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© 2019 PETER ALLEN

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Poetry by Peter Allen

Zoetrope

There is a black sun

that steals across the afternoon

And clutches at the white one

with icy fire fingers.

I can see it when 

the moon is in the way

and returns its borrowed light,

like my father’s face

when he sucked in the

clown I drew

and blew it out

as a cloud of

gray vapor.

Albedo

I. (outer poem)

Like many others

of my generation

I was not able 

to transition easily

from sleep state

to waking.

My tormentors

from the world

of light

would abandon their

assumed forms

whenever I entered

the shadow,

shape shifting

back into the

monstrous aberrations

whose anthropomorphic

disfigurement

more distinctly

identified them

with the awful deformities

they embodied.

 

My parents became giant

spiders that encircled

our house with a web

only they could safely navigate.

Infinitely patient

they could remain motionless

but alert

for years a time.

Recording every tremor

of the web,

they registered its

relative level

of significance;

darting forth with

vampire mouths open

or remaining inert

accordingly.

The cache of

silk-cocooned zombies

bore testament

to their prowess,

blanched and desiccated,

hushed,

hung like wraith pupae

from the silver maples.

II. (inner poem)

In my fifty-seventh year

I sat by my mother’s bed

while the cancer slowly ate her.

She then lay sleeping

while I was awake -- hovering.

She invited me into her dream

where I met three women:

the mother, warrior, and wise woman,

distraught that the child

who was their charge sat

frozen in a block of ice.

I was asked to help

so I melted the ice, 

absorbing its cold

into my hands.

This it turned out, 

was the same ice

in which I

had been encased.

Scotoma

I.

I spent my life

chasing after the sun.

At the end of each

exhausting day

it would wink at me

as it disappeared

beneath a sky

of blue-gray clouds

that faded into black.

This daily reiteration

of failure

eventually insinuated itself

as a mantra of disappointment.

At the end of it all

an angel asked me

how I had used my life.

“I spent my life

pursuing a dream,” I said.

“And what dream was that?”

“That if I could incarcerate

the source of light I would

be able to free

my own shadow.”

 

II. 

“Love is life’s sign,

and so I see

life’s only sign.”

Pedagogy

When I was five years old

a red-headed giant

lumbered into our town

and crushed every house.

Those of us who survived

began to rebuild,

constructing haunts

that resembled the

homes we lost.

 

Over time we mastered

the skills needed

to recreate our dream.

The hardest part though

was not the long

apprenticeship, but rather

crossing a narrow chasm

between our memory

of the catastrophe

and a treasure we had

buried in each other,

a journey of only

twelve inches.

Sequela

Like every other man

I was born with a 

wound in one hand

and a knife

in the other.

With the knife

I tore apart

the flesh of others

and inserted in its place

a savage fear 

that masqueraded as revenge.

With the wound

I displayed for all to see,

the cost then to myself:

the violation of my own

innocent flesh,

ripped apart by 

the knives of others.

This sleight of hand

I performed

so I would never suspect

I had murdered myself.

Anamorph

I.

From where I stand

I cannot see myself properly.

 

I need the corrective lens

that dwells in you

to gain the advantage point.

 

 

II.

You protest that you can

supply only your own distortion.

 

But the task remains for us to

find and employ 

this shared mechanism.

 

 

III.

Through this means we can convert

from what we are

to whom we are to become.

 

The corrective frame of charity

restores ectropy.

Cataract

My grandmother’s hands have blood on them;

the blood of men she strangled and disemboweled.

When I last saw my father she was cradling his head

in her lap and hollowing it out like a halloween pumpkin.

She looked  like my mother then -- pulling my teeth out

with a pair of pliers in my grandmother’s kitchen.

But it was still her, stuffing a handkerchief up her sleeve

while my grandmother served his severed testicles

on bone china. The feast does not quell, but further inflames

her hunger. She looks up from her plate and her eyes alight on me.

Now I look like my mother and she looks like my father;

only this time I cut off my own balls and offer them to her,

as if the memory of life could engender itself.

I can see you now that you are no longer here. 

Your presence overshadowed me and 

prohibited the luxury of reflection. 

So I think of you now that you’re gone

and recreate you as you were:

a shadow of my Self.

Charge

When the ravenous fear

devoured the last piece

of my heart

I felt my body 

turn cold.

A great whale,

light years across,

entered the cavity

and swallowed me

along with a sea

of shimmering plankton.

The digestive process

was incredibly slow,

more one of calcification

than assimilation.

When it became clear

that no death

would ever bury

this awareness

I opened my own mouth

and began to swallow

the whale,

one tiny bite

at a  time.

Scrimshaw

A sperm whale

entangled in a net of harpoons

thrashes against a feverish

nest of hunters,

outlining the story of

her last hours,

scratched into the enamel

of an extracted tooth.

 

You observe it from within 

the sanctum of the hushed

and tired museum,

reflecting on the stories

of your own deaths,

now awaiting the pressure

of the engraver’s hand

against your teeth,

that others might apprehend

their delineation.

Haruspex

My father lies dead on the beach now,

strangled with my intestines

by the seething Atlantic.

I stuffed them back into the abdominal 

cavity and stitched up the wound

with some fishing line.

That night a white porcelain beach ball

rolled up to my bed and said, “Swallow me.”

I obeyed the command, my jaws dislodging

like those of a boa constrictor that begins

to ingest the goat it has crushed.

The ceiling then exploded and littered my bed

with pieces of burning gypsum.

 

I went to a bottomless pool nestled in the

roots of the great ash in the back yard,

cut out my right ear and gave it to a carp

with silver scales.

In return I was shown an underground passage

that ran from the end of the world to an

ancient city that had been swallowed by

the ocean.

Emulating a sea serpent that coiled around the ruins

I learned to breath underwater and to extract

nourishment from poisonous jellyfish by 

recreating them on a linen shroud.

Atavus

When my grandmother died

I began coughing up the bones

of my ancestors.

Like the tiny circus car that  produces

an unending stream of clowns,

I became an inexhaustible source

of these knobby souvenirs.

Each bone bore the imprint

of the ones before it.

I laid them out in order

on the living room floor

and noted the diminishing

profusion of tattoos.

 

After fourteen years

I coughed up the first bone,

the one that bore no imprint.

This bone I held up to my ear

and it whispered to me

my own name.

Voluspa

A frenzied torrent of 

army ants

build a living 

bridge of bodies

across a dead sea.

It is sucked down 

like a black web 

that eats itself.

Harrow

My brain has knives

tucked away

in its convolutions.

With these knives

my brain carves out

a deep cavity

in my viscera

and plants a

dark idea of itself.

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