John Allman

But there's the enigma of facts.  A black and white
          '57 Chevy with a playpen stuffed in the back
where our daughter grips the mesh.  This could have been
          a Dodge.  Or a Rambler.  A Lark.  We might

have lived in Utica, in constant rain, near the brewery.
          The old cemetery down the hill with those headstones
of young children, who knows what other names
          we bring with us, crossing Oak Street, turning down

James, past the stone churches, the old railroad station,
          the ghostly arrivals that even now twist their way
into numbers: 1940, 1953, 1959.  In all this, the shock of
          recognition—like studying Hiroshige's print of a cat

in a window from 150 years ago, and seeing ourselves there,
          a shirt draped over the window ledge, a mat on the floor,
the white cat curled up with the stub of a black tail,
          Mt. Fuji in the distance, the sky layered blue

and white, the sun's rising red low on the horizon.
          How can we be there, and here on the back porch,
someone’s radio blaring in the car passing by,
          some war or other, some hurricane, someone

crossing the double yellow line into oncoming



Gone.  The entire building.  The fifth-floor
rooms, the desk, a gas heater blowing, an
old Remington once again out of the pawn
shop, and you arriving with cold cuts, baguettes,
tomatoes, bringing the sun up all those flights.  
The Chinese laundry below steaming out of
itself, the Jewish cleaners pressing my one
and only suit, the newspaper kiosk, the Kosher
deli, Gable's Pharmacy, these, too, fallen
through a hole into the great wind that blows

time through the vacuum, the colorless void,
the rich silence, because time is a substance,
a fabric that twists and gnarls even as it folds
like a force and opens suddenly wide, sailing
and embedded with the caught gravity of stars.  
This tall space between buildings just a gap
in the thinking.  A narrow encumbrance
one sees through.  A forgetfulness.  A song
of the vast in-between where we held hands
and watched a moon rise over the tenements.  


But if time is just the distance between A and B
that never occurs unless we are moving toward
or away, and if that building were never razed
that we never lived in more than a summer,
and you were the bus driver you always wanted
to be, and I joined my father's teamster's union,
both of us coming home to each other's diesel fumes,
a man and woman moving just slow enough so that
light took the entire day to move from one end
of our bed to another, leaving a semi-darkness that
clung to our bodies, even as you steered so many

people to a curb or I dumped a load of bricks,
the poverty of arrival never less than the wealth
of departure, because coming or going was a fable
of journeying, where there was no port or station          
in our blood but the motion of time's biology, yes,
time's body, time's desolate genitals, time's red-rimmed
eyes that followed us in sleep like an envious lover
cast off, and what mounted the stairs to our floor,
what seemed out of breath, what clutched the worn
banister, what turned the knob of our unnumbered door
was distance itself befuddled by our standing still.


The faces of our newly dead flash on the screen
in silence.  The faces of the other dead recently
buried in rubble or blown to shreds in a bazaar
     or at a funeral, not seen but numbered for our
     convenience—a sale price crossed out and something
     lower written in red.  Our vocabulary lags, but the

poor are singing their song lovely with need, bright
with longing, resonant and sharp at the edges.  Here,
father, I can show you where the woodchuck is eating

     the leaves of our cucumber plants.  The deer nibble
     down our pink impatiens.  Skunks squabble at night
     in a fury of black and white at the leftover cat food.  
We must close our windows to keep out the spray
of their anger.  Soon, it will be a century since you
were born and I have little to show you that is not

     the negative image of the souls who drift through
     space, through the mist, through our open hands.  There
     is no counting of the names.  Here, father, is the broken

rain gutter that spills sudden storm down our window,
that blurs the out-there, that would be streaming down
your face if you still had a face.  There is always a war

     dragging on.  Blueberries crushed at the bottom of the
     grocery bag, a blue stain that works its way onto my shirt.  
     Not exactly blood.  Not quite the spill of a stomach.  Not

really time working its way through the fabric and paper
of our resistance to the specifics of being here.  See
how soap washes it away.  See how lye, under the right

     conditions, without burning cleanses the touch of strenuous

The poems included in Innisfree 8 will be collected in Allman’s eighth book of poems, Older Than Our Fathers.  A selection of 25 poems from that collection has been arranged as an electronic chapbook published by the online journal Mudlark, #37   Other poems from Older Than Our Fathers have appeared in Hotel Amerika, New York Quarterly and The Asheville Poetry Review.  Allman’s previous books of poetry include Loew’s Triboro (2004) and Lowcountry (2007), published by New Directions, which has done most of his books, including the short–story collection, Descending Fire & Other Stories. Allman is a two-time recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize winner in Poetry.  His first book, Walking Four Ways in the Wind, appeared in the Princeton Contemporary Poets Series.  His work has appeared in many journals, from the American Poetry Review to The Yale Review.  His Inhabited World: New & Selected Poems 1970-1995 was published by The Wallace Stevens Society Press.  Retired from teaching, John Allman lives in Katonah, NY and Hilton Head Island, SC.



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