Allison Joseph, Three Poems



Be the woman you’re destined to be in this life;
graceful in motion, dance free in this life.

Buy tickets for any train, bus, plane or cab.
So much to hear, do, think and see in this life.

Speak up with body and voice, flowing hands—
you don’t always have to agree in this life.

Lay burdens down on altars, by lakes,
places to which you can flee in this life.

Eyes to the heavens, fingers to the sky,
hands up to feel the glee in this life.

All numbers on the scale act shady—
not everyone’s size three in this life.

Beads and bracelets, bridges and bayous.
Don’t have to be one she in this life.

A book, a pen, a solemn afternoon.
Savor your cups of green tea in this life.

Poems should be courted like a bride.
Get down on one knee in this life.

Come up for air beneath the glamour;
listen for your own plea in this life.

Every taste and flavor, every grain—
so glad you’ve come to me in this life.



Come rushing back to me, hasty
as a lover returned from war,
wounds ready for salve, salvation,

your ruby torrent of language
cascading like falls, delivering me
from drought, from the parched well

of a silent throat, mute mind.
Come slithering back to stroke
the resolute bones of these fingers,

make them flutter in anticipation,
in hope new phrases will tumble
onto the page, humble and humid,

seductive as sand saved from
footprints, sunwarmed and smooth.
I am the host these phrases need,

conduit for their impact,
conveyor of their import,
messenger wearied by silence,

blankness no kind of joy.
Come back to this cluttered
room, its lamp and chair,

its couch freighted by books—
bring your hymns and psalms
to dwell again among

my sinkful of dishes,
my scatterings of pencils,
my pockets full of change.



        —for Brett

We wake at night, scan picture frames
to keep her face in memory,
that countenance always the same
in photos of shared history,
a past from which our futures flee,
a future that's exempt from her.
Time rushes us, until we'll be
much older than our mothers ever were.

Her face, her smile—both make their claim.
See how our features still agree?
Some days, that grief cannot be tamed,
it rides your tongue, won't shake you free,
despite long baths, some good chablis.
Her loss will always reoccur,
despite new cars, advanced degrees.
Much older than our mothers ever were,

we'll tell our daughters how they got their names,
their grandmothers alive in legacy.
Our sons will know just what she overcame.
To fill blank space on a family tree,
we'll speak her name aloud, and reverently
remember words she said, songs she preferred.
We'll touch those photographs, though we'll soon be
much older than our mothers ever were.

We speak from knowing grief’s agility;
with elegies, we’ve grown to be secure.
Each day’s a test of our abilities,
much older than our mothers ever were.


Allison Joseph is the author of What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand, 1992), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon, 1997), In Every Seam (Pittsburgh, 1997), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon, 2003), Worldly Pleasures (Word Press, 2004), Voice (Mayapple Press, 2009), and My Father's Kites (Steel Toe Books, 2010). Her honors include the John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry. She is editor and poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review and director of the Young Writers Workshop, an annual summer residential creative writing workshop for high school writers. She holds the Judge Williams Holmes Cook Endowed Professorship at Southern Illinois University.