Allen

Language

Jeffrey Allen

I thought I was born
in the city that old poet
lives in, but all those
stolen Indian names
blend together
into a language that can’t
stop dying. I don’t know
where you were born
or where you are dead,
if it’s under crabgrass
beneath an oak, an ochre
vase on a mantle, or
a dark blue coinpurse
in a plump woman’s
handbag, like how my
aunt carries my grandmother
in a skin of blue flowers.
I think there’s part
of you in an envelope
in a closet, twisted
into an old tangle
of guitar string you
folded into a heart.
I speak a dead language
every single day,
a mass grave that melts
down my chin. They say
this city means pure onion,
but that doesn’t mean
anything.

space break

Lionskin

I mostly need your hands
to put mine where they
can’t go on their own.
Rob skinned the lion
of himself, lining for
your casket. I now
watch his applecore
heart scratch
through his naked chest;
the weakest chick
struggling
in the thinnest egg.
He’s smoky, untouchable,
papercut and dry-knuckled,
and every book on his shelf
has been gutted
to only covers.

For a summer,
you kept him curled
up on your floor,
his broken toes
naked to your mouth,
your eyes. You
would wake him
with shaving cream
and razors, make
him use
your shower. There
were peach pits
in the oven, scratch
marks beneath
the pillow.

It’s only now I see
what his distance means.
He was afraid of your teeth,
the way the grass clung
to your feet, how
heavy your suitcases
were. He’s a leaver
and a level, always first
so he won’t be second,
so terrified of pins
and needles that
he bows to everyone.
He dreams in cushion.

You froze him, so he melted.
You fed him, so he starved.
You wed him every day
until even the sun was tired
of your love.

Sewn to himself, his hands
broke when they reached
for you. He never came north,
because the trip back south
would mean something
cold and moonless,
a winter with leafed trees,
a howl
with no wolf.

As I kept grinding his
name into my heels,
you struck through
where it sat burnt
beneath your breast.
As I was fuelless
yet so stubbornly lit, you
plugged every drain
and flooded all over.
I never slept on him,
not once, not ever,
but you were
always better
at kissing no one
in the dark.
 

JEFFREY ALLEN is the author of two chapbooks, Simple Universal (Bronze Man Books 2007) and bone and diamond (H_NGM_N Books 2013), and holds an MFA from Columbia College Chicago. His poems, reviews, and interviews can be found in or are forthcoming from Another Chicago Magazine, The Bakery, Columbia Poetry Review, Forklift Ohio, Handsome, Pinwheel, RHINO, Sundog Lit, and elsewhere. He serves as the Educational Outreach Coordinator for H_NGM_N Books and Poetry Editor for phantom limb.

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