Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Allison Joseph


Do I really want it back,
that pen for chipped
furniture, my room the last
stop for the peeling bureau,
the sagging mattresses
my grandmother once slept on?
Do I want to re-live
that shedding green carpet,
my unsteady desk with its
wobbly wooden chair,
the room cold no matter
the season, so clammy
no space heater could
warm it fully? I satin that room, engrossed
in library books, afraid
my father might find
my overdue copy of Fear of Flying,
that I read fitfully in the almost-dark,
astonished over its sex scenes.
Or I pecked at my stolid gray Royal,
striking stiff keys one at a time,
fingers hesitant on the heavy
machine, pressing out poems.
I taught myself new words
from someone's set of vocabulary
records, knitted long scarves
only to rip them apart.
Who wants to know that self
too timid to live beyond books,
too restless to make anything
enduring from yarn, words?
Do I really have to welcome
that girl back, the one
who loved transistor radios,
crochet hooks, who hoarded
pennies in a ripped purse?
I don't want her back
but she's here anyway:
gangly, ashamed,
disobedient daughter
who never seems to leave
her room, sneaking out
only when necessary,
leaving her dinner untouched,
sink of dishes unwashed.

Little Rascals

At ten I only thought of them as cute,
not a metaphor for race relations
or gender dynamics, just resourceful kids
intimate with junkyards, scrap heaps,
full of Busby Berkeley ambitions:
Alfalfa with his strangled singing
and stray cowlick, Spanky with his
fat waddling rear and quick mind,
Buckwheat, whose wild hair never
knew a comb, that mute cherub Porky,
all of them charter members
of the He-Man Woman Haters' Club,
as if they even knew what a woman
was like--how one walked, talked,
smelled. Of course, they had Miss Crabtree,
perfect blond teacher with perfect teeth,
manners, pursued by some stupid beau
the kids just had to foil before
the atrocity of marriage took place.
But I prefer the Rascals no longer
talked about: Mary and Wheezer,
two kids clearly caught
in the fist of the Depression,
Stymie, who pondered life under
a bowler almost as large as he,
Waldo, the scheming nerd
who always wanted to steal Darla
from Alfalfa, Darla herself,
with her sassy song numbers,
snappy comebacks. She
was the real talent, crooning
"I'm In the Mood for Love" better
than Alfalfa ever could, with
seemingly more knowledge
of the future, about what could happen
once the cuteness wore off, the checks
stopped coming. I don't have to tell you
that Alfalfa died tragically,
but it does seem relevant
that not too long ago some man
claimed to be Buckwheat,
though the real actor
had died years before.
Maybe that's what we all want,
one shot at fame, a chance
to be remembered as superior,
greater than our ordinary selves,
our performances captured on film
so that generations to come
could exclaim over how darling
we were, how poised, how young.

-both poems previously published in Word Press: Fine Literary Publishing


Come here you slut of a word,
let me lay you down and stroke you
until both of us spin in the joy

of easy access, safe passage,
no stumbling over curbs, no fumbling
over straps and snaps my too-blunt fingers

can’t open—let your flesh bubble free,
rise to the surface to meet sun, rain,
other elements of weather so

occasional as to be erotic: monsoon
surges, liquor-laced Delta storms.
You and I go way back, seventh

grade at least, and I didn’t mind
that you flirted with everyone,
air kisses all around, never hesitant

to flash a silky leg, swell of d├ęcolletage.
I’d heard rumors of your promiscuity:
stories that you’d sleep anyone—

and for certain, I saw you tramping it up
in college, making the rounds in the library:
helping the lit majors first, then the science

geeks, then finally the red-eyed math
majors who sat straight up in triumph
when you whispered by, hair levitating

on backs of narrow necks. Some call
you “whore”—too many people get “it”
when you’re around, and there’s a world

of “it” we’re all not supposed to get,
code not to be cracked, safe whose
combination has been eternally lost.

But you don’t care, tearing your shirt
open to reveal that combination tattooed
across your chest in deft calligraphic

script, red numerals I can’t wait
to run my fingers over, a kind of
Braille no one is unworthy of.

’80’s Night at the Casino Boat

We’re all a little fatter than when
we last loved these tunes, some
of us balder, but all of us remember

how to sing along, how to bob our
heads, tucked far from the gaming
floor’s easy neon promises.

The lead singer still sings
in raspy bliss and fury,
as if the same girl who broke

his flimsy heart has kept her
rock star poses, as if he’s still
playing in his stepdad’s garage,

though, from the looks of him,
he is somebody’s stepdad, or
somebody’s uncle, the long-lost

kind, dirty jokes and tour
van tales spinning out every
family reunion. He peers out

at this crowd stuffed in their
chairs, says this is like a high
school reunion, forty years later,

and we laugh with him, our
paunch his paunch, his guitar
slung over his belly as if on its way

to an inevitable decline.
But we can fight that skid
by singing along, proving

we were breathing in the 80’s,
garish decade when radio
still played bands too ugly

for television, British Invasion
only twenty years gone,
long before downloading, viral

videos. The drummer can drum
like anyone—Ringo, Levon,
Bonham—lead guitarist and bassist

riffing young man solos
until we finally break
from our church row seating,

start swaying and shuffling
toward the stage, aging bones
liquid under the spell of songs

stored away somewhere on
cassette, the saddest-looking
groupies ever defying our own

ankles to shake what our
ex-wives left us, losing our
orthopedic brittleness

in these three-minute blasts
from the Smitheerens, bonus time
tonight for the gamblers

and losers, dealers and winners,
all our brilliance glowing
until the final chord thrums.

-both poems previously published at Connotation Press

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