The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Dick Allen 

In Chillicothe, Ohio

 

In Chillicothe, Ohio
there’s a small wooden house in which a man
is eating a shark’s tooth. He’s also
planning the destruction of room air-conditioners,
koans, sunflower seeds, and the word “beautiful”
applied to any day but Tuesday,
although nothing will ever come of it. In Chillicothe,
a woman leans back against a wall,
just her shoulders touching it, her hips thrust forward,
her clothes half-off. Next door,
an elderly Buddhist sits on a prayer rug,
trying to keep his mind from running in circles
around Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road ice cream,
and in their upstairs attic rooms
all the eight-year-olds in Chillicothe, Ohio
are reading Spinoza. Can you believe your life?
Does it make sense? “Most people,” wrote Fitzgerald,
“think everybody feels about them more violently
than they actually do—
they think other people’s opinions of them
sway through great arcs of approval or disapproval.”
                         In Chillicothe,
someone is drawing sketches of trolley cars,
a gray cat smirches on its back. In the hand of a dead man,
text messages appear: Keep Monday Open, 2 p.m.,
Usual Booth. Urgent News: The Invasion
Has Begun With A Shark’s Tooth. . . .

“Chili, the best chili is green,” we argued
in a diner beside the Interstate
so late in the American night even the cook
kept glancing out the window. Our opponents
loved the New Evil. “The New Evil,” they said,
“cackles wonderfully. You can go with it.
Evil as funny. Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum.
Mocking the mockers. We’ve reached the crossroads
where special effects blend into what is real
so perfectly we’re more our images
than they are us. . . .” Try to catch nonsense
and you’ll be chasing a rat around a ravine,
yelling “Chillicothe! Chillicothe!”
until the last potato skin falls from the last potato
and people sell scented air in red balloons.
Can you believe your life? Does it make sense?
                        In 1918,
at Chillicothe’s Camp Sherman,
21,000 standing soldiers formed an image
of President Woodrow Wilson for a photograph,
the photo later autographed by the President himself,
who was highly amused. At least one of the soldiers
knew that standing there in that field
was what he’d be remembered most for, as others
might be remembered for at least a few decades
or even hundreds of years because they wore
red suspenders in peculiar ways
or whispered a memorable few words into the ear
of some famous writer. . . .
Who knows what Evil knows?
What makes you unusual, distinguished, one in a million?

Fame is an oyster,
a monster, a ring around a rooster.
I’m Nobody, who are you?
Are you Nobody, too?
In Chillicothe,
someone walks into the National City Bank
sucking a life-saver. The tellers are chatting,
and one is thinking of her life to come,
the streets lined with gold,
all those perfectly white clouds
that will be like walking across sponge baths,
thunderous choral music in her ears all day
and she perpetually young
with flowers in her hair.
She greets the bank patron, saying,
just as she’s said a thousand times before,
“May I help you?” and the patron nods,
they smile at each other, and for a moment
fame doesn’t matter, or disease, or death,
nor anything that’s floating down the Scinto River,
or onstage in Goldie Gunlock Park,
and in all of Chillicothe, Ohio, just for a moment,
the New Evil doesn’t exist,
there’s not one thing wrong in the world,
not one blessed thing.


Dick Allen

Wild Goose Chase

 

We started the chase at dawn, when old ice broke
deep in the lake’s center, like an eye starting to tear
and the wild goose called out, as wild geese always do,
that we should follow it into the swamps and treelines
of our century’s muddy ground, as it ran
with the vibrating motion of a small erratic tank
or flew short distances, seemingly weary
but more likely pretending. We were crazy for it.
We could almost feel our hands around its neck,
its feathers beating on our naked arms,
the taste of its fat flesh between our teeth. It led us
into juggernaut patterns and corn mazes and along stone walls
until, exhausted, we’d slump into some hollow,
cursing to keep from weeping. And then
the goose would mock us, come at us in a flurry
to peck at our feet, to lunge at our thighs
should we try to smack its wet angry body
or damage its beak with one quick chopping blow
derived from the movies. Although all my life
in silent moments of great doubt I’ve always heard
Frankie Lane singing “My heart knows what the wild goose knows”
and “Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?”
we were not in that story about wandering fools or broken hearts
but in a chase to the end. The wild goose
sashayed through the branches, led us into ever smaller cities,
flew like a loosened spirit. The last time I saw it,
it came out of hillside brush to splash clumsily upon the lake
at dusk, just beyond the prow of our rowboat
and swam into the fog that grew around the shore,
while we rowed after it madly like it wanted us to,
as we can’t imagine letting the wild goose go by itself now
for what would we do with our lives should it no longer
wing north in the lonely sky, its shadow far overhead?

Dick Allen

Pie in the Sky

 

It’s most likely blueberry
           pie a la mode,
           but I’ve also been told
it could be raspberry.

Likely, it’s served
           on a flying saucer
           out on earth’s curvature
to those pre-approved.

Or it could be pecan
            or Chocolate Supreme,
            custard, lemon, key lime,
pear, or rum raisin.

Whatever it is, may it answer
           these prayers on my tongue:
           peach, apple crumb,
pumpkin, Divine Cherry Cobbler.

 

 

 

DICK ALLEN has had poems in most of the nation’s premier journals including Poetry, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Hudson Review, New Republic, Tricycle, American Scholar, Ploughshares, Margie, and New Criterion, as well as in scores of national anthologies. He has published eight poetry collections and won numerous awards including a Pushcart Prize, the Robert Frost prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Ingram Merrill Poetry Foundation, and The New Criterion Poetry Book Award for his collection, This Shadowy Place, published by St. Augustine’s Press in 2014. His poems have been included in six of The Best American Poetry annual volumes. His collection, Present Vanishing: Poems received the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. Allen’s poems have been featured on Poetry Daily and Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac (he’s also appeared with Keillor on the NPR show Prairie Home Companion, in 2015) and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, as well as on  the national website of Tricycle, where he’s been the guest poet writing on Zen Buddhism and poetry. Allen was the Connecticut State Poet Laureate from 2010-2015.  His newest collection, Zen Master Poems, will appear from the noted Buddhist publishing house, Wisdom, Inc., distributed by Simon & Schuster, in Summer, 2016.

 

 

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