Gilbert Allen, "Primary Research"



          —for Lynne Shackelford

Scrolling through microfilm in the library,
scavenging facts as yet undigitized,
trying to fathom what's become my home—
Greenville, South Carolina—I've been lost
all afternoon in 1941,
that summer of DiMaggio and Williams.

The big barn dance at Textile Hall; twenty-
eight Confederate veterans still alive;
the first dual-lane paved highway in the state
to be completed by the next July.
Forty stills smashed by the county sheriffs;
the first-ever first-aid class for Negroes
sponsored by the local (white) Red Cross.

A peacetime blackout of all service stations;
fifteen-cent movies, peaches fifty cents
a bushel; and a photo of an eight-
year-old Dick Riley, bravely modeling
a back-to-school "teal gabardine wash suit"
for Belk-Simpson's downtown department store.
Cole Brothers’ Circus, featuring Jack Dempsey
(with elephants!) performing at the Fair Grounds
on Labor Day weekend.

                                            And then I see
an AP story from Hempstead, New York—
my first home town, beginning ten years later.
A P-39 Army pursuit plane
flown by Lieutenant Roy W. Scott
tore through electric lines, then ruptured a water
main when it exploded—on a quiet street
where two preschoolers (one boy and one girl)
played in the grass.  Both sets of parents burned
their hands and arms, trying to pull away
the gasoline-soaked clothes from writhing bodies.

Both children died in Meadowbrook Hospital:
Casper, the young son of the Cucios.
Georgene, the four-year-old daughter of Dr.
and Mrs. Arthur Kramer.

                                             And I remember
not just that name, his office, but his visiting
me at 89 Florence Avenue,
bedridden—when I had measles or chicken pox,
his practiced hand upon my blazing forehead,
his saying I was a very lucky boy,
his saying I'd be all right soon—then closing
up his big black bag and leaving, whistling,
while my own mother whispered that poor man
(so only I could hear) but nothing else.


Gilbert Allen's newest poems appear in Appalachian Journal, Georgia Review, Sewanee Theological Review, South Carolina Review, and Southern Review.  His sixth collection of poems is Catma (Measure Press, 2014).