John Allman


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)

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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

One Response to John Allman

  1. Michael Flood says:

    Powerful poetry.

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