The Beginning, A Photograph of Rome

“Tell me about
your Italian journey
I am not ashamed
I wept in that country
beauty touched me
I was a child once more
in the womb of that country
I wept
I am not ashamed
I have tried to return to paradise”
― Tadeusz Różewicz, They Came to See a Poet: Selected Poems

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A Tall Ship, Photograph

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over”
– John Masefield

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Essence, A Poem

Essence

She kept with her a spoon
locked behind her brain
with a string that led to her heart.
And while her lover slept
or held her close,
she delicately, carefully
scooped out his core.
Holding it in her hands
as if she were a scientist, 
she examined every perfection
and imperfection.
Until proudly, like a child
presenting a 
gift to a secret crush,
she held it out for him to examine with her.
Angrily, he grabbed his core back from her
and swallowed his essence
before anyone noticed his nakedness.
It’s sweetness turned bitter, sour
and tasted of fear and doubt.
Gagging, he forced it back down
as it threatened to reveal itself once again.
Rejected, she retreated to the oasis
inside of her head

where she waited for her same
who owned a spoon attached to a string
to his heart.

by Jennifer Allison

Dream Jennifer Allison

Earth with Robert Francis

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I follow Plato only with my mind
Pure beauty strikes me as a little thin
A little cold, however beautiful.

I am in love with what is mixed and impure
Doubtful, dark and hard to disencumber
I want beauty I must dig for, search for.

Pure beauty is beginning and not end
Begin with the sun and drop from sun to cloud
From cloud to tree, and from tree to earth itself

And deeper yet to the earth dark root.
I am in love with what resists my loving
With what I have to labor to make live.
– Robert Francis

Moment, A Photograph of Thought

This is what I have.
The dull hangover of waiting,
the blush of my heart on the damp grass,
the flower-faced moon.
A gull broods on the shore
where a moment ago there were two.
Softly my right hand fondles my left hand
as though it were you. 
-Mary Oliver

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Free, A Photograph and Poem

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We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

– Maya Angelou

 

Lunar Moon Mood, A Painting and Poem with Robert Creeley

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A Form of Women
by Robert Creeley

I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me from through the open door

and have walked tonight
by myself
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees

and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.

My face is my own, I thought.
But you have seen it
turn into a thousand years.
I watched you cry.

I could not touch you.
I wanted very much to
touch you
but could not.

If it is dark
when this is given to you,
have care for its content
when the moon shines.

My face is my own.
My hands are my own.
My mouth is my own
but I am not.

Moon, moon,
when you leave me alone
all the darkness is
an utter blackness,

a pit of fear,
a stench,
hands unreasonable
never to touch.

But I love you.
Do you love me.
What to say
when you see me.

Still, A Watercolor with Pablo Neruda

“Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.”
– Pablo Neruda
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The American | In Italia: Living: Lost in Translation: The Deep End, A Prose Poem

Below you will find a link to my column Lost in Translation and my most recent piece, “The Deep End” which is not a typical article, but more-so a prose poem. Anyone who knows me, knows that poetry is near and dear to my heart. Although the magazine does not typically publish poems, this particular prose was allowed – this one time.

http://www.theamericanmag.com/article.php?article=4326
Couple Holding Hands Underwater

By Jennifer Allison
Published: 2014-07-10
Standing by the side of the pool I felt the raindrops on my shoulders. Beyond the palm trees and jagged rocks, the Pacific Ocean remained still. It was far too early in the morning for anyone to be out and about. Eyes open, I dove into the warm saltwater pool, heading straight for the bottom.

As a child, my swimming teacher lectured me on the need to learn to swim on the surface, not just under water. I tried in earnest, but as soon as I’d let out my breath, my small body would sink. I’m dense. The deep end became my home. Sometimes I’d let my belly rest on the bottom. Floating was and remains difficult. To stay buoyant, I have to arch my back to let my chest expand. My legs often dangle beneath me.

I swam along the bottom of the pool, kicking off it for propulsion, imagining myself as a dolphin torpedoing upward. I came to rest on the surface, my upper body floating, my hair extending half the length of my arms, which remained spread. As I tried to float, my back arched and my legs dangling as always, I thought about a simple but significant question my younger son had asked me a few days before.

“Do you think you’ll ever marry again, Mom?”

Everyone I know, or so it seems, is divorcing and remarrying, sometimes doing both within months. My son is sensitive. When it comes to me, he doesn’t like not being in the know.

I wanted to remarry, I had told him honestly. It just wasn’t that easy. Dates were easy. Romance was easy. But finding someone who complimented me and I them, well, that was harder.

As I considered this, I let myself sink to the bottom again. There, peering up through the water at the sunrise above, the rain gone, I held my breath as long as I could before again shooting back to the surface, all the while pondering my own marriage, my past relationships, and the deep end below me.

I’ve had only a handful of significant relationships in my life — four to be precise. Metaphorically, I started comparing them to my lifetime of swimming.

For years I was married to a man who was an All-American in every sense. We spent almost all our time with our heads jointly above water, feet firmly planted on the ground, never letting anything become too uncomfortable or run too deep. We remain good friends who care for each other. Even now, as co-parents, we keep our heads well above the surface.

I also thought about the German man I became involved with, and loved, for four months. He and I had stood on the different sides of the pool, smiled at each other, and decided to dive in head first, destination deep end. But while I continued exploring the pool’s far ends, he lost his breath. Gasping for air, he retreated to the shallow side where his friends awaited and comfort was assured. I knew he still longed for the deep. I also knew he didn’t have the lung capacity to truly explore it. I climbed out the opposite end of the pool.

My relationship with the Canadian was all in fun. He didn’t swim but appreciated that I did. During the week I’d dive as deep as I could, resurfacing on weekends, when he’d have a glass of Dom Perignon and vacation plans waiting. After exactly a year I realized I no longer wanted to step out of the water. He took his cocktail party elsewhere and, still poolside, is happy as a clam.

The Italian I met while navigating the deepest parts of the pool. He took my hand and for the first time in my life I felt like I’d found someone who swam like me. We held our breath for three years, exploring, discussing, debating and loving. But whenever we had to leave the water to gather food, our hands apart for a while to cope with life on land, we’d fall apart. Neither of us knew how to survive together outside the deep end of the pool. One day we stepped out of the water together, both frustrated that we had to, and couldn’t find our way back.

My watery metaphor was suddenly interrupted by outside conversation. A man jumped into the pool and water sloshed over my face. I did what I always do. I let my breath out, sank, retreated to the deep end, and swam along the bottom. Until I found the stairs and left the water behind.

Upon the Shore, A Photograph with Yeats

That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling
She knew not where,

Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea

― W.B. Yeats

The Shore Girl

Shadows Deep, A Photograph of Books

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
– W.B Yeats

Vintage Books, Tacoma WA

Vintage Books, Tacoma WA

Little by Little, A Photograph

Another Land, Jennifer Allison

Little by Little, Jennifer Allison


“Well, now

If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you
Little by little
If suddenly you forget me
Do not look for me
For I shall already have forgotten you

If you think it long and mad the wind of banners that passes through my life
And you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots
Remember
That on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off to seek another land”

― Pablo Neruda

Sleep, A Watercolor

“When you go,
if you go,
And I should want to die,
there’s nothing I’d be saved by
more than the time
you fell asleep in my arms
in a trust so gentle
I let the darkening room
drink up the evening, till
rest, or the new rain
lightly roused you awake.
I asked if you heard the rain in your dream
and half dreaming still you only said, I love you.”
– Edwin Morgan, Selected Poems

Sleep, Jennifer Allison

Sleep, Jennifer Allison

 

Still Face, Photograghs

“For your sake, I hurry over land and water;
For your sake, I cross the desert and split the mountain in two,
And I turn my face from all things,
Until the time I reach the place
Where I am alone with you.”
– Al Hallaj

I took these photographs while visiting Joshua Tree National Park this past weekend …. A still and peaceful place

Tree, Jennifer Allison

Tree, Jennifer Allison

Joshua, Jennifer Allison

Joshua, Jennifer Allison

Alone, Jennifer Allison

Alone, Jennifer Allison

Adam and Eve, A Poem by Tony Hoagland

I was given the book Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland as a gift.  I’ve read each poem many times over and although the book is male centered, I enjoyed every one.  He’s a bit raw in his words, but I find the raw-ness very real.  This is my book of poems recommendation as of late.  This poem, Adam and Eve, one of my favorites poems of all time, has had me pondering his questions deep into many a night.

Adam and Eve

I wanted to punch her right in the mouth and that’s the truth.

After all, we had gotten from the station of the flickering glances
to the station of the hungry mouths,
from the shoreline of skirts and faded jeans
to the ocean of unencumbered skin,
from the perilous mountaintop of the apartment steps
to the sanctified valley of the bed–

the candle fluttering upon the dresser top, its little yellow blade
sending up its whiff of waxy smoke,
and I could smell her readiness
like a dank cloud above a field,

when at the crucial moment, the all-important moment,
the moment standing at attention,
she held her milk white hand agitatedly
over the entrance to her body and said No,
and my brain burst into flame.

If I couldn’t sink myself in her like a dark spur
or dissolve into her like a clod thrown in a river,
can I go all the way in the saying, and say
I wanted to punch her right in the face?
Am I allowed to say that,
that I wanted to punch her right in her soft face?

Or is the saying just another instance of rapaciousness,
just another way of doing what I wanted then,
by saying it?

Is a man just an animal, and is a woman not an animal?
Is the name of the animal power?
Is it true that the man wishes to see the woman
hurt with her own pleasure

and the woman wishes to see the expression on the man’s face
of someone falling from great height,
that the woman thrills with the power of her weakness
and the man is astonished by the weakness of his power?

Is the sexual chase a hunt where the animal inside
drags the human down
into a jungle made of vowels,
hormonal undergrowth of sweat and hair,

or is this an obsolete idea
lodged like a fossil
in the brain of the ape
who lives inside the man?

Can the fossil be surgically removed
or dissolved, or redesigned
so the man can be a human being, like a woman?

Does the woman see the man as a house
where she might live in safety,
and does the man see the woman as a door
through which he might escape
the hated prison of himself,

and when the door is locked,
does he hate the door instead?
Does he learn to hate all doors?

I’ve seen rain turn into snow then back to rain,
and I’ve seen making love turn into fucking
then back to making love,
and no one covered up their faces out of shame,
no one rose and walked into the lonely maw of night.

But where was there, in fact, to go?
Are some things better left unsaid?
Shall I tell you her name?
Can I say it again,
that I wanted to punch her right in the face?

Until we say the truth, there can be no tenderness.
As long as there is desire, we will not be safe.

-Tony Hoagland

Earth Poetry, Photographs

Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky,
We fell them down and turn them into paper,
That we may record our emptiness.

Kahil Gibran

I am an advocate of many things –  of the arts, of humans, of trees, of philosophy, of poetry and literature, of interaction, of expression and of love.  A man whose words have always touched me deeply were those of the Lebanese-American Kahil Gibran.  If I could bring anyone back for an evening of conversation over a meal, it would be him.  I’d like that – to sit in an olive grove with Mr. Gibran and just listen…

Olive trees, as you may have read in my past posts, hold an allure for me.  I like that their gnarly trunks make this bold statement of, “I am here and have been for many years and will continue to do so,”  while their dainty silver-like leaves seem to be fickle in their presence..almost blending in to the sky behind them…

Religion, A Photograph

“I have been astonished that men could die martyrs
for their religion–
I have shuddered at it,
I shudder no more.
I could be martyred for my religion.
Love is my religion
and I could die for that.
I could die for you.”
– John Keats

Religion, Jennifer Allison

Tree, A Poem

I do not remain to judge
I simply remain to be
A tree
Who trims her branches
of the heavy rotted fruit
of her past

A limb which sags lifeless
bearing an ignoble Roman
and his secret lover’s
letter of apology;
embarrassed at her
eating the bitter fruits off my tree
for so long concealed.

A limb of a childhood crush
who write letters
lamenting the lost chance
of the eating of my fruit
many many years past
while he eats the fruit of another
he calls “wife”

A limb dense with
a desperate women
who clings to my branches
calling herself “friend”
hoping I will feed her
while she gorges
on the fruits of many
trees around the world.

A limb which drags heavy
of fruit fermented in
past insecurities and
Ignorance
Finally free with
the passing of the storm
called experience

I trim these dead limbs
and with a bright smile
carved into my trunk
I can now move about
to paint my branches,
grow a sweet
yet discerning fruit
and celebrate freedom

by Jennifer Allison

Ode to Daphne

“I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of all things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction. Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a sacrifice on their alters.”
Ayn Rand

Daphne, Hermes and The Storm of Lake Garda,  “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”― Rumi  – Jennifer Allison, graphite

 

Sixteen Men

My father is a poet.  He’s also a man I respect greatly and an interesting soul.  I was raised in a strict Irish/Italian Catholic AND military household.  Although, for all of our rules, it was my father who first introduced me to meditation when I was a teenager, and when he saw that I wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid of the church, he and my mother suggested I read up on different religions as to explore all options.  They are good people and I am blessed.

He sent this poem to me yesterday

Sixteen Men
by Thomas

Sixteen men
Loved sixteen women
On sixteen nights in June

Fifteen of them
Went off to war
One drummed a different tune

Fourteen women
Cried lonely tears
Only thirteen slept that night

Twelve bullets
Whistled through the air
Eleven bodies stopped the flight

Ten men fell
Onto the ground
Only nine arose

Eight women
Felt their hearts pulled
Then seven felt repose

Six men stayed
To fight the fight
Five wanted to go home

Four women found
New lovers then
Three women felt alone

Two soldiers fell
For the last time
One drummed a different tune

A Poem by Stanley Kunitz

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Key, A Poem

I once had a key
to a door with layers of white paint
covering the old
walls and hardwood floors
windows that overlooked windows
with Buddha paintings staring at me
and a hard Ikea bed
next to cheap night-lights
with bulbs that burned
on tiny glass tables
which held my water
and hairbands
so I wouldn’t strangle myself
while I slept
until I woke to snoring
beside me
to neighbors talking
and me in the little bathroom
which housed Rogaine for men
and hair dryers
that were left on
so as to warm the room
and dry dried hair
that used to be thick and wavy
that would fall out anyway
because beauty
doesn’t care about hair
or words
that injure
compliments on my body
but never my mind
giggles that would fill the air
while falling on the hard Ikea bed
bought on sale
along with cheap bookshelves
filled with books
most of which never to be read
while pictures in frames
would watch from shelves
which smelled like the old books
and morning breath smells
soup smells
rotting vegetable smells
cologne smells
sex smells
hallway smells
computer smells
of lies
of photographs
and profiles promising more love
more sex
better lives
with copies of keys
being passed around
in the night
at the office
at the coffee shop
while my key slid
under the door
with layers of white paint
covering the old

Jennifer Allison

Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Lion Dogs – A Memoir

1976, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. My lion and I skating..

My son recently read C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Discussing the book with him reminded me of my own childhood.  I was one of those kids that didn’t need a ton of toys or games (besides my bike.)  My imagination, much like it is today, kept me entertained completely.

When I was a child I had my own Lion, my own Wardrobe and even a Witch.  My Lions name wasn’t  Aslan, but Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe looked like a collie dog with a golden mane, long snout, warm eyes and a protective stance, but to me he was a real life lion.  I would make him sit patiently while I bandaged his pretend wounds and lectured him on treating his friend, namely my nasty cat Sabrina, so rudely.  He would apologize to me with his eyes – trying to explain what had happened, while I would hold Sabrina up to his face so he could apologize to her as well.  He wouldn’t even flinch when she would smack him, claws out, hissing.  Lions are like that; very regal and stoic.

My Wardrobe was the back door of my townhouse on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Outside of my house was thick woods that literally held hundreds of paths leading to the Potomac River.  Depending on the time of year the woods were either dark with a heavy leaf canopy, or bright, airy and cold with colored leaves carpeting the ground.  Sometimes, the blanket of snow was so deep the woods appear to partially disappear and when the river would freeze, my lion and I would ice-skate.  He would pad on the ice, slipping and falling and eventually head back to the edge and roar at me.

Ivanhoe and I would spend hours and hours exploring the woods, hunting for salamanders, rescuing birds that Sabrina had tortured, hiding under fallen trees and even spying on my brother and sister and friends.  We had special powers that made us invisible, so spying was no problem.  On the occasion our invisibility powers were weak and we were caught, we would use our super human speed and run home – me in the lead and Ivanhoe right on my tail.  We’d rest and eat and then be off again to the woods of Narnia.

Our Narnia had a Witch too.  I never saw her, although I would feel her around us occasionally.  My brother told me that there was no witch, but spirits of dead soldiers walking the woods and that people had been known to see them near “Dead-Man’s cliff.”  He and his friends would hunt for old war relics and tell scary stories.  The Queen, my mother, wouldn’t allow my lion and I to go to “the cliff” and said I was too young and it was too dangerous.  I went anyway of course, as I wasn’t fond of listening and knew my lion would protect me.  I never saw the dead soldier ghosts walking in the woods or standing at “Dead-Man’s cliff” so I never believed in them.  I didn’t have to see the Witch to know she existed.  She was always the one to whisper to me to break the rules and explore anyway…..

I lived on Fort Belvoir for only three years. My Lion, my Narnia, my Wardrobe and even my Witch gave me some of the most memorable days of my childhood.  I can still feel Ivanhoe’s mane, smell the forest floor of the woods surrounding the Potomac River, visualize the backdoor of my townhouse looking out at the woods and occasionally – my Witch still whispers to me……

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
-Shel Silverstein

Temporarily

While strolling downtown San Diego today on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I happened to find myself behind a couple about my own age.  They didn’t hold hands or talk much – Instead they held their phones in their hands and ignored one another – their butterflies long gone. Although I wrote the poem with them in mind, it has many meanings….

Temporarily
by Jennifer Allison 

They escaped slowly –
somewhat methodically.
So slowly, I felt
each last weak flutter
disappear.

Stomach in knots.
Feelings escaping with them.
Stillness in their place.
While they flew
free.

To house themselves
inside of someone else –
temporarily.

Before flying home to
enter once more 
through my breath 
as it’s being taken
away.

Again they’ll flutter.
Feelings arriving with them.
While I smile
at the mere thought of their
return.

Until they leave again
to house in another –
temporarily. 

San Diego Train – Empty