The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Dick Allen

Guarding the Minutes




It takes training.  Marching is involved,

and the feeling of a gunstock against your shoulder,

steady nerves and such as well as good eyesight. 

You must be prepared to go without sleep for many hours,

memorize password phrases that make little sense,

such as Smiling, the Boy Fell Dead,

and You can take the boy out of the bubblebath

but you can’t take the bubblebath out of the boy,

and Bill Clinton’s Pajamas.  Remember,

the minute will attempt to burrow under your feet,

substituting gasps for little shovel sounds

or sometimes will make a quick run for it

across a crowded room, especially at dusk

when there’s banana pudding involved.





As the minutes’ guard, it should go without saying

that you must always be on your toes.

Do you fully appreciate the complete meaning

of “always be on your toes?”  Your toes must be as strong

as a ballerina’s.  You must also be able

to tiptoe not only through tulips

but through bamboo and asparagus stalks,

although, thankfully, expertise at the ukulele

is not a requirement.  Be on your guard

for how a minute with its silver tongue

will try to make you fall in love with it,

scattering its seconds before you like tiny white blouse buttons.





                        Each minute

                        is precious,

                        sentimentalists will say,


particularly when you’re guarding a piece-of-steak-minute,

Zen-sand-garden minutes, stop-and-wonder-why minutes,


a minute before you’re born, the minute in which you die,

the minute you really touch velvet,

a minute of love, a raindrop-down-a-window minute,

a half a minute of God,

or you feel how a night crawler’s skin is like sand floating in saliva.





When you catch a minute off guard,

you can tickle it, engage it in a pillow fight,

give it a small lecture about making its bed and lying in it,

and you can engage it to play tiddlywinks,

thumb-shoot a marble, chew a gumdrop,

or for a minute rest your eyes simply by closing them

or by looking at a garden at any season while blinking calmly

and chanting,

“Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care

Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care

Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care,

My master’s gone away”

as you practice moving your fingers back and forth across each other.





Honor your duty, act wisely, for if you’re lucky,

you’ll have 1400 minutes each twenty-four hours,

most of which you’ll waste (it’s the murderer in you),

or about 520,000 a lifetime, some in clusters,

or with their companions, or kept in solitary,

and all of them dangerous.


Guard them with all you’ve got. 

Don’t let those salvageable slip out some door

wearing their shackles, shambling the dreadful night,

into some dismal swamp when you’re not looking,

beneath the owl hoot and the groan of the dying limb.





All of them clench prison bars.

All of them stare forlornly out between these bars.

All of them line death row.





As for unguarded minutes, despite all precautions,

should they nonetheless steal out from under your bootstraps,

don’t send out the dogs to hunt them down,

but wish the minutes blueberries, stolen kisses, new identities

in small Midwestern American towns with grain silos, water towers,

churches with high white steeples, county store porches,

rocking chairs, square dances,

at least one resident who plays the fiddle well,

peach pies on windowsills, tire swings,

swimming holes, libraries filled with quiet books,

and a rooster’s crowing at the break of day

so the whole town can hear.





“Holy Moley,” as Captain Marvel used to say.





Remember, if you keep your searchlights trained

on the far corners of the prison yard

and don’t fall asleep just yet,

you may catch a minute just before it scales the wall,

and if you holler, “Halt!” or “Who Goes There?”

or “Rice Pudding! or “Holy Moley!”

or even whisper, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

than ever dreamt of in your philosophy,” I guarantee you

right now the minute will turn to you and wave,

and just before it jumps into oblivion

or cream of tomato soup, it will turn again:


           the cherished minute,

           the abandoned minute,

           the doomed minute,

           the lost minute,

           the once-in-a-lifetime minute,

           the gone forever minute. . . .


“Now, I’ve had the time of my life.

I’ve never felt like this before.”


The minute will turn to you, and wave to you, and it will smile.




DICK ALLEN's most recent book is Zen Master Poems, published in late 2016 by Wisdom House / Simon & Schuster.  He has previous other new poems recently published or forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, Plume, South Florida Poetry Review, Verse-Virtual and Ploughshares.  Allen was the Connecticut State Poet Laureate from 2010-2015.  He lives with his poet wife, L.N. Allen, near the shores of Thrushwood Lake, in southwestern Connecticut.  Currently, he is preparing several new collections of poetry as well as publishing essays on Buddhism and contemporary politics in The Hartford Courant and Tricycle.



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