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Five Poems

Fear is an attentional function.
Wishes depotentize over time.

Human nature is a child
soldier. A walk on the beach

is a cold chapel where I played
cello before a panel of wooden

chairs. Religion and war are peasant
stunners, knee-high flags

on the village green. Veterans’ Day,
rustic elms with their brains

buried underground, redundant
is a woman my age with the same

loose attachment of dry curls. She
stops me. Can she offer a prayer?

Sure, I say, surprised, wondering suddenly
why I always cower from experience,

as if I’m incurious, as if every snake’s
an ouroboros, I’ve always been savagely

self-employed. Angels have offered themselves,
mentors, guides, once-in-a-lifetime vintages with the meal,

but cool toward history, annoyed by flattery,
I’ve declined. The campus bell tolls

between classes, students stream by.
She forges the current between us—

horns humming, her
jeans already rolled, hand

out for balance grabs mine.
Dust motes of face

powder between her little face
hairs and I’m aware

I’ve been had. Her eyes flicker but
her voice is sure, My sister and I are saved today.



Somehow I’m inside a sea
shell on the sea
floor of existential air

conditioning. Only my touch
can see. Someone
plugged me in to the central roar

from the enormous perma
head of Nancy Reagan so
that my dreams all end

in an industrial cul-de-sac
where I’m snailed on a cement
dock made warm

by an underlying machine.
Poison pellets melt
my single flesh

foot, my person
hood, my feel
for motion Freudian in that I’m the one moving

when the bathroom door slides
open as if the train were going downhill
like the women I used to call

old and refer
to delicately now
as older

squatting under structured spruce
trees on the well-traveled
boulevard, daring you to claim

social injury when isn’t that
you, parting the grass with
the finger-comb of your stare?




We play this game
when the boys are home
of naming all the times
I should have stepped in.

How did I bungle it like a bare
knuckled bird, or blame
the queasy perimeter of the afterschool?
I like to bash the little
mother skull too. Look
at her cracked
grudgeless smile.


My early education was myths
of creation as earth
science, oceanography. The first planet
was pre-volcanic, a space
island, a cosmic
anomaly—a model
for viridity. I considered myself
a modern child, but
I never got over the fall
of Eve. Look at my mother
in her wedding dress
stiff as the cake
topper bride. How did she get from there
to here? A mystery splintered
deep in the tech of time, the pain
of which she brings to the up-and-out
religions, like Buddhism, constructed
with ejaculatory escape in mind.


Every woman at my wedding
wore a restless dress,
not one could finish
her glass, every mermaid
flute half
full, every
long ankle
bone dry and I
was putting off a Zen
of not knowing myself,
a landless energy
in polite company,
like an albatross.

I was out of my league
among lean-bodied shipmen
drowned in sorrow returned
as women at the wedding
drowning thirstless
sorrow homeopathically.
My sorrow was sorrow
esque as a dolphin,  
unassimilable as a whale.



New mysteries
map synapses,
signpost super
facially, but it’s no easy
trick to mix stress
hormones in tears,
parachute stars.
In paratactic China
town I got turned
around below Canal,
swelled to chart
pop broad
cast on card
tables of Ten Ren
tea, towers of rice
ware. Now
it’s click
on all mountains
or hills. (My eyes
are lone
wolves, only they
know what they drag
back to their lairs.
No meat share,
time a dirt floor.)



song empties.
My sockets
serve as mortar
and stone, sand
bags of bones,
centrifuge of location
specific vigilance.

A hawk traces
hunting circles,
all first tries, my son’s
first cry electrified
the high-rise hospital
with the same grief
as dying: Too soon!
Ten pounds! exclaimed the midwife.
My mother sits at a table
barren of oil, salt,
meat, and milk.
Nights are prayer-ground,
sleep is prey.

Kirstin Allio’s books are the novels Buddhism for Western Children (University of Iowa, 2018) and Garner (Coffee House, 2005), and the short story collection Clothed, Female Figure (Dzanc, 2016). She has received fellowships from Brown University’s Howard Foundation and MacDowell. She lives in Providence, RI.