Dick Allen



Bring him back!  The words, at first,

were faint and muffled, as if windblown.


Damn!  Don’t let him die!

and I was lying alone in a small meadow


above the Maine coastline.  But slowly

the words became more distinct,


coming from somewhere below me,

for I seemed to be floating upwards,


slowly upwards towards white ceiling panels.

Damn!  Damn!  Damn!  Oh Hell!  Cleared?


O Jesus Christ!  I counted twelve holes across,

then fifteen down.  I multiplied:


180 holes per panel.  How many panels?  At what cost

could I install them?  Son of a bitch!


Again!  Again!  Turning slightly,

I could see the other panels.  I counted six


before I looked down.  A doctor in a green cap

held two paddles to a patient’s chest,


nodded and whop,

the patient’s body jolted.  One more time!


Enough!  Enough!  Calmly, even slightly amused,

I watched the doctors in the operating room


step away from my body.  How ugly,

how tainted, how disease-ridden, how corrupted


it looked, lying bloody, half naked.  A long sigh,

as a nurse in the far right corner crossed herself,


on her lips a Hail Mary, I gathered,

while I watched her thin hands move.  A small heave


of her shoulders and she followed the others

filing from the room, abandoning my corpse,


my blank eyes staring.  Humming from the air-conditioner.

My senses transferred. “Forgive us,” that last nurse to leave


whispered, actually crying a little.  But now

my new invisible form that took no breath


or space began to drift

sideways through the walls, down the corridors


to where my family—the little knot of the bereaved—

waited for what they surely knew they’d hear.


Doors opened.  “I’m so sorry,” one doctor said.

“We . . . ”  I say a little prayer


I dream a little dream.

Dream a little dream with me.


An open magazine,

Time or Newsweek or US News and World Report, with an article


I’d been going to read

on something trivial, inconsequential


as most things now seemed.  “Don’t cry,”

a friend said to another.  “He feels no pain.”


Yet I did, remnants of earthly life clinging.  Without eyes, foolishly

I tried to meet their eyes.  Without voice


I called my love to my son, my daughter, my wife,

once, twice,


three times a lady.  But it was hopeless.

I tried to send them signs and symbols,


managing to move a water glass

a quarter of an inch, to cause a tiny breeze


to swell the frayed edge of an orange curtain,

but none of those waiting noticed.


One last attempt:  I made a radiator whistle

out of nowhere, yet no one turned to it,


so I finally gave up.  “This must be all.

It was all.”  Whatever I’d become seemed to thin,


drifting even more lightly as I rose

like smoke or a wisp of engine steam


from floor to floor inside the hospital,

emerging, floating above it,


seeing down onto the storage sheds of corrugated metal

scattered about its asphalt roof.  Then a rush


and over the edge. . . seeing down upon city streets,

tops of trees like tops of broccoli bunches,


tented roofs, mansard roofs, schools, schoolyards,

as I rose higher and higher,


through the soft air, into cirrus clouds—

the wings of a local traffic plane


near me for a second before it became a blue cross

suspended in the blue sky.  In vain,


I tried to direct myself, even though weightless,

trying to sink down to Earth,


as faster and faster I rose

until I saw Earth’s curvature emerge


like a turtle’s back from out of dark waters,

with all the jigsaw puzzle interlockings


of land and ocean, forests and rivers,

the Mandelbrot forms,


order in chaos, chaos back to order.

Strange, I was “e,” not “m”


yet felt as if my body was still gathered in a swirl

of matter around me, a ghost body,


like the sensation an amputee reports he feels

in a missing limb,


the itch, the ache, the throb,

even the clutch of muscle flowing through him


from what’s not there—as faith

must feel to true believers.  I looked again


and Earth was a beach ball, half bathed

in light, half in dark,


receding to a half dollar, a quarter, a nickel, a dime,

before it disappeared into a single spark


thrown by the sun, and the sun itself

disappeared into a field of stars,


O God!  Adrift,

at last I realized I was being pulled into


a kind of black hole,

the insides of a cornucopia,


a tunnel with its sides slowly revolving,

like the inside of a gigantic whirlpool


building toward a maelstrom, spinning

faster and faster,


and I was in one of those spinning carnival rides

where you’re pressed against the interior walls of a giant cylinder


and what you stand on drops away,

about you everyone screaming. . .


or Dorothy’s tornado—that whirling gray,

bearing within it farmhouses, windmills,


familiar faces, animals,

the witch with her stocking legs riding her bicycle,


whirling, spinning—and I was a water droplet

inside a funnel,


unable to clutch anything to stop my descent,

vaguely sensing hymnal music


flooding around me, choir upon choir

of lifted voices.  I couldn’t speak,


drawn toward a disk of light,

cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night

blinded by the light.


Like most children, I used to make myself dizzy

by turning around and around


as fast as I could, arms widespread

to keep me balanced until my feet tangled


and I fell to the ground,

everything swimming, all the colors of nearby trees


blurry, all the noises vague sounds

until my head cleared.  Then how the world steadied!


Everything flying back into its place,

as in a reverse motion movie


of bricks returning to a shattered wall,

an actor coming back from his own death


on some foreign soil. . . . I fell

out of the tunnel into—how can I tell you?—


an incredible garden, an impossible garden

of wildflowers, spring flowers, bamboo,


summer roses, sunflowers, miles of irises

stretching away from me in massive spokes of color,


Jessie’s Song, Witch of Endor, Barbary Coast,

New Moon, Pulsar, Quasar, Tequila Sunrise,


and trellises, tulips, violets,

tiny mayflowers alongside huge day lilies,


the scent of every evening you ever loved,

deep mountain valley scent,


velvet scent, violin trios, foxglove,

a field of Queen Anne’s Lace in the morning sun,


morning glories. . . . When my grandfather died,

the last words on his lips were, “So, it begins. . .


how beautiful, how beautiful. . . .”

In my holographic body, I stood up,


morning mist clearing.  Above me the tunnel,

like a dewy spider web, a giant hanging veil,


shimmered and vanished.  My name.

Someone was calling my name.  So, well,


I must have taken my name with me.  Two women

appeared at my side and put their hands in mine,


women I’d always known yet did not know until then,

who’d died years before me,


who loved me, who I’d loved and always would.

Carefully, calmly


they led me toward a small gardener’s shed

or was it a small cottage


beside the garden wall?  I had to duck my head

(what a strange expression!)


to enter.  Inside

they had me sit in a wobbly wooden chair.  Then,


kneeling beside me, started to explain

what had happened and was going to happen. . . .


As if from a great remove, as if novocained,

my whole body numbed, I only bowed,


only vaguely understanding

but so calmed, I only nodded


because it was so natural to be warmed

and comforted by their voices, their obvious love.


“But first, before your journey, your neykhor,

there are those who wish to see you.  To do so,


they’ve taken on the forms by which you remember them.”

Standing, letting their graceful hands flow


down their bodies as they smoothed the ripples

of their long Quaker dresses,


they stepped back from me.  “Smile!”

I heard, and at arm’s length before me stood


my mother’s brother, dressed in a running suit,

who stepped aside and revealed


my mother, lovely, in her thirties,

eyes brimming with tears.  “Nothing profound,”


she said, “just this:  it’s all appearances

and you must be strong.”


Speechless, I nodded.  After her,

grandmothers, grandfathers, a whole throng


of lost high school friends,

the poet Frederick Morgan saying “I told you so,”


as he had long ago, one morning we’d shared

bacon and poached eggs in a New York city bistro.


More colleagues and neighbors.  Most simply sighed

and squeezed my hand.  Some few


said things like “Noon flowers”

or “Watch out for the Pass of Strangers”


and one, a roommate from a college year,

matter-of-factly told me, “Whatever you expect


won’t be what you expect.  In the Bardo, Man,

you’re up the creek


at the same time you’re down,”

or something like that.  So many.


I had not thought death had undone so many.

At the line’s end


scores of familiar-looking strangers,

each saying “Thank you” for something I once did,


and had forgotten.  No deed unrecognized.  My last greeter

gave me an embarrassed hug


before she, too, pushed past me and disappeared

into the garden.  No man is an island.


O where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?

Look down, look down, that lonesome road.


I felt myself floating,

first a foot off the ground, then higher,


so it seemed I was slowly gliding

over a Vermont maple forest at the peak of autumn color,


a small wind carrying me across yellows and reds,

oranges and stubborn deep greens—even higher


up into the mountains, a few snowflakes

begining to cling to the higher boulders,


ridges and peaks.  And the wayward wind

is a restless wind. . . . They call me the wanderer. . . .


I was born the next of kin. . . .

Slowly, the snowstorm thickened as I was blown


across swaths of dark blue sky.

“Nooo. . .” I heard a man’s voice moan,


“Nooo. . .”  A hand brushed my thigh,

another clung to my wrist a moment,


a third shoved me over,

sending me tumbling into a dusty pit


of ghostly bodies forming into torsos,

heads and Dantesque faces.


Yet this was no Inferno.

It was the afterlife my own thought led me to,


for what we imagine will be (after we die)

comes more or less true,


each earthly religion having grasped a part of it,

all of them met here


in what was about to happen to my spirit,

the intangible puff of me


that had already lived so many times before

as monk and beggar, whore and Pharisee,


soldier, priest, peasant, slave, abandoned child,

murderer, good wife,


and, now, in my last life, just flesh and blood

of no consequence


beyond the immediate—an ordinary man

living a small town existence of nothing special,

a cowardly being, neither bad nor good.

Dick Allen

<em>Edit Poetry</em> Dick Allen

Dick Allen’s books of poetry include Present Vanishing: Poems, The Day Before: New Poems, and Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected, all published by Sarabande Books. He has received the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, NEA and Ingram Merrill Poetry Writing Fellowships, a Pushcart Prize, six inclusions in The Best American Poetry volumes, and been a NBCC Finalist as well as a William Carlos Williams Poetry Prize Runner-Up for the Best American Poetry Book of the Year. Hundreds of his poems have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Rattle, The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Poetry, The New Criterion, The Gettysburg Review, The American Scholar, Ploughshares, Boulevard, The Yale Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Georgia Review, The American Poetry Review, Agni and in numerous national poetry anthologies.  Dick Allen is currently the Connecticut State Poet Laureate (2010-2015) and a Zen Buddhist who lives in a cottage near a small serene  lake in Connecticut.