The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Dick Allen

Poem with Phrases of Three Other Poems and Words From a Few Songs Embedded in It

                                             an admonition for would-be suicides


Day by day, she said, day by day,
that’s how you get through.
You look at pictures of wisteria
in a Japanese calendar,
you take a single spoonful of chocolate ice cream
and turn it upside down on your tongue,
you close your eyes for a minute
and think of a long road crossing Kansas.
One hour in the day by day,
you read a short story by Haruki Murakami,
finding the moments when everything floats softly,
or you give yourself over to Norah Jones singing
“Don’t Know Why.” Another hour,
you cup your hands to hold a glazed bowl,
encouraging each of your fingers and thumbs to feel entirely where they are.
You call up people at random and when you reach
the voice of an old woman or an old man,
you say, “I love you.” To cut the sweetness,
you add something like,
“The world is full of toenails, billion and billons of them” or
“I bet you’ve never eaten the engine out of a Caterpillar tractor.”
This is because sometimes people go for years
without anything memorable happening to them,
or, if something memorable happens to them, they don’t recognize it.
“The darkness sur / rounds us,” Robert Creeley wrote,
“What / can we do against / it? . . . Shall we . . .
buy a goddamn big car?” And his friend woke up:
“Drive, he sd, for / christ’s sake look/
out where you’re going.”
Aren’t those hesitations splendid?
Always, in the day by day, you can find minutes like these
in which to close your eyes. I say a little prayer,
forever and ever, I say a little prayer
. . . . Take a minute to hear
outside your window a cardinal in the snow,
two minutes to gain perspective, as in thinking
of alternate buffalo burgers or looking out over the Pacific
from Robinson Jeffers’ tower, remembering
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
and “Slow down, you move too fast. /
Got to make the morning last” and “Alright, ok, carry on,”
with Pat Greene’s guitar. . . . Embedded in each of us,
she said, are wonderful little preferences
for certain water glasses, certain kinds of spruces,
a certain way of letting sand
run through your fingers, certain ways
of lighting a room with tall thin candles or stocky ones. . . .
           A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. . . .
           I shall have written him one
           Poem maybe as cold
           And passionate as the dawn. . . .
           Let a smile be your umbrella. . . .

or the shades within shades of certain colors,
blue and purple especially. And shapes
of salt and pepper shakers. . . . My dictionary defines
corny as “Trite, dated, melodramatic,
mawkishly sentimental” and mawkish as
“excessively and objectionably sentimental”
and “sickening or insipid in taste” as in
almost every poem read at weddings and funerals,
birthdays and retirement parties by people
who don’t normally read or write poetry,
and as in houses festooned with framed family portraits,
particularly the ones of cute grandchildren doing cute things
to other cute grandchildren,
and as in Valentine’s day,
fruit baskets, golden oldies. But sometimes, in some hour, she said,
sun hits a windowsill in such a way as would delight Edward Hopper,
and walking by a house at night you hear
a few moments of a Brandenburg Concerto,
and once in a while something happens
so French vanilla, so roll down the car window and whoop,
a thing so entirely without tears or raindrops,
something so lift your hands to the heavens, something
so utterly Rocky, utterly corny, utterly doilies on armchairs,
and surrey with the fringe on top and Mary Poppins
and The Sound of Music,
you can’t help yourself, it happens without warning,
(wait for it, wait for it, Suicides. Damn it, wait for it)
it bubbles up in your throat and—God help you—
the hell with sentiment, let the dog of sentiment
drool on your shoulder,
                               you must freaking cheer.


Dick Allen


             -upstate New York


It’s like standing beside a closed gas station at night,
looking into its well-illuminated shop,
one car up on a hoist, the light
scattering from all the silver wrenches, chrome strips,
freshly washed engine parts left on green tables,
all that undone work, all that work to do,
cat’s in the cradle and the silver moon,
and I’m thinking of my father’s second job at the Shell station,
how my mother and brother and I, one warm April evening,
walked up the hill from the Ballston Spa movie theater,
where we’d just seen The Highwayman,
with Wanda Hendrix as the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
and we looked up, and through the bare branches of the maples,
(for coincidence is probably far more common than we commonly admit),
“the moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas,”
as my father stood waiting—he was what, 36, she 37?—
leaning nonchalantly against the Shell station, grinning a little,
his hands covered with that kind of grime that comes from oil & grease jobs,
everything so contradictory
I almost could not stand it even then.




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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