Back among the Living

Dick Allen

Back among the living, recovered from my sickness
or past lives, or both, however you want to read me,

I seek out stone fences. I try to amuse. I wander
here and there beneath Earth’s great blue skies.

I find a railroad trestle and walk across it,
arms outstretched as if I’m a scarecrow.

In a dark alley, I draw a tic-tac-toe game
in blue and yellow chalk upon a brick wall,

leaving the game for whoever comes along to fill it in
or ignore. Que sera sera, as my mother used to say.

“What am I?” she’d ask. “A service elevator? A fire escape?
The last piece of peanut brittle in an oval tin?”

Among the living, when I enter any new room,
I look out every window possible,

drawing back drapes, raising up Venetian blinds
and bamboo shades to see what I can see,

like the bear that went over the mountain
who found on the other side of the mountain

only the other side of the mountain,
his story a little piece of crazy Zen.

And when, among the living, someone floats
an idea about the size of a bar of Ivory soap,

I try to be the first to grasp it, so eager
to make a fool of myself, I become

ashamed of my reaching. I eat Chinese food.
I worship in banks. I prostrate myself

in wholesale stores beneath towering stacked goods,
and when I sleep, which isn’t very much,

I find myself dreaming of tree surgeons
cutting down everything beside my bed.

This living, I tell anyone who will listen,
makes about as much sense as a dirigible,

or why so many spend their lives
trying to avoid the certainty one day

Death will meet them head on. The last thing they’ll see
will be the prow of a ship, a train cowcatcher,

a Chevrolet grill. Oh well, as my father
used to whisper when he’d finished an ice cream cone,

that’s all there is. Que sera sera. What can you do
but lick your fingers and get on with it.

Dick Allen grew up in Round Lake, New York. He earned a BA from Syracuse University and an MA from Brown University. Allen was a founder of Expansive poetry and the recipient of many awards including the Robert Frost Prize for Poetry, the Hart Crane Poetry Prize, the Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Poetry Prize, the May Caroline Davis Poetry Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the San Jose Bicentennial Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poetry was also included in several Best American Poetry anthologies.

His many poetry collections include Present Vanishing (Sarabande Books, 2008) and Overnight in the Guest House of the Mystic (Louisiana State University Press).

He was the director of creative writing and Charles A. Dana endowed chair professor at the University of Bridgeport until his retirement in 2001. In 2010 he was named poet laureate of Connecticut, where he lived with his wife, poet and fiction writer L.N. Allen, until his death in late 2017.

"Back among the Living" appears in our Winter 2017 issue.