Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Allison Joseph


Inside my tired body
are bones that remember
somersaults and cartwheels
I once turned through air,
twisting in slow motion.
This body remembers hopscotch,
its quick jumps from one foot
to another, agile leaps
executed with precision,
skilled players rarely losing
balance, rarely stepping
on chalk-drawn lines.
This body recalls
the language of playgrounds,
screechy swings creaking
under our weight, strain
in their chains when we
pumped extra hard, standing
on the seats as if
we could launch our bodies
into the air, ready to defy
gravity on our way towards
the clouds. This body
remembers jump rope,
mastering double dutch
on street corners, frantic
legs moving between two
heavy lengths of laundry twine,
afraid to stop for fear
those rough ropes might hit
my legs, bruise skinny ankles.
This body has known
the slippery sidewalks
of a city childhood,
the potholes that punctuate
stretches of rocky blacktop,
games of stickball where
a hydrant became home base,
makeshift basketball courts
with rusty-red hoops.

Deep down, I still know
the rituals of those games,
corners and schoolyards
we played in now given over
to weeds. To move that way again
would be sheer joy, arms and legs
caught up in motion, body
darting behind street lamps,
phone booths, climbing
barbed wire fences to claim balls
propelled by mighty swings
from broken broom handles.
To move that way again,
I'd have to forget the limits
of these bones, throw myself
into skipping, running, jumping--
all the games I'm too old for now,
too feeble to move as a child would,
too afraid of falling to risk that joy,
that pleasure in sudden movement.



Do I really want it back,
that pen for chipped
furniture, my room the last
stop for the peeling bureau,
the sagging mattresses
my grandmother once slept on?
Do I want to re-live
that shedding green carpet,
my unsteady desk with its
wobbly wooden chair,
the room cold no matter
the season, so clammy
no space heater could
warm it fully? I sat
in that room, engrossed
in library books, afraid
my father might find
my overdue copy of Fear of Flying,
that I read fitfully in the almost-dark,
astonished over its sex scenes.
Or I pecked at my stolid gray Royal,
striking stiff keys one at a time,
fingers hesitant on the heavy
machine, pressing out poems.
I taught myself new words
from someone's set of vocabulary
records, knitted long scarves
only to rip them apart.
Who wants to know that self
too timid to live beyond books,
too restless to make anything
enduring from yarn, words?
Do I really have to welcome
that girl back, the one
who loved transistor radios,
crochet hooks, who hoarded
pennies in a ripped purse?
I don't want her back
but she's here anyway:
gangly, ashamed,
disobedient daughter
who never seems to leave
her room, sneaking out
only when necessary,
leaving her dinner untouched,
sink of dishes unwashed.


Little Rascals

At ten I only thought of them as cute,
not a metaphor for race relations
or gender dynamics, just resourceful kids
intimate with junkyards, scrap heaps,
full of Busby Berkeley ambitions:
Alfalfa with his strangled singing
and stray cowlick, Spanky with his
fat waddling rear and quick mind,
Buckwheat, whose wild hair never
knew a comb, that mute cherub Porky,
all of them charter members
of the He-Man Woman Haters' Club,
as if they even knew what a woman
was like--how one walked, talked,
smelled. Of course, they had Miss Crabtree,
perfect blond teacher with perfect teeth,
manners, pursued by some stupid beau
the kids just had to foil before
the atrocity of marriage took place.
But I prefer the Rascals no longer
talked about: Mary and Wheezer,
two kids clearly caught
in the fist of the Depression,
Stymie, who pondered life under
a bowler almost as large as he,
Waldo, the scheming nerd
who always wanted to steal Darla
from Alfalfa, Darla herself,
with her sassy song numbers,
snappy comebacks. She
was the real talent, crooning
"I'm In the Mood for Love" better
than Alfalfa ever could, with
seemingly more knowledge
of the future, about what could happen
once the cuteness wore off, the checks
stopped coming. I don't have to tell you
that Alfalfa died tragically,
but it does seem relevant
that not too long ago some man
claimed to be Buckwheat,
though the real actor
had died years before.
Maybe that's what we all want,
one shot at fame, a chance
to be remembered as superior,
greater than our ordinary selves,
our performances captured on film
so that generations to come
could exclaim over how darling
we were, how poised, how young.