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Lisa Allen

After Terrance Hayes After Terrance Hayes reads sonnet after sonnet about his past and future assassin, I dream of ducks. The glory of them—gemstone heads ramrod proud as they glide. Countless eyes in waves of REM. When I wake I walk laps around a neighborhood lake. I watch sunfire rise, stop to snap pics of a paddling. Listen to them quack. When Terrance Hayes read sonnet after sonnet that icy solstice night, I watched him sway, his body a ceaseless ripple. A wonder, really. And his voice— a knowing. I fell asleep to that voice—on YouTube—and dreamt of beauty. The grace of it. The way morning light shimmers a drake’s neck rainbow bright one moment, inky mad the next. Sublime, the drake— but so many. Too many to be splendid. And yet, they know they own that lake. Know they make the rules, can take whatever they want. Pin her down if they must. Blame nature. Nurture. Either way he likes to fight. Doesn’t give a damn she has her own poems to write.

A. Van Jordan Asks What Made My Mother Sad (after A. Van Jordan) Sad: adj (1) Affected by unhappiness or grief. As in: Mom, I can’t imagine how affected you were as a kid by your alcoholic parents and twice-broken nose. Dad told me that your mother, bourbon-drunk and unhappy to be stuck all day/every day with the four of you, found it fun to goad your father into disciplining his children. His hand, her smack. (I never asked: Did he hit you to shut her up? Or were they a team, playing tag with the bridge of your nose? Did it matter to you, either way?) (2) Sorrowful or mournful/expressive of or characterized by sorrow. As in: Did your mother ever tuck you in at night, read aloud a princess tale? Or were you like me, sung to sleep by angry voices, fists through walls? What did you think about before you drifted off? Did you dream about rhinestone studded boots or fabric swatches & finishing touches? Did you ever imagine your own fairy tale, a happily ever after? Mysteries to me, your motivations. The minutes that ticked your days. (3) Causing sorrow. (Notice the verb here, mother. The agency.) Sorrow: noun (1) Distress caused by loss, affliction, disappointment, etc; grief, sadness, or regret. A mouthful, sorrow. A circle with fangs. (2) A misfortune or trouble. Trouble: noun or verb, I wonder? I can imagine the schoolgirl you, making trouble, sassing back Still, I bet your teachers loved you. Just like the librarians did when you slid your stack of non-fiction on their desk. I hate to trouble you, your smile so sweet while they so openly fawned, said to me, how fortunate you are, to have such a smart mom. Think they’d say the same if they saw the piles of Harlequins on your end table, under the bathroom sinks, next to your bed? (3) The expression of grief, sadness, disappointment, or the like. As in: When I was a new mom I couldn’t hide my disappointment when I’d walk into daycare after work only to be greeted by my screaming child. The director explained: he isn’t sad; he knows he’s safe, because you’re here. This is a good thing, his expression. (I found a Polaroid not long ago. You, me, & Uncle Bobby. Outside, winter. You’re wearing a uniform under your scratchy coat, a red kerchief as a headscarf. Bobby’s holding me but I’m reaching for you. Beaming, each of us, smiles so wide we have no eyes. Was that safety, then? A blind reach, a knowing?) Verb: (1) To feel sorrow, to grieve. Mother, what did you grieve? I didn’t think to ask until now. Hindsight. Regret

(Did you grieve trading your youth to be free [to have me] — or was your sorrow having never felt young?) How I imagine you, now that I’m grown: feral, unhappy, hungry, distressed, angry Will you tell me, mother to mother: why were you sad? If you were to ask me, I’d tell you what makes me sad is that the word unhappy is defined by what it lacks. An absence. Something missing. Like you. (Like me.)

He Speaks for Himself

—here. Check my phone. See—I’ve never texted her. Not first. You always assume I’m cheating/have cheated/will cheat —and why? Because a different guy/different guy/all the guys have? Trust me—when you saw us at the bar you didn’t see what you saw. You & your sensitive skin. Always convinced I’m on the prowl. That phone call? A misdial. Think about it. Why would I read my work to anyone but you? Tell anyone else the things I’ve told you? You said you understood, didn’t you? I need someone to listen. Is that why you stopped answering when I called to say good morning after the bar closed? You know my mornings are too quiet, the stars fuzzy from my porch, that one voice keeping me from sleep. You promised me you’d answer. Promised. Yeah, I knew you were tired/knew I woke you/but you knew I just needed you/ just needed/ needed. So—now what? Yeah, ok— Keep fishing, babe. Pond’s dry. So what if I did talk to her? Offer to pick her up, take her for a beer? All I’m asking/ all I’m asking/ all I’m asking/ all I want to know is how far I can go.

Self Portrait as Good Girl

In a studio on the shore forty years past memory, I study a photograph

of a man’s hands. Fingers curved around a pocketknife & his palm a pocket for the thing he carves—a nub of wood, say, or a firm glittered fish. My point: there’s no perspective that makes sense. The first man I watched hold a knife taught me new words. Told me what he does to the wood. His point: good girls do what they’re told. Even now, that man discos far corners of my mind—his fingers like calloused sausages, quick & sure & his yellow nails, thick. Zebraed with dirt. & that voice— slow. Gritty as a cat’s

tongue. He meant every word. I want to place that man’s words in the worn pocket of this man behind the glass, the man whose face I cannot see. Can I? Can I stand at the shore & watch those words trickle through his soft, sun-spotted fingers? Can I? Watch me.


Lisa Allen’s work can be found or is forthcoming in The Bacopa Literary Review, Lily Poetry Review, December Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Bear Review, and MER, among others. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her poem, “Prolapse: Etymology”, published by South 85 Journal, was a Best of the Net 2023 finalist. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction and an MFA in Poetry, both from the Solstice Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lasell University, where she was a Michael Steinberg fellow in Creative Nonfiction. She is co-founder and co-director, with poet Rebecca Connors, of the online creative space The Notebooks Collective and is a founding editor of the Maximum Tilt anthology series.


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