May 2003

Gilbert Allen


Gilbert Allen Gilbert Allen was born in Rockville Centre, New York, and grew up on Long Island. Since 1977, he and his wife Barbara have lived in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. The Orchises Press published his fourth collection of poems, Driving to Distraction, in January 2003.


Porgy and Bess, Third-Grade Chorus, 1959

They put on their headrags
at home, humming till burnt cork
(left over from Halloween) spread
from their mothers' long fingers, surrounded
their lips.  Then it was safe
once again to open their mouths
and sing I got plenty....
No mule!  Twenty
Mule Team Borax!  Misery?
A word wagging its tail, under the dinner table,
where they'd fed it whatever
they never wanted.

No rug on this floor!
Wall-to-wall carpet.
And more bagels than locks
in their neighborhood, that's
the way to be, kids drifting
into one another's houses
at the first scent
Saturday mornings.

No cars of their own, not yet.
That evening, they sat in back
and rode the train of Good
'N' Plenty, these eight-year-old commuters,
without newspapers, shaking the candy box
until the school they'd never seen
glowing was born again through the windshield,

a new galaxy with a parking lot.
And, as they left those hubcapped
finned rockets, as they dropped
from their parents' hands to run
for the risers waiting inside,
they didn't have to look up, they were
the stars in the Long Island sky, all prized,
all free.



American Translation    

                    What is the sound
              of one hand clapping?

The question follows him
into biofeedback, months
of manual training, until
with a single
snap of the wrist, he can produce
the requisite applause, like Superman
at a gay rights parade.

Now he does it whenever
he goes to lectures
on Kryptonite or Chaos Theory—
with his arms spread wide over the seats
alongside him—
beautiful as a hummingbird
slam-dunging the sidewalk.

Sometimes people even mistake him
for a poet
with only one name.





Gilbert Allen: Poetry
Copyright 2003 The Cortland Review Issue 23The Cortland Review