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Today's poem is by Dick Allen

As If I Wasn't There

True talent, what is that, we wondered
most of our lives. And is talent enough?
Are those with talent satisfied with talent,
or do they want more? The odd brushstroke,
the errant note, the word gone so far astray
all that's left of it is a shadow.
And if you can cut a straight line
day after day, week after week, month after month
as those Polish-American ladies in the far-off fabric shop
with their wonderful accents up and down the scales,
is that true talent or just skill? Little dramas
everywhere, in every shop and house. We move
in and out of everyone's dreams—the world
a forest of stories, every one of them
branched into each other. In 1966,
I drove dark empty roads from Michigan to Ohio
all one afternoon, radio off, not knowing
scores of tornados were coming down around me. In 2003,
I saw an albino squirrel. Yesterday,
someone called the house and asked for falling leaves,
or it sounded like that, and then hung up.
When she was a child, Madeleine L'Engel
could float down the winding stairs of her grandmother's beach cottage
without touching one, she said, bur then at 14,
she thought about it and her talent left her.
In the sweet by and by. "Good, but not great"
is the judgment given to artist after artist
in the new book I'm reading. "Too derivative."
"Unable to make of all he learned from others,
a new construct"
The man we bought this house from claimed he was
"the world's best carpenter," and he was splendid,
yet thirty years of living with his handiwork,
and we know all his flaws. Numerous.
Like everyone else's. Here are some of my talents:
The ability to whistle constantly off key.
Building houses of cards.
Walking into swamps and walking out.
And I'm also good at arranging things on mantelpieces,
eating humble pie,
and wriggling through cracks in conversations,
but I can't sustain whimsy long. Depression
suddenly comes upon me and I can't
do anything but watch a bedside clock's digital numbers
flow onto the next—fear, anger, jealousy
having taken my mind. Killing me softly with their song.
True talent
is delightful, delicious, impressive, exacting,
we said. It does the job wonderfully.
It impresses the hell out of others. It makes us laugh,
cry, vow to learn the fiddle, jump rope,
chop down trees. You can live with it a long time.
Still, at its end, it's as if a train tracks
abruptly stopped and there's a canyon. And only
something else can reach the other side.
What is it? What is it?
An act of Faith? Sheer terror! ... Always
during this debate we drop off for coffee
at a little place we know among the pines,
checkerboard tablecloths, fresh cut flowers
in green Coca-Cola bottle vases on each table,
and every view from every window fine,
the coffee excellent, no more, no less.
There, we speak of this and that,
neither driven nor obsessed, and living
good lives,
we lived such good lives,
we did so little harm
while trains flashed by and lightning rent the sky.



Copyright © 2007 Dick Allen All rights reserved
from Burnside Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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