Archive for May, 2014

 

Okinawa courtroom

ANOTHER DAY

Another day
another trial
another judgment.
I wonder if there is
some newshound
hanging around
the Pearly Gates
waiting to report
about me
when I am judged,
for all my faults,
for all my sins,
as insignificant
as I believe them to be?

By David Allen

David Leroy Allen WWII

David L. Allen, 1942
A Memorial Day Poem

REQUIEM FOR MY FATHER

Jeannie called and said
“David, Dad’s dead.
He fell and bumped his head.”
And inside I bled
for a man long dead
in memories
of a family
that used to be.

Jeanie was calm.
She said our Mom
was all right,
though “she just sat and stared.”
And I cried then,
but I don’t know why when
you had died ten,
twenty years ago.

You had fled
to your dark bed-tomb
and you left that crypt,
that stenched of rotting dreams
and surrender,
only for soft drinks
and to pee.

So, I called Ricky, the youngest,
and he said no tears tracked his cheeks.
“I’d been telling everyone
my Dad died years ago,” he said.

Ricky said:
“I once asked Dad what he was going to do today.
He said: Nothin’.
I said what about tomorrow?
And he said: Nothin’.
And I asked him how could he give up
after surviving World War II and alcohol?
And he said: Leave me alone.
And I told him he had to leave his room or die
And he said: Ricky, I only leave the room to pee.
And I repeated, if you don’t leave the room you’ll die.
And he said: Nobody can tell me what to do.”

Nobody could.

Mom wrote last week,
said you were doing less
and less for yourself;
that Kathy had come by to shave you;
that you and Mom were to celebrate
your 50th wedding anniversary.
She said she didn’t know how you two
had stayed together so long.

You didn’t.

‘Til death did you part.
But which death?
This final, no-breath death of today?
Or the thousand times you died since the war?

We, your children, are the products
of the half-man, half-soldier, Mom welcomed home.
The best part was left in the rubble
of a bombed-shattered wine cellar near Bastogne.
You were the sole survivor of your squad,
a heavy burden to bring back home,
a burden laid on your children.

The tag you wore around your neck
when you awoke in some hospital,
safe behind the lines said:
“This man is not responsible
for his actions.”

You never were.

You never recovered.
Booze, your best buddy,
carried you through your days —
from job to job,
child to child,
town to town.

At least we older children have memories
of a man, crippled perhaps, yet still struggling
still searching to retain some semblance of living;
pictures of a smiling man in a fireman’s dress blues
posturing before a neat Levittown bungalow.
Flash forward:
a man in shabbier clothes,
tilted cowboy hat, sad smile,
playing a mandolin in a boozy haze —
yet picking those strings,
making her sing.

But never loud nor long enough to heal the wounds.

In poverty, Mom raised us
as you struggled with your demons;
your days haunted by ghosts of what were
and could have been.
I left home first,
tasted the salt sea air of freedom
and returned to find another man
wearing my father’s clothes.

You were booze free, but hooked on pills
that still could not ease your pain.

Twenty more years passed
and you became another kind of Dad
for the younger ones.
No more booze,
no more belts across bare buttocks.
You went to AA and, for awhile, held court
at the dinner table,
telling bad jokes and drinking soda.

But your nerves were shot,
you couldn’t work,
only the pill-induced sleep stopped the demons.
So you retreated from the world,
no more morning walks for the paper,
no more evening talks at the table.

The bed tomb beckoned.

The tube flickered in the dark,
images of the world you turned your back on.

These last years
we visted Mom and brought reluctant children
into your cave to say
Hi and bye to their Pop
(I never called you that).
They cringed to see the unwashed man
with inch-long toenails,
shaggy hair,
swollen Buddah belly
glazed eyes.

My kids don’t remember much, Dad.
But I’ll try to recreate the memories.
I’ll tell them about the war hero;
the tank killer;
the high school football star;
the cartoonist;
the musician;
the man;
The slender Yankee with the toothy grin
and easygoin’ manner that
swept our Southern Mom off her feet
and into the Allens.

I’ll remember for them
the Demon-less Dad
I tell myself
was hiding there
all along.

By David Allen

Carnathy 1

CARNATHY

Walked the narrow streets
of Colon last night,
boldy wearing the blue SP armband,
nightstick twirling, my 5-foot 2-inch skinny ass
flanked by two of the biggest Marines
I had ever seen.
Feeling cocky in the Caribbean,
a world away from the fray in Vietnam.
‘Round about midnight,
prodding the drunks back to the ship,
we spied a young Marine sitting in the doorway
of a century-old storefront, sobbing .

“God, God! Where are you?” he cried.
“God, God, where are you?”
Over and over he slurred the words
between garbled bits of barely audible sighs.

One of the Marine SPs, recognizing his friend,
bent over him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Carnathy, what’s wrong, man?”
Carnathy had blood on his blouse and a cut
on his distorted, drunken face.
“He’s dead!” Carnathy wailed.
“My buddy – they killed him!”
“Who, man?” the Marine asked.
“He had no name and
he looked just like me.
He’s dead!”

Carnathy convulsed into
a stream of nonstop sobs,
then screamed,
“I told him God was dead
and he believed me!”

The Marine SPs helped him to his feet.
Carnathy slumped in their arms,
repeating his wail,
“I told him God was dead
and he believed me!”
They walked him back toward the ship,
strong arms tenderly lifting,
gently helping him along.

“Carnathy sometimes gets like this,”
his friend told me as I tagged behind.
“He used to be religious
until he got freaked out and lost God
in a bunker during a mortar attack.”

As the ship grew in sight,
Carnathy straightened,
yelled and jerked away,
stumbling, running for the darkness.
We chased him, found him huddled,
hiding in a clump of bushes.
He came up swinging,
but his drunken assault
was no match for
sober wits and nightsticks.

His friends dragged him back to the ship.
“Take me, take me to my death!”
Carnathy cried.
“Go ahead, you bastards, God is dead!
God sucks! I want to die!”

The next day, Carnathy was flown to
a hospital and a discharge in San Juan.
I was on the ships’ fantail,
gossiping over morning coffee,
when I learned that just before
we found him Carnathy
had been in a fight with
a lifer he had tried to convince of
God’s absence from the world.
The lifer called him a weak crybaby
and a disgrace to the Corps.

Just another day
protecting the Caribbean
from communism.

By David Allen
20 October 1967

NOTE: Here’s Memorial Day poem from the archives.

crime 3

NORMAN

Damn!
Damn, my chest hurts,
motherfucker must’ve popped me
with a 9 millimeter.
Getting capped with a .22
wouldn’t feel this bad.
Shit!
Where’d he come from?
And why?
I thought I left all that
gangbanging shit.
Man, got me a little boy
a good woman, a job –
left that crack street scene.
What happened?

God, it’s cold.
Wonder when someone’s gonna come
take me to the hospital?
What’s that?
Sirens.
Shit, took ‘em long enough,
Dude could bleed to death.
Least, the pain’s gone.
Damn, it’s cold!

Where am I?
Must be on my back,
alls I can see is
that bright streetlight
just outside my crib,
the light I useta shoot out
just for fun when I was I hangin’,
gotta keep our bidness in the dark
away from that bright light,
that inner city
halogen yellow.

Hey!
Shadow standing over me
squats, feels my wrist
pulls my eyelids up.
That shoulda hurt,
but didn’t. Shadow shakin’ his head.
Hey, c’mon, do somethin’
about that hole in my chest!

Hey!
I can’t seem to talk.
Mouth’s fulla blood, vomit
metallic taste, like some
piece of aluminum foil
stuck to my chewing gum.
Can’t move my lips.
Damn, it’s cold.

Shit!
Shoulda changed my underwear,
what’ll Momma say about that?
Cops’ll laugh.
God, it’s cold.
Shhhh! What’s that sound?

No sound.
Someone turned the volume off.
That can’t be right,
all kindsa sounds just a moment ago.
I heard those sirens,
shoes on concrete, running
that hurried, excited chatter;
some woman screaming,
the young dudes, the crack runners from the corner
those newbies I had working for me,
they were here,
I heard them talkin’ ‘bout
some dude got capped right in front of his own house.
I remember that talk now,
One said: “Hey, it’s that gone-straight gangster
Norman!
Hey, the Crips capped Norman!
He dead!”

What?
Dead?
Nah, I’m still thinkin’.
Stuff still going on in my head.
Damn, it’s cold.
Hey, there’s my boy!
Hey, junior!
Oh man, he’s bawlin’.
I can’t hear him, but I see his pretty mouth
all contorted, tears runnin’ down his…
Oh, Normie, baby
Daddy’s gonna be….
Hey!
Man, don’t take him away.

Hey!
Shadows coming close,
somethin’ being put over me.
Shit, it’s a sheet.
Man, why?
Come on now, stop jokin’.
Get me to a hospital
Damn, it’s cold.
Least the pain’s gone. Hope no one
sees I didn’t
change my underwear.
Damn,
Momma?

Mom?

By David Allen

NOTE: Norman was a former crack dealer and gang member in Fort Wayne, Indiana, back in the late 1980s. I was a cop reporter for the afternoon daily newspaper and covered his story, starting with his cleaning up and becoming a leader in working with the city’s growing gang problem to his murder.

My Father Played the Mandolin

MANDOLIN THERAPY

My father plays the mandolin
when life begins to close him in;
playing old folk tunes and country airs,
music helps to soothe his cares
and ease his life.

And he plays,
when the need for drink
clouds his brain
and he can’t think.

He plays,
when the bills are high
and cash is low
when my mother cries.

He plays,
into the night
but it never seems
to come out right.

He plays the mandolin
when life begins to close him in.

He plays.

BY David Allen

This is an early Fathers’s Day Poem. My dad was a WWII veteran who never fully recovered from combat. He was incredibly talented — a football hero at Manhasset High School, a cartoonist, a comedian, a musician — but he was also an alcoholic most of his life. After he gained sobriety when he was 43 years old, he became hooked on pills to treat his post traumatic stress disorder (which they didn’t call it back in the mid 60s). He died in 1992. (A poem about that will follow next month.) We were never really close. I was short, non-athletic, bookish and disobedient and he was disappointed with me. I was the oldest of seven children and ran away a lot.

images (5)

A WRITER AFRAID OF HIS PEN

Look at him sitting there
contemplating rhyme,
stretching the time, feeling
there’s another change
left in his repertoire of life.
He doesn’t realize the fears
which force the doubt upon
his tortured mind, again
and again, making him
abandon plotted paths
for the impulse trail,
dropping the pen in favor
of reading a book,
raiding the fridge,
or going for a long drive,
is insecurity, a shadowy
stranger who seeks to make
new friends with the neurotic
at the short end of the stick.
He calls it writer’s block,
but who is he trying to fool?
He is afraid of the one tool,
the one gift, which could
make it all worthwhile,
choosing, instead, to run away
never testing the tool to
see if it works.

By David Allen

CLOSING NIGHT

Posted: May 19, 2014 in Poetry
Tags: , , , , ,

davidread

CLOSING NIGHT

Goodnight
the darkness closes in
as the theater spills its patrons
into the street.
The last act is finished,
the curtain is down,
no fanfare,
no standing ovation,
mild applause.
The reviews, save the one
from the underground rag,
were all bad.

The players will look
for new work in the morning.
The theater will house
a new playwright’s child.

I leave meekly out the stage entrance
into the alley —
always the alley —
overflowing garbage cans
stray cats
stench of vomit.

You join the crowd
push your way out into the street,
with its bright lights, laughter
smell of hot pretzels,
carnival air.

The crowd moves past the alley
where my unnoticed shadow climbs
a fire escape to a small
cluttered room
to study far into the morning,
reviewing the mistakes
of my past performance,
practicing my new lines.

By David Allen

I spent the afternoon mowing grass today. Reminded me of the lovely Zen gardens in Japan.

Rock garden 3

Rock GArden 1

HORTICULTURE HAIKU

Calming rock gardens
So popular in Japan
No damn grass to mow

by David Allen

The 9-11 Museum is opening at Ground Zero in New York City. Here’s a poem I wrote about the Day the World Changed.
9-11 Museum 2

9-11 Museum 4

THE DAY THE WORLD CHANGED

At 11 p.m., abed in our Okinawa home,
My ringing phone shattered the silence.
“Turn your TV on!” a friend shouted when I answered.
“A big damn plane just hit the World Trade Center!”

Damned indeed.

As my love and I watched
CNN International over the rest
Of the sleepless night,
We witnessed the second plane
Plow into the towers,
And saw reports of a third
Smash into the Pentagon,
And a fourth crash into a Pennsylvania field,

Then the towers fell.

7,600 miles away, the night cloaked
Our rain soaked cabin, as
Typhoon Nari sat 37 miles offshore,
Threatening a third pass.
It struck once as a tropical storm
And then turned to wallop
The island with 113 mph winds
And 13 inches of rain, destroying
Okinawa’s sugar cane crop,
Darkening 23,000 homes.

The next few days were a blur.
“Get reaction!” my editors
From Tokyo demanded.

I called Marines, soldiers, airmen, sailors,
Civilian base workers for their thoughts.
I bugged commanders for troop movements,
Increases in security. What would happen
When the bases, which cover a fifth of the island,
Opened after the lockdown for the storm?

We all knew there’d be no return to normal.

“I cried,” a woman from New York,
Who sold cars on the air base, said.
“I used to Swing Dance there every week
On the 108th floor at Windows on the World.
I can’t believe it. New York is my home
I always thought of it as indestructible.”

“I’m overcome with grief and anger,”
Said a retired Marine married to an Okinawan.
He was preparing for Nari’s third strike
When he saw a Japanese TV report of the attacks.
“This is war. This is another Pearl Harbor.”

“What’s next, World War III?”
A percussionist for the Marine Band asked.
A corporal from New York, he said he
Was about to be discharged and married.
“I cancelled both,” he said. “I can’t leave, not now.
It may sound crazy, but I can’t quit my country
With something like this going on.”

A soldier’s wife said she felt safe on Okinawa
“Or at least I did until my husband instructed
Us on how we have to be careful and wary
Of any terrorist attacks.”

“I won’t be saying `Have a safe flight,’
So lightly anymore,” an Airman said.
No one, it turned out, would ever be
As free as we were on September 10th.

In South Korea the military slapped
A ban on all off post travel.
On Okinawa cars were no longer waived
Through the gates if they had base decals.
Everyone had to show their IDs
And cars were randomly searched.

In the Plaza Housing Area
Children opened a lemonade stand
To raise money for the rescue workers.

The air base commander announced
His units were, “Ready to take
The battle – the war – to the terrorists.”
“ Our lives changed dramatically
On the 11th of September,” he added.
“Get used to it!”

Some Okinawans, steeped in the islands’
Spiritualist native religion, believed Nari
Spared them from the terrorists.

In the next few days, Navy ships
Departed from Japanese ports
And jets took off for undisclosed locations.

And rumors started to spread.

Islamic militants had infiltrated into countries
Throughout the Western Pacific, one Japanese paper reported.
“Well before Tuesday’s assault,” another printed,
“The United States informed the Japanese government
That terrorist action was anticipated.”

Reports from Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan stated
Islamists were preparing attacks on U.S. targets.
On Sept. 8 in Manila, three men from Oman were detained
After they were seen in a hotel room videotaping
The nearby U.S. Embassy. They were released.
A later search of their room turned up traces of explosives.

There was a new feeling in the air –
Fear.
Anger.

Late one night I sat outside my cabin,
Sipped a beer and gazed at the lights
Of the harbor below, realizing nothing
Would ever be quite the same.
I opened my journal and wrote:

Terrorists took
Security away
From Americans today.

Now we’re as scared
As a bus rider in Jerusalem,
A shopkeeper in Derry,
A banker in Basque,
A Hindu in Kashmir,
A Muslim in Serbia.

Now, we’re all scared .
Welcome to the terror-ble times.

By David Allen

Barney and Clyde

ODE TO A JUNKER

Hello Truck,
Gee, I’m sorry it’s so cold.
Hello poor engine,
I’m sorry you’re so old.
It’s a shame to see you out like this,
You’re dying without hope.
I’d buy you all the things you need,
But I’m broke.

Hello fan,
I’ll get you a new belt someday.
Hello fuel pump,
I’ll try to help some way.
While I know this screw won’t fit you,
I guess it will have to do,
‘Cause my unemployment check
Is overdue.

Hello tranny,
Someday I’ll get you overhauled.
Hello tires,
I’m sorry you’re so bald.
Those big deep thread you once had
Are just a memory.
One day you’ll wear chrome hubcaps
Just wait and see.

Do you remember
The days when you were great?
Gobbling up the miles
At a terrific rate?
But rust has eaten at your body
And your mirrors are all cracked,
Like the fender dents you suffered
When sidewhacked.

So here you sit,
Out back behind the garage.
A junker stripped,
Marred by a bird poop barrage.
Sometimes I sit in your front seat
And relive our glory days,
As tears track down my cheeks
For how we’ve aged.

I’m raggedy, too,
As you can plainly see.
I’ve slowed my gait
Due to an arthritic knee.
We’ve both seen too many miles
Our day has finally come.
Well, I guess I’ll die here with you
My old chum.

By David Allen
(Written to an old Country and Western tune)