I’ve been retired from college teaching since 1997 and have been able to do more writing, mostly poetry (as usual).Having started life in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of West Manhattan, and later moving to Queens where I eventually dropped out of high school (actually I was kicked out for excessive truancy—is it ever less than excessive?), I straightened out, finished high school in evening classes, while working as a lab tech for Pepsi-Cola, and thought I was headed for the sciences. But the angels intervened, I was drawn into the humanities, and eventually into reading and writing poetry. I didn’t need a union card for any of that. When my first book, Walking Four Ways in the Wind (1979) was published in The Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets I almost made a poster to exhibit in my high school.
Author's Note: Thinking of the theme of TWO [for this issue], I was reminded that I’ve written two poems relating to the pre- and post-natal lives of my twin granddaughters. “News from Home” was done while my wife and I were off living on Hilton Head Island, S.C. for the winter, as we’ve been doing for the last 16 years. In “News from Home,” the reference to “so far south” relates to our distance from our home in Westchester County, New York. Our daughter gave birth to her twin girls in March 2004. When we arrived home after the winter, we saw the girls. Hence the poem “Twins.”
News from Home
Sonogram: two girls curled upon themselves.
One touches her lips as if to speak. The other
shadow, her sister, drifts behind, already
not listening. Our daughter’s daughters in
their mother sea half-luminous, half-dark,
photographed, disturbed, the reverse thrum
and tide that lifts and lowers them the way
world welcomes with intrusion, interference,
goggling eyes. Now would be the time to tell them
what they share with dolphins and soft-bellied
spirits listening just below the surface
of light. Here, so far south, their grandfather
lifts his eyes to the stark glimmer of rising
sun, a russet beach, such amazement as brings
time by the handful and the sifting hour
pours golden, gritty with eons, the promise
of birds named in flight, pelican, ring-billed
gull, arctic tern, the ice glitter and ocean
foam, or tumbled carapace or fading moon
an inheritance it will take years to explain.
New and small, seeing little of the dark Unknowing
you shared, your raised arms and eyes not so unalike as to
blur sisterhood, each yourself alone, yet curled hair
and frown the ancestral residue of someone gone before—
a great aunt’s quarrel with herself still echoing within,
a door opening on the Aegean, father’s stone-bruised
hands like his father’s at the nets, land and sea the soft clash
of inheritance. A nurse is lowering you, Katherine, into my
daughter your mother’s arms, and Viktoria clings, her grip
a protest demanding sister near, side by side remembered.
Perhaps one of you will always find a latch to press. The other
will see doors in clouds—a kind of flight she must forsake
for the hard ground that seed splits upon. Down here the
blaze of spirit, and pain, stark as broken glass, so years
to come take in your sisterly arms each other’s need,
watch the great blue heron soar. We’re part creature, part cloud,
ethereal interior of bone; the light that flashes through thought,
where vase and the vase itself collide. The slow tide rising to
scrawl the salt future is just the moon. How long before you
are all arms and outcry, clomping in mother’s shoes outside my door?
Both poems were first published in Lowcountry (New Directions 2007).
©2016 John Allman
©2016 John Allman