SO It wasn’t just the war. Or wearing a little officer’s uniform, the leather strap across my chest like a seat belt so I wouldn’t hit my head on the future. My sister turning so red from measles she lit up the dingy back room where mother siphoned electricity from the hall fixture. It wasn’t poverty that pulled darkness down. Maybe the slap across the face, my mother’s glasses flying across the kitchen, my father swaying like a branch some bird just left, flying away from emptiness. But two nights later, I’d hear them grunting in the bedroom, so it wasn’t homily or forgiveness. That’s not why my eyes dilated against the light, against the laws of the body and reason. Or why they opened wide in the cigarette smoke of movie balconies. Seeing what wasn’t there.
So is from John Allman's book, Loew’s Triboro (New Directions, 2004)
CLOUDS 1 What is blue but absence? A cool wind. Let there be shadows that gape on hillsides, that ripple and erase gray mirrors in small ponds: last night’s memory of lightning the white nerve in its myelin sheath, the sprawled synapse of the birch that cast caged shadows on the garden. Bright days strung like beads on a single frequency, hissing by. Let there be mornings of color: hands curling over wet cotton, a grasp opening as cries of birds burst from the trees, something bundled from the north, howling towards heat. 2 The empty curve: taut from horizon to horizon, a stiff canopy. Thunder. As if the sun bowled through a tunnel in space, and fell, and rose on white-hot wings. Gray, driven scud: huge knees leaning on earth, floods filling ravines, trees turgid; black billows the fumes of flight, as sparrows crash into garage windows. Once, these forsythia stooped under late, wet snow. Rain gutters glistened, pulling away from the house. No words from the ice world. A blankness in speech like cumulus. 3 That formation of rags, caught by the wind, fluttering over the pinched river, the gray skin of sea. You are drawn to a salty medium, this estuary that is the tide of our pulse, pock-marked by a needling-down from the surface of stars, the leaking light, a turning over: the bright sides of particles like scurf from the moon, a kind of madness, an acid whiteness. You open like night-blooming narcissus to great movements, a cracking of sky, uninhabited worlds. 4 Now they are the floating heaps of bleached dust; vistas temporary between them, where no navigation takes us through, as if passage opened and closed, the salt falling from the air, a swell rising beneath us, dark seething, the hump and glow of furnaces the other side of steel mills, low mountains. And on they drift: vast white silhouettes, dampness and ice, the mist a soft fabric that clings to the faces of climbers. We hear the hum of suspension bridges, the gasp of heights, tires hot on macadam. 5 If they merged forever into a concave ceiling: leaving us gray, etiolated, eyes useless and frosted, fingertips the only retinas; our reach implying spaces we have never seen; electrostatic drops warping into the fluid wavering of gravity. Rain our inconstant condition, gone by evening; noctilucent islands in slow procession below the moon, dreams gaping among trees; one’s own hand translucent; shadows of stones bulging within one’s touch. A silence. Sky the only motion.
Clouds is from John Allman's book, Scenarios for a Mixed Landscape (New Directions, 1986)
John Allman’s first book, Walking Four Ways in the Wind (1979), appeared in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. His latest full-length collections are Loew's Triboro (2004) and Lowcountry (2007), both published by New Directions, which has published six of his books, including the short fiction collection, Descending Fire & Other Stories (1994). His forthcoming book of prose poems, Algorithms, will be brought out by Quale Press in summer 2012. Poems have recently appeared in Blackbird, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, OnEarth, Futurecycle, Hotel Amerika and others. Allman has received two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Pushcart Prize in Poetry, and the Helen Bullis Award from the original Poetry Northwest. Retired from teaching, he lives in Katonah, NY, and winters on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.