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Mom and Me 1948
Me and my Mom, Charleston, S.C., 1948

I NEVER WROTE A POEM ABOUT MY MOTHER

I never wrote a poem
about my mother,
even though dozens about dad
flowed from pens filled
with ink blood red.
After all, he planted the seeds
of fear and hopelessness, deep
strong roots grown in furrows
slashed into pliant flesh
by belts stinging,
quick backhands,
cutting words, while
mom protested in silence,
condoning the conditioning years
later saying —
“But afterwards he always cried.”

I never wrote a poem for my mother,
though I love her and think fondly
of the bond we formed in later years.
What was there to write?
I tried to protect her once.
I was nine and my Dad, drunk again,
had raised his hand one too many times
and, as he stumbled from the house,
my mom damning him to the fiery pit,
I chased him down the steps,
swatting his back with the brush
end of a broom;
trying to sweep him from our lives,
I suppose, though he’s here still
long after buried in a veteran’s grave.

I never wrote a poem about my mother,
she kept us together, somehow,
through all those years,
For what I never understood.
I relished the times I was farmed
out to uncles, aunts and my
Nan Nan’s strong, protecting arms.

I never wrote a poem about my mother
who never told me what to be,
just follow the rules
as muddled as they are,
“Stay out of trouble, David
or you’ll anger you father.”
He was so quick to anger,
haunted by war ghosts
and failures too numerous to name;
a dozen jobs, a dozen homes,
a dozen shattered promises.
I stood with her often on the welfare lines,
bringing home the state dole of
oily peanut butter in gallon cans,
powdered milk, cornmeal
and the white beans that gagged me
every time.

I never wrote a poem for my mother,
though she saved me once by moving us
to another county when
the streets beckoned and threatened
to steal the soul of her oldest son.
She never said why we moved
and I always assumed it was to hide
from the collection agents who came
round to our door as often
as the milkman and the mail.

I never wrote a poem to my mother,
who behind the scenes later
cut the strings, let me
find my own way, any way
that was better than
the stifling daily struggle
she suffered alone with seven
children and failing health.

I never wrote a poem about my mother
who stoically now in her Golden Years,
a widow, children grown, has finally
allowed herself to live her own life,
with no regrets, no sighs of could-have-beens,
but says, “That’s just the way things were
and I did the best I could.”

I never wrote a poem for my mother
who never taught me to hug,
or love, but managed still
to make sure we always had food
and clothes and a bed,
where in dreams I escaped
the dread of the Dad-filled days
until I was strong enough to run.

I never wrote a poem for my mother
and still I wonder why?

By David Allen
The first of several poems for Mothers’ Day weekend

David Allen  Don Gallus (2) 3

Don Gallus and me in an Old San Juan bar in 1966.

reandme

Me and my muse on Okinawa, 1998

My birthday is this Thursday (May 8). A while back I wrote this poem about turning 50. It became the title of my first book of poetry, published by Writers Ink Press in 2004. You can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Story-Far-David-Allen/dp/0925062480/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1399425268&sr=8-9&keywords=story+so+far


THE STORY SO FAR

Over 50,
Damn!
Now I’ve done it;
gone full blown
into the middle of
my sixth decade.
Weird to think the toes
that toddled into the second half
of this century
are stubbing themselves
on the doorstep
of the new millennium.

Like the Grateful Dead
liked to sing:
“What a long, strange
trip it’s been.”

A child of the South,
raised in the North,
because my Yankee Dad
fell in love with television.
Grew up on Long Island
when there was still room
for clammers, before you could
walk across the harbor on the decks
of the boats of the rich.

Traveled a lot–
Lived in the Southeast,
the Mid-Atlantic,
Virginia mountains and shore,
D.C., Williamsburg,
Fort Wayne, Indiana—
dubbed that cold city the
“Crack Capital of the Midwest.”

Lots of traveling
through two marriages,
five kids and four dogs;
finally getting it right
on the subtropical shores
of Okinawa.

Caught the news Jones
as a kid peddling papers.
Made it a living after trying out
being a busboy, dishwasher, cook,
sailor, postal worker, pump jockey,
shipping clerk, disc jockey,
student, activist, cabby,
surveyor.

Finally found work
on a weekly;
rhyming beat,
sports and courts,
at $120 a week.
Caught that news Jones bad,
still need that daily fix
only a byline gives.
Thirty years on deadline,
almost half a life;
printer’s ink for blood;
thick skin, thin wallet.
Press cards, a passport
to the adrenaline rush
a good story brings.

Writing just felt right.
Still does.

Fifty-plus years—
where’d they go?
Playing war with sticks and clods of mud;
protesting war with shouts, upraised fists;
Washington demonstrations and
Central Park Love-Ins;
Nights at the Fillmore East,
some new band called Led Zeppelin
playing to half a house;
Woodstock, bluegrass festivals;
experiments with hallucinogens and booze
about as carelessly considered
as choosing eggs or cereal
for breakfast.

Fifty-plus years—
always observing, writing;
boxes full of unfinished journals,
jotted thoughts that somehow found their way into
stories, poems, letters.
Started Old Friends, a slip into
publishing, providing poets
and photographers a place
to lay it all out;
great idea at a bad time
for cash-poor gypsies.
Scattered poems published since
until running into the Eat Write folks.
This feels good,
think I’ll hang out a while.

Fifty-plus years—
seen a lot;
murder, mayhem, floods and fires,
twisters tearing up trailers,
typhoons triumphant,
earthquake rocking the house:
boys laughing, what a ride!
girls crying, what a horror!
Seen the bare-breasted women of Yap,
Hoosiers bundled, braving a wintry blast;
the hookers and whores of San Juan,
Manila and all ports in between;
saw Sodom and Gomorra in
a Thailand town called Pattaya;
ate political chicken dinners,
drank iced rum milk from a chilled coconut;
saw Santa drop sleds of Christmas cheer
parachuting from the rear of an old cargo plane
as the natives of Palau sang Christmas carols
in their native tongue.

Fifty-plus years—
saw love come and go,
knocking at my door
and running away.
Saw hunger, but not lately.
Saw poverty, but that’s past.
Had health and heartache;
still cry easily.
Saw a mother torn from her daughter
and sit on the floor tearing Bibles.
Saw the bodies of little girls,
naked, mutilated,
torn from life and left for dead
in some rain swollen ditch.
Saw a woman go insane.

Fifty-plus years—
saw a lot of smiles,
heard much hearty laughter.
wrote my own wedding
once I found my soul mate;
didn’t matter she gave me only two years,
I knew we’d be together forever.
We still are, fifteen years later,
living in a house of love.
I’m going to microchip her soul
so the search will be easier next go `round.

Fifty-plus years—
haven’t done too bad;
saw all my babies born,
cut the cords on two;
taught them how to enjoy good music—
Dylan and Jimmy Buffett;
good food—pizza, cheeseburgers,
chicken and dumplings like my mother made;
taught them how to ride bikes, watch horror movies,
laugh at “professional” wrestling
and tell bad jokes.
Saw them grow,
saw them go.
They all do, mine just left early.

Fifty-plus years—
where’d they go?
And why don’t I feel old?

Fifty-plus years—
hell, it’s only time
and it’s all what you put into it.
I’ve crammed a lot into my small space.
I still have much to do—
finish that novel,
write that hit song,
live on a beach;
haven’t given my lady
half the loving she deserves.
But that’s okay,
I’ve got plenty of time.

POSTSCRIPT:

We finally lived on in a house on a hill overlooking the beach. But when I decided to retire Okinawa was too expensive to live, so we trekked back across the Pacific and half the U.S. to settle in a nice house in Chesterfield, Indiana, mostly to be near our other kids and grandchildren. I am now a freelance writer, full-time poet, and cancer survivor. Life here hasn’t always been great, but we’re learning to adapt to the cold, crazy politics and everything else life may throw at us. So, the ocean may be far away, but there’s woods in our backyard and a path that leads to a little river.

Ishikawa_City_from_Mount_Ishikawa

okinawa1

OKINAWA MORNING

7 a.m.
The sun rises
lazily over Ishikawa,
blazing yellow bands of sunlight
spread apart the curtain of clouds
that enclosed the city in darkness;
suffused sunbeams cast rays
upon the warm waters of the bay,
where an oil tanker glides slowly
over the mirror-smooth surface,
winding its way
to a finger of a pier jutting
out from the rocky shore.
Up here, on a hill far above
the awakening city, a hawk
slips by on an updraft
and mourning doves coo,
silencing the tree frogs and geckos
who cloaked the night with their croaking
cacophonous clamor.
When the cooing halts, I can hear
the gentle whisper of the wind
caressing the jungle foliage of our hillside retreat.
Directly below, no one invades the
calm of the dew-covered golf course,
its luscious greens pale compared to the riot of
the hundred shades of green
of the jungle and the sugar cane
and tea fields that blanket
the land leading to the bay.
Yellow hibiscus flowers open
and bid “Ohaiyo gozaimasu,
genki desu ka?”

Ah, it’s morning at the Cabin Serendip
and all is “genki desu.”

By David Allen

aprilnote_front

ABANDON ALL HOPE

“Hope springs eternal,” now there’s a lie
I’ve seen the infernal work of the pedophile
sadist, the lifeless little girl carefully posed
naked in a rain-swollen ditch,
legs spread, teeth marks on thighs,
satanic signs carved into prepubescent breasts.

I wrote the news stories
that ruined your meals.

They should post large notices
at the entrances of all maternity wards
and the foot of every birthing bed:
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
This world you inherit is the most horrible,
most horrific of all of Dante’s rings of hell.

By David Allen

528977_10151970890220527_628038011_n

(god) DAMMIT

Sitting here
Drinking coffee,
Scarfing down
A cheese Danish,
Waiting for the atheists
To arrive.
A movie night
With the Okinawa
Freethought Society,
Gonna watch a flick
About how religion’s
“The Root of All Evil,”
By Richard Dawkins.
But it’s already 8 p.m.
And no one’s
Showed up yet.
Goddamit!
Where the hell
Are they?

HACAT_V44

Haymymarket section_header

THE PROVOCATEUR AND THE ANARCHIST
(Haymarket Riot 1886)

Gotta admit
it worked like a charm.
Look at those four men up there,
dressed in white robes on the gallows stage.
Anarchist scum will think twice now
about holding their protests in Chicago.

Well, it’s almost time.
The trial’s over and, even though
I was at home playing cards when the bomb
turned Haymarket into a slaughter house,
They came for me any way.
Doesn’t matter, I’m proud
to fight and die for the working man.

The money was good,
but I would have thrown
the bomb for nothing.
That foreign America-hating
scum has no business striking
our slaughterhouses and mills.
Forty hour weeks? Lazy bums.
If you don’t like the work conditions, quit.

Hanging us won’t stop the movement.
We will succeed in getting decent hours and pay.
Sure, we anarchists advocated roughing up scabs,
but we don’t sanction killing, not like the cops.
Ah, I see the hoods for our heads, it’s coming soon,
the curtain’s about to be drawn.

I’m sorry some cops got killed,
but, hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes.
Broke the spirit of the strikers though.
Gave us the excuse to round up the radicals.
Ah, last words. Won’t be long now.

I’m glad the paper spelled my name right
and reported I asked the governor for no pardon.
Last words? Sure. “Today is a great day.
I am proud to die.”

What’d he say?
Damn foreigners don’t even speak English.
Whoa! Look at ‘em drop. See the legs kick.
It all worked out in the end.

By David Allen

Old Schoolhouse 1

DRIVING AIMLESSLY
By David Allen

I’m driving around
Aimlessly trying to drown
My inner tears.
It’s what I do
Instead of drinking
The pain away.

A new hurt
Came today
From my eldest son,
Who says, “we’re done.”
After almost 31 years,
Most spent in mental combat
To undo the damage done
By his crazy Mom,
She’s finally won.
My son believes all of her lies.

I pass fields of corn
And leaning, faded barns,
Trying to focus
On how he lost his way.

Then, the ruins of a rural
One-room, brick schoolhouse
Causes me to pause.
Of course, I think,
He’s boarded himself in
And, rambling through the rubble
Of a mind tortured by
The psychosis inherited
From his Mom,
He has lashed out
At the one stable
Supporting pillar
In his crumbling life.

I want to turn around,
Speed to his house,
Comfort him,
Help repair the damaged
Walls of his mind;
Unboard the windows
So he can see out.

But I don’t.
I drive on.
I am done, too.

REUNION

Posted: April 10, 2014 in Poetry, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Sailorz 001

PREPARING FOR THE REUNION

This will be strange.
Forty-six years after
Giving my last salute
On the quarterdeck,
I am embarking
On a road cruise
Back to the scene
Of many crimes –
A reunion with shipmates
Far removed from the
Liberty calls of our youth.

What should I pack?
And what should
I leave behind?

Old pictures, for sure;
Salty sailors on the fantail
Sipping coffee,
Sharing the scuttlebutt;
Rum and coke sodden smiles
Grouped around a bottle-laden
Table at the Lucky Seven,
The warm tropical air
Of Old San Juan
Still soothes my soul.

And look, here’s a picture
Of me astride a pony
In a Panama City park,
Taken the same day
During a train ride back
To the ship when one of
Our drunken crew
Showed us how the whore
At some mildewed club
Showed us how to
Smoke a cigarette with her ass
And we pushed him
Into the next car, filled
With officers and
Panamanian locals.

I might also take
The two pieces of my uniform
That survived the years.
The stained white short-sleeved blouse
(we didn’t call the shirts)
I wore on liberty –
A good two sizes too small
For me now –
And the shiny silver ship’s
Belt buckle I still
Wear with my jeans.

But what should I share
About the after-life?

Would they be offended
By my anti-war work?
The 36-year adventure
As a journalist, the last
Nineteen covering
The misdeeds of American
Servicemen on the islands
Of Guam and Okinawa?

I’m not sure.

And maybe I should
Omit the stories of the Glebe,
Communal days in Northern Virginia,
LSD parties in the pasture,
Scaring the cattle and
Daffodil, my goat.
I am sure tales of the broken
Marriage and custody wars,
The frustrated years
Raising preschool kids
On my own, and the joyous
Later times spoiling
Their children, would ring
Familiar bells.

But I wonder what they’d think
Of open mic poetry nights
In the Gate Two Street bars
Outside the sprawling air base
On Okinawa?
(I did write poems back
In the sailing days,
But shared them
With a select few.)

I don’t know,
It’s hard to say how
This reunion will play out.
Will it reunite, rekindle
Old friendships?
Or underline why we
All went our separate,
Different ways,
Once I left the Grey Lady,
Striding down the gangplank,
Seabag over my shoulder,
Smiling as the quarterdeck bell
Rang and the Officer of the Deck
Proclaimed, “David Allen,
Departing.”

By David Allen
February 2014

NOTE: This is a poem I wrote when Last Stanza leader Jenny Anderson Kalahar said we should get ready to resume our biweekly poetry meetings and suggested we write a poem about reunions — since Last Stanza has been on a one-year hiatus, primarily due to my confrontation with cancer. We haven’t set meeting dates yet, but here’s my poem.

Boing 747 London - Bangkok

SOMEWHERE OVER THE PACIFIC

It takes all kinds
crammed into economy class
on this massive 747
hurtling over the Pacific.
Sleep escapes us,
the evening meal and snacks
are devoured,
the feature films
have played out.
Assigned the window seat,
I have already made my two
seatmates stand
for my trips to the head.
And now,
bored,
sleepless,
I turn on the light
to read some Bukowski:

“lovely women walk by
with big hot hips
and warm buttocks and
tight hot everything
praying to be loved
and I don’t even exist.”

The pretty Filipina
sitting next to me,
her petite body comfortably fitting
into the middle seat,
always has a nice smile
when I pass my trash
to the aisle.
She takes note of me turning on
the light and
slips her glasses carefully
out of a leather case
and draws a book
from the seat pocket.
I take a glance,
the Bible;
she turns to Acts 3,4.
I wonder what she’s reading.

The young Japanese man
in the aisle seat
turns on his light
and opens the latest
edition of Popular Science.
He reads about “What’s New.”

We are all stereotypes —
the dirty old man/poet,
the devout Catholic Filipina,
and the science-minded Japanese —
on our way
to someplace else,
coming from
over there.

COMPARING OUR MEDS

Decades ago
We gathered
And compared
Our favorite drugs,
Which pill sent us soaring,
(“One pill makes you larger,”
The Airplane sang),
And which pill made us retarded?
(“And one pill makes you small?”)
Which pills were discarded
Because they didn’t
Do anything at all?
Flash forward to now
Where we find the balding heads
Sitting on Jim’s back porch,
Listening to him play
Old standards on his squeeze box
While we compare the new pills
That thin our blood
And reduce our cholesterol
And keep our hearts –
And our lives –
On a regular beat.

By David Allen