CCT: Sample of Works by Dick Allen

Sample of Works by Dick Allen

from Present Vanishing: Poems (Sarabande Books, 2008)
The Day Before: New Poems
(Sarabande Books, 2003)
Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected
(Sarabande Books, 1997)

INTUITION (an adaptation) Poem read at the swearing-in ceremony of the 88th Governor, the Honorable Dannel P. Malloy, on January 5, 2011

Excerpt from “American Buddhism”: 
II. “Entering the Monastery, We Give Up Nothing”
III. Quiet Wonder
At the Shrine of the Lost Cause

It’s not in your face.  It says in quiet tones,
“I will help you.”
It drives an ordinary car on ordinary roads
into the flames

no one else will see for many years.  It listens
like a young man in love,
so far down inside a happiness
it moves pebbles and stones.

It wears its sleeves turned up above the elbows,
blinks in spotlights, cuts its way
through tripwires and English hedges,
delivers messages that glow

faintly as a low-turned halogen
lamp in the corner of a poet’s bedroom.  It
is deceptive
but without anxiety.  It has

surveyed what it needs to know of farms and stars
and dismissed the rest.  “I will help you,”
it whispers in doorways,
“I will help you, I will lift you up.”

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INTUITION (an adaptation)

It’s not in your face. It says in quiet tones,

"I will help you."

It drives an ordinary car on ordinary roads

into the flames

no one else will see for many years. It listens

like a young man in love,

so far down inside a happiness

it moves pebbles and stones.

One evening, it read Wallace Stevens

and gazed on Hartford in a purple light,

then talked with the thin men of Haddam

of the blackbird walking around them.

It wears its sleeves turned up above the elbows,

blinks in spotlights, jogs for miles

on Connecticut shorelines,

delivers messages that glow

faintly as a low-turned halogen

lamp in the corner of a poet’s bedroom. It

considers deeply as a Governor,

but without anxiety. It has

surveyed what it needs to know of farms and stars

and dismissed the rest. "I will help you,"

it whispers in the hallways of power,

"I will help you, I will lift you up."
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Momentary beds of white burst flowers
   Appear behind us.  Kicking and pulling,
We continually create what disappears,
   So keep from drowning.
And what a sky is overhead!  Great medieval blurs
   Of cumulus ascending.

We reenact da Vinci's naked man
   With four arms, four legs, fingertips
And feet in square and circle to explain
   Proportion.  Or imagine hips
Rocking in a snowfield:  we have lain
   Down in snow, and left snow angel trails

From one side to the other, or a vertical
   String of paper dolls, joined head to toe across
Still waters.  If we yell
   Out for the joy of it, or toss
Our heads from side to side, this spell
   Is exultation, just as it is madness.

Our elemental madness—that we know we live
   Today, this century, this year, this hour, minute
Everything is happening.  Above,
   A flock of geese goes flying down towards Bridgeport.
Emerging in a high and cloudy cave,
   A Boeing's shadow is a crosslike print

To which you raise your head.  The shore
   Is sand and willows—and our children
Floating near it, bobbing heads and figures
   Flattened on their plastic rafts.  The wind
Blows them toward each other;
   Or away, unless they link their hands

While we tread water.  Look at them.  Their moments
   Also disappear, yet last—the paradox
of memory.  Think of mullein weeds,
   Full and empty pods upon their stalks,
Dead flowers and the living seeds,
   The washcloth texture of their flannel leaves,

And turn around.  Stay close to me.  Leave froth
   Again behind us and to both our sides.
Nothing ever will be beautiful enough
   Unless we're satisfied with how we ride
Waves backward and can love,
   For what we fashion, though we cannot keep, we need—

As I, these living moments, need the lake against
   My back, those towers in the clouds, the cries
Of children linking hands, the houses fenced
   About the lake, their windows brimmed with sky
Blue and white—trapped in the way your glance
   Catches me, and holds me, and all meanings fly.

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Almost invisible, but once you look for them
nearly everywhere
like moss in crevices and drifting thoughts,

ferns are what it must mean
to love without yearning.  Protectors
of everything small that needs to disappear,

deermice and tossed trash, bad brushstrokes in a painting,
theirs is the softest name, the softest touch.
They are social workers

as social workers should be--so full of calm
even those who don’t trust them
come into their care.  Fiddleheads or not,

the rumor that once a year, on Midsummer’s Eve,
ferns blossom with tiny blue flowers
and if a pinch of fern seed falls upon your shoes

you will be less apparent--this rumor
is baseless:  ferns have tiny spores
that travel in dew and raindrops,

no more magical
than Henri Rousseau, composing “The Peaceable Kingdom,”
or adder’s tongues, cinnamon, wall rue.

In the world’s secret corners,
men wish to vanish, but ferns are what look on,
trembling, holding all light green places.

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Excerpt from “American Buddhism”:
   “Entering the Monastery, We Give Up Nothing”
Just because the dust is full of gods
and what red and green have in common can’t be put into words,
doesn’t mean you should stop opening the newspaper
or jogging backwards every Wednesday.  Just because
when asked who we are, we say who we were,
and the universe is really a small delicatessen,
is no reason to run off to Bristol, Connecticut
with a chip on your shoulder.  You have a duty
to the unchopped liver, the unmade bed, the bookshelves
all out of order—a duty
you must fulfill with grace and courtesy
and great daily attention to the sacredness of things.
So just because
they found jewels in the ashes of that one proclaimed to be a Buddha
doesn’t mean you shall not march against the war,
or teach what little you know to those who know too much,
and curse in midtown traffic, wondering
why the light is always changing right before your eyes.

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Quiet Wonder
In Chinese landscape paintings, the scroll ones,
where you carefully uncover, right to left, a forest
and walk through it slowly, all your attention on edge,
listening to the wind, which may be a dragon’s breathing
or the simple susurration of old pines,
there comes upon you what the Chinese sages called
“Quiet Wonder.”  It can only be evoked, they said,
never commanded.  Go down a certain path
and you’ll reach a fishing village beside a river
that’s only a turbulence of lines
on which a boat rests.  The village itself
is several more lines, a triangular roof,
a window suggestion.  Is no one at home?  A few turns further,
and there’s the bridge that everyone has walked across,
a crow that everyone has seen.  Hands on the railing,
you listen to the crow, your eyes
catching in all this sepia that sudden flash of red
you know must be a single poppy
placed exactly there to draw you on
or rather into.  How far away
we are from computers here, and cell phones,
and television cameras panning over everything!  And now
the rice fields stretch out for a thousand miles
and the bluish mountains, and all this white autumn sky.

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At the Shrine of the Lost Cause
You must put a sandaru on your head,
as in the Zen koan.  You must walk into moonlight,
feeling the moonlight as if it were the wind caught sleeping,
twisted around a lamp post.  When everything’s awful,
you must be good to strangers.
More than you know, their luggage needs your hands.
You must express yourself truly,
although you may stammer when you reach the participles.
In the pure silliness of the name “Juicy Fruit Gum,”
or your fingertip’s feeling of buttons
like tiny rabbits going into buttonholes,
you must exult.  Sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye.
The only way out of all your obligations
is in your own mind.  There, on that small main street,
you must saunter along, kicking a stone
until you’re tired of it and wish it lost,
then pick it up and fling it into a used car lot.
At last you can laugh and get yourself a milkshake.
Or if all else seems dust, you must right now
listen to your breathing for several minutes,
the inrush of air, the outrush of air,
all that keeps you alive invisible but you can feel it
and you hold a key and the glory is it fits nothing
or perhaps there’s a statue, serene, without expression,
or maybe a tall bamboo door.

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We plan our days, but our days have other plans;
The mood of one affects the mood of all,
As if the hours formed in caravans
Moving out, always moving out, a caterwaul
Commanding us to live our lives as theirs,
Seconds screaming minutes to nightfall.
We clothe our bodies, pad our earthenwares;
Lifting our hands, we shield our eyes from sun,
Anoint our newest journey with our oldest prayers.
This day, we say, there’ll be no jettison;
We’ll ford crazed rivers safely, top the hills;
We’ll fat the meat around the skeleton.
But west skies darken; the good mind imbeciles;
A careless moment spins the frying pan;
New traces break; the mug of coffee spills.
What started promising becomes pedestrian;
The lead’s been taken over by the also-rans.
We plan our days, but our days have other plans.

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When the highway's almost empty and the mist is thin,
This trilogy of joy is what I want:
Black Honda, banjo music, and a Red Roof Inn.

My taste's not catholic, nor mandarin,
You take the bottle—just leave me a shot
When the highway's almost empty and the mist is thin.

My life's a blur of then and now and when,
But if I'm low, I'm picked up by a hot
Black Honda, banjo music, and a Red Roof Inn.

No round-the-town for me, not just a spin
Out to some mall or bee-and-flower spot
When the highway's almost empty and the mist is thin.

I'm driving into dusk with upraised chin.
Go on to San Jose.  I've got my Camelot:
Black Honda, banjo music, and a Red Roof Inn.

Let me sleep cheap beyond the daily din.
Cut down my life to one straight forward plot
(When the highway's almost empty and the mist is thin),
Black Honda, banjo music, and a Red Roof Inn.

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How many pale blue skies I've walked beneath,
Wildwoods and towns I've entered!  I remember
Beaches and flowers, and children in the elms,
Mysterious sayings from the lips of strangers

That swept me for days from one path to another,
Sun on the wings of high white Piper Cubs,
A churchdoor in Nebraska swung wide open,
The profiled faces in a thousand taxi-cabs

Skittering New York.  Once, in the upper ribs
Of a valley at dawn, a field of Canterbury Bells
Rang for me.  Once, along a lonely road in Maine
I heard the splashy turning of a watermill

Over a falls that wasn't there...and all
The books I've nubbed and underlined, the time
I slid down in a field to hear Bob Dylan's twang,
My first walk up the snail-ramped Guggenheim,

The trysts, the trinkets, meadows, baseball games,
Lakes, and river bays.  I remember hugs and horns
At the end of World War II, and I remember
Every denim jacket that I've ever worn,

My first McDonald's, and the August afternoon
Nixon resigned.  Sometimes, I think we're meant
To live our lives as gatherers of all the sounds
And sights and touches, tastes and scents

We happen on.  Before the first brown moths
Come cluttering the window screens, I'll think
Of banjos, climbing ivy, New Orleans,
All the Buds and Michaelobs there are to drink,

Freihofer's cakes to eat, rocks to kick, the kinks
And crazinesses I'll work some day out,
Cat Stevens singing with his head up in the sky,
This psalm of praise to turn my life about.

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I remember your paper on the Tao,
How your eyes shone when you got each spelling right.
One late afternoon we talked for hours
Outside your dining hall, about the Korean War.
You wore your red nylon jacket all the time
To startle Americans, I think, although you never said so.
Americans are so possessed by things, you told me.
I asked, “And why do you so love your new computer?”
You were amazed when I showed you my worn copy
Of Mao’s Little Red Book.  You couldn’t get over it.
When you got sick, you took a long train ride
Down to New Jersey, and an acupuncturist.
I scoffed, but he cured you.  You said, “Look!”
And grinning, jumped up and down on the sidewalk.
One night you gave a party and respectfully
Listened to Bruce Springsteen as if he was classical.
You and your guests sat quietly translating,
Heads bowed, sipping your beers.  I found that very funny.
At graduation, you insisted on having pictures:
Old American Professor with a Young Chinese
Student in Robes Beside Long Island Sound.
Now it has been a year.  In graduate studies now,
You wear a white lab coat and study physics far away.
Physics are mountains to you.  You ski down them.
You love the dawning of numbers, the beautiful flourishes.
Here, in Bridgeport, on our campus of a hundred trees,
Xi ling, your friend, reminds me to say “Hello.”

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for my daughter
Here, I leave you.  There are tins of water
enough to keep you for a little while,
dried meat and biscuits by the pantry door.
Usually, the mice stay pretty quiet.

The view’s not bad.  Those are my favorite hills,
covered with pines.  On a clear April day
you can see small paths among the boulders,
maybe an eagle if you’re looking hard.

Try to remember that the telephone
is only for emergencies—may they be few.
Keep the doorsill swept.  You can never tell
who will come riding up from the valley.

These are my books, a motley varied lot,
some too much read, some not much read at all.
If you want, replace them with your own,
or use the shelves for toys and flower vases.

You’re going to be on your own—sometimes
for months on end.  I’ve found it helps
to whistle frequently or make out lists
of foods you love and states you’ve traveled in.

The pump is just outside.  The clothesline holds
two weeks of laundry if you’re planning things.
Fasten garbage lids on tight.  Little devils
come from the woods to forage every night.

I hope you like the sound of mountain streams,
by my count three.  But I suspect a fourth
is somewhere out there.  Every spring
I think I hear it flowing through the dark.

You might listen for it, too.  But now
I’ve said enough, it’s yours.  And don’t forget
I’ve left you butter in the blue and silver dish
and stubs and stalks of candles you may light.

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Content Last Modified on 1/10/2011 1:15:06 PM