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Poets of the Monterey Bay

Five Poems by David Allen Sullivan

It Isn’t You

The car shoulders down into the gravel and grates to a stop.
You step down in front of a boarded-up fruit stand to stretch.
Snow surrounds each bent stalk as if it’s been dusted
for prints. In the middle distance there’s a clapboard house
with an aluminum carport added on. A dog’s on the porch,
head on paws, staring down the drive in the opposite direction.

You want this to be your home. The dog to answer
your voice. You want to walk into something fixed and solid.
Somewhere other than where you’re going. You want to work
on the wheel-less chassis up on blocks in the carport. Go on.
The highway’s fence is already sagging, easily jumped.
From there another two hundred yards and you’re home free.

But you shield your eyes from the sun touching the tree line
and turn back to your car. You don’t even see the dog
turn its head as your door shuts and you lock it. Nor do you see
the headlights cresting the ridge and panning over the house.
They’re home, and will soon send smoke twirling skyward.
You turn up the radio. Someone is dying of love and it isn’t you.


Hiking, my living
          daughter’s asleep on my back—
                     weight of two worlds.

Logging road’s snow’s so
          deep I’m slogging past this gnarled
                     pine’s every fissure.

Amina’s head lolls
          so far out I think she sees
                     the deer before me.

I stop. Rapt. My heart
          drums so loud I fear he’ll hear.
                     Plumed breath fogs my eyes.

I’m nothing to him.
          He chews bark—only as wary
                     as he always is.

My girl’s mittened hand
          is written in tracks that cross
                     leaning towards this sight.

The deer’s history
          daughter’s asleep on my back—
                     a sheer drop-off.

He takes that way back.
          Should I wake her? Let her see
                     a deer thread the brink?

Each hoofprint’s smothered—
          I see a baby’s smudged feet—
                     my stillborn daughter.

Mexicans believe
          Angelitos come back as
                     animal spirits—

that a dead child leaves
          claw or hoof marks in strewn flour.
                     Let this deer be her.

Amina’s dusted
          hood, at the edge of my field
                     of vision, rises.

There’s nothing I would
          not do for her—nothing I
                     can but step wisely.

I match my outbound
          strides, re-seeing every tree
                     through snow’s ghostly veil.

When a laden branch
          dlets go, springing up as snow
                     cascades down, she points.

Rhythmically beats
          my cap with each step—a code
                     I’m half mastering.

I would carry twice
          her weight if I could shower
                     them both with this dust.

Stream ice’s thin crust
          gives way, water soaks through boots—
                     cold cracks and shouts out.

Diabetic Downs

Before every meal
          he’d draw blood, fill a syringe,
                     enter his own skin.

It made him careful—
          he knew statistics—every
                     day might be his end.

It made him careless—
          each hour a gift to squander
                     before the last wrap.

Reverence would descend
          at the restaurant. We’d watch
                     the prescribed routines,

the instruments wink
          into view from his black bag
                     so he could trick death.

Only his wife was
          unfazed, her voice, like ether,
                     floating over us.

Bill told me once he’d
          sometimes mis-measure a dose
                     to feel the edge dull,

life’s colors bleed black . . .
          Come to under someone’s shaking,
                     or the bite of a slap.

It was, he said, like
          swimming down past the light to
                     a breathless embrace,

knowing that someday
          the lover you flirted with
                     wouldn’t let you go.


A can of self-defense pepper spray says it may
irritate the eyes, while a bathroom heater says it’s
not to be used in bathrooms. I collect warnings
the way I used to collect philosophy quotes.

Wittgenstein’s There’s no such thing
as clear milk
rubs shoulders with a box
of rat poison which has been found
to cause cancer in laboratory mice.

Levinas’ Language is a battering ram—
a sign that says the very fact of saying,

is as inscrutable as the laser pointer’s advice:
Do not look into laser with remaining eye.

Last week I boxed up the solemn row
of philosophy tomes and carted them down
to the used bookstore. The dolly read:
Not to be used to transport humans.

Did lawyers insist that the 13-inch wheel
on the wheelbarrow proclaim it’s
not intended for highway use? Or that the
Curling iron is for external use only?

Abram says that realists render material
to give the reader the illusion of the ordinary.

What would he make of Shin pads cannot protect
any part of the body they do not cover?

I load boxes of books onto the counter. Flip
to a yellow-highlighted passage in Aristotle:
Whiteness which lasts for a long time is no whiter
than whiteness which lasts only a day.

A.A.’ers talk about the blinding glare
of the obvious: Objects in the mirror
are actually behind you,
Electric cattle prod
only to be used on animals, Warning: Knives are sharp.

What would I have done without: Remove infant
before folding for storage, Do not use hair dryer
while sleeping, Eating pet rocks may lead to broken
teeth, Do not use deodorant intimately?

Goodbye to all those sentences that sought
to puncture the illusory world—like the warning
on the polyester Halloween outfit for my son:
Batman costume will not enable you to fly.

Permission Granted

You do not have to choose the bruised peach
or misshapen pepper others pass over.
You don’t have to bury
your grandmother’s keys underneath
her camellia bush as the will states.

You don’t need to write a poem about
your grandfather coughing up his lung
into that plastic tube—the machine’s wheezing
almost masking the kvetching sisters
in their Brooklyn kitchen.

You can let the crows amaze your son
without your translation of their cries.
You can lie so long under this
summer shower your imprint
will be left when you rise.

You can be stupid and simple as a heifer.
Cook plum and apple turnovers in the nude.
Revel in the flight of birds without
dreaming of flight. Remember the taste of
raw dough in your mouth as you edged a pie.

Feel the skin on things vibrate. Attune
yourself. Close your eyes. Hum.
Each beat of the world’s pulse demands
only that you feel it. No thoughts.
Just the single syllable: Yes . . .

See the homeless woman following
the tunings of a dead composer?
She closes her eyes and sways
with the subways. Follow her down,
inside, where the singing resides.

Copyright 2008