde
in detective novels, but Millie believes
this is an inaccurate metaphor. It’s pale orange,
like the dark places on a peach.
Because she can’t be bothered with curling it,
her bangs slice across her forehead.
She does, however, blacken her invisible lashes
to keep from looking like a frightened child.
Freckles? Check. Sensible shoes and cardigan?
Check. Millie walks each day from her rented room
to her job as Assistant Librarian. She admires
the way the library imposes itself on the city park,
rising like a monument from a tidy rectangle of grass.
Millie knows, at twenty-six, that she edges
toward spinsterhood. She approaches
mysteries the way she approaches cocktail parties:
eyeing suspects from the corner of the room,
her bootlegged gin sweating in her palm.

Millie in Pursuit

Millie doesn’t have a roadster
to chase suspects beyond the brick streets
to where roads unfurl 
among hills and horse farms.
Her knuckles don’t whiten
beneath lambskin gloves;
her scarf doesn’t whip
her cheeks rosy. She follows
on foot, waiting a beat
to hop the streetcar after them,
book tucked inside a shopping bag,
cloche pulled low and collar pulled up,
her face nothing but freckled nose.

Once, her target—a handyman
accused of murdering
his boss’s pug—offered her
his seat. Millie did not flinch
when her elbow grazed
the alleged killer’s coat.
Nor did she squirm when she realized
the seat was still warm
from the alleged killer’s bottom.
Invisible, she thought, pulling out her book,
and also unflappable,
and she concealed her smile
behind its open pages.

Millie Knows What You’re Reading

But she doesn’t hold it against you.
She believes that everyone’s reading
is suspect. A book of knots for camping
or kidnaping. A book of poisons for rats
or husbands. Just last week, hot on the case
of the exploding ducks, Millie herself
consulted A Manual on Dynamite.
No need to hide your adulterous lovers
beneath a stack of Latin or Greek,
to tuck your revolutionaries
beneath your coat as you slink out.
Even if sweat beads on your upper lip,
Millie’s face remains cool
as the marble top of the reference desk.
She stamps her approval into each book
and sends you out the heavy doors to step,
dazzled, back into your life.

The Case of the Missing Words

The thief excises the first word so precisely
that Millie can still see the parentheses
caught in their failed embrace.

An isolated incident? Then more patrons
approach her at the desk and point
to rectangles floating empty on the page.

Romance novels and political biographies,
domestic manuals and hard-boiled mysteries:
the razor does not discriminate. All

                            are laced with windows
that look back to where you’ve been
                            or open to what lies ahead.

fox                      wiseacre             peony 
               lye                       stranger            modest

She imagines the words collected in a jar
or stashed in the hollow of a tree.
Or scattered across the park like dandelion seeds.

If Millie Had a Sidekick

Uncertainty would slip from her shoulders
like silk. She’d always appear smarter
than she feels. Prettier, too—
her strawberry bob would spark to copper
beside the sidekick’s mousy bun.
At parties, Millie and her sidekick
would lob witticisms back and forth.
Millie would toss her head and laugh like Zelda,
secure in the knowledge that her jokes
were funnier than her sidekick’s.
While Millie sussed out suspects,
her sidekick would case the joint,
their teamwork easy as reading.
She’d bear the weight of exposition and fire
her flashlight whenever Millie needed it.
She’d never tell Millie to smile.
She’d know when to let Millie
hole up by herself and when to coax her out
with bathtub gin and brownies.
Of course they’d argue, her sidekick
hurling insults plagiarized
from A Flapper’s Dictionary—
Cancelled stamp! Warped wurp!—
but how else would Millie know she was loved?

The Stolen Lalique

The clues: a clock, a key, a spent match.
Millie slinks through one dark alley,
a black cloche dampening her hair’s weak flame.
She does not brandish a knife.
There is no thunder and hardly any blood.
Signs of entry: none. Red herrings: two.
Suspects considered: three, not including
the masked robber making news for weeks.
Mrs. Peabody is hand-wringing on the divan,
already impatient for plot,
when Millie finds the marble—
milkshake swirl of strawberry and white—
wedged beneath the china cabinet.
It must have been there all along,
a clue that Millie—did she choose not to see it?
She believes the boy, Mrs. Peabody’s own nephew,
will confess as soon as she wields
her librarian voice. She lies on the floor,
reaches beneath the cabinet,
and rolls the marble toward herself.
Swirls of red and white blur to pink,
and she notes how, if one looks hard enough,
such a tiny orb can loom
as large and important as a planet.

The Colored Reading Room

Apart from Isaac, who dusts and mops
and straightens chairs that never move,
Millie has yet to see a Black person
in the Colored Reading Room.
So she’s surprised when her colleagues
approach the desk with their news.
“A colored woman,” Martha whispers,
“so polite and well-spoken.”
“She’s wearing the loveliest garnet cardigan,”
Lucy sighs. “Maybe Isaac knows her.”
Millie invents an excuse to investigate.
She gathers an armload of books to shelve,
convinced she’s more subtle than the rest. 
The oak table where the woman reads
is as handsome and weathered,
the library’s annual report notes,
as the tables in the main reading room.
Her head bows toward an open book.
Millie circles the table for a better view,
but the woman’s camel cloche
shields her eyes from Millie’s gaze.

Millie’s Friday Night

Millie’s boarding house holds its breath
between two imposing brick Victorians.
The sitting room’s circumstances
diminish by the hour—flocked wallpaper
peels at the corners, and tea-colored stains
seep through the ceiling. Upstairs,
Millie’s neighbor opens her door in a whirl
of imitation pearls and dimestore perfume.
“Out with the girls,” Flo says. “Wanna come?”
But Millie is well acquainted with the night’s
possibilities. The images flicker before her
like scenes from a silent movie:
the masked villain making off with a handbag;
the damsel who fails to meet her lover;
the knife eased between ribs.
Millie opts for a date with a novel,
inhaling its pleasing mustiness as she sinks
into her too-soft mattress, her only fear
that it might enfold her like a hotdog inside it,
her death by asphyxiation
a mystery for someone else to solve.

Carrie Green is the author of Studies of Familiar Birds: Poems (Able Muse Press, 2020). She earned her MFA at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and has received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Louisiana Division of the Arts. Her poems have appeared in American Life in Poetry, Verse Daily, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Northwest, DIAGRAM, and many other journals. You can find out more about her life and work at

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