Allan Peterson

Published in Panhandler Issue 2

Allan Peterson’s poems have appeared widely in print and online journals such as Agni, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Green Mountains Review, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, Perihelion, Adirondack Review, Swink, and many others. His books include All the Lavish in Common ( Juniper Prize 2005), Anonymous Or (Defined Providence Prize 200) and four chapbooks. He has received fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, The State of Florida, been nominated eight times for Pushcart prizes and once for Best of the Web. Recent recognitions include Arts & Letters Poetry Prize, The Muriel Craft Bailey Award and The GSU Poetry Prize. His visual art is represented in a number of public and private collections. In 2005, he retired as chair of the Art Department and director of The Switzer Center for Visual Arts at Pensacola Junior College in Florida.

Allan Peterson writes:

Visual art and poetry have been parallel occupations since I was an undergraduate art student at Rhode Island School of Design. Although I have taken no courses and attended no workshops, I pursued poetry on my own because it seemed the intuitive complement to what I was doing in painting and drawing. It could be direct, bone-hard, keen-edged, incantatory, and able to get to the heart of a matter in striking ways. And since both were ways of exploring and expressing things about what it is like to be alive in these bodies, it has always seemed natural and necessary to do them together. They are as close as I can get to the mysteries that lie below both words and pictures. The link between the two is also the similarity of process. A word, a mark, suggests something that suggests something else. The process is compelling, unpredictable, intuitive, and revela- tory. The fascination with that inexhaustible process has never let up. Within poetry as a response to the whole of living, I am also indebted to non-poetic sources like the sciences, history, the flora and fauna of my yard, geography, weather, Jung, De Quincy, D’Arcy Thompson, Birds of America, Grey’s Anatomy, the presocratic philosophers, various unabridged dictionaries, and a myriad of other ancient and current influences too numerous to list. These poems come from an as yet unpublished manuscript titled The Natural World, the first line of which: There is no other, is a flat summation of the reason why I try to pay as much attention as possible.

But Just Because

Many think life is like people
singing in a language they failed in high school,
breaking spontaneously into dance
while outside
a few of the downed leaves pick up
and run in a parody of animals.
will be full of these transformations.
Some of wind. Some light. Some because strings
of the doily spider connect to everything.

A thumb and forefinger touching is OK.
An opportunity wren-sized whose cozy architecture
is everything waiting on the other side.
The orgiastic insect-laden hum of hearts.
The time when a sudden flush has shrew-leaves
and otter-children spinning in a eddy on the deck,
and you feel you might actually honk
this time if you love something,
honk when inadequate, if horny,
if you regret something
you can’t take back or talk about.
But just because
some ivory gulls are passing for nurses
with giveaway feet and the wall mirror is a kind of upright bed
and all of the laundry behind us is visible
and refuses to fold down,
changes nothing, or just because it lets go its images
to remind us to be neat, to stay combed,
in short to be an organ like liver, or the skin containing
the sheet music held up to be read.
It’s no wonder one could be confused
whether the quavers were music or fear.


The commandments
are tenscore ten and all negatives.
New ones are created daily in the plant dish.
In the crumpled wreck of the calendar
(I wadded May yesterday)
Who to blame.

The survivors interviewed
felt they were saved for a purpose.
Evidently it was to stand in front of the grieving families
whose loved ones never left the wreckage
and say how special they must be
in the sight of God

Sometimes C is K
Sometimes X is SH
Sometimes you have the right to remain
to have anything you say held against you
to have the clumsy fingers of a chimp
be pointed out as yours
that your hair grows as if you were swimming
to remind you the nary song of no housing no job
no continuing attention

These are not symmetrical equations but ruins
of feelings one stone tumbled from another.
A line of fedayeen with mirrors
sending a little quivering
light into a pyramid’s
dark grave

The Infinite Daily

Mrs. Guthrie refused to take her suffering cat to the vet
She said if God wanted it
to live it would and if it died horribly as it did later somewhere in Century
her faith was simply not strong enough.
This is only a test.
If this had been a real emergency we would have been directed
to discover her son
the year before was convicted of fire bombing a clinic
for the same God
in hopes an imagined congregation would exalt
such extreme acts
and condone fearful frightful prideful arrogance as acceptable
in the elaborate
true/false believer test they can simplify life to

We come so close
to the infinite daily it lingers not as a test but reminder
the real ideals are lovers
that take time with their kisses and passions
No infinite master
of the universe even in the demand-filled hagiographies
of the blind gospels
is so insecure as to picture the torture of small animals
to test the obedience
of a single alcoholic in a driveway in Florida

What the Usual Has Become

For the misery of the body there are houses,
the same for delight, most happening at home.
The ghosts of both are holding our  attention,
and not with gloomy intonations of the common ruin,
the end of calamities and back spasms,
but so subtle it seems nothing is missing but a few frogs
from our yard to California. By the time we notice,
they are half dead of what the usual has become.

It is a sad thing to see a cow falter with palsy,
sheep from scours, cousin Earl stymied by his name
and aunt Belle feeding him.
Now after amphibians comes word our seahorses
are declining worldwide. They mention it tenderly
—our seahorses— delicate and fragile as if knowing
the males brood offspring
the ocean would be a shrine, seahorse a savior
and we would rush to restore
the toxic waters.

For the mystery of the body
there is relentless arrogance and poor understanding
No wonder nothing comes to us
but what’s afraid to be eaten if it refuses.
If we were to graph trends, the declining corkscrew of belief
like the Devil’s dick would diminish to wood smoke,
the favorite telephone of bloodthirsty deities
that can’t tell a lamb from a forest fire.

All of Our Nightmares

History is layers of relatives,
future the same.
We are standing in the bright light in the Hall of Bones
next to the dark one
of Minerals and Insects, sons of our mother’s sister, our cousins,
father’s brother of native copper
covering one wall, daughter of water seeped between strata,
eggs in eons if that’s a plural.

We are still wearing rings on the finger with no vein to the heart,
though married to them all.
We are sure that all of our nightmares are variations on a theme,
riders astride dark horses,
fingers and toes coming and going light as Air Mail paper.

After lessening the weight of correspondence,
the load of silt in the river is lightened.

Soon we’ll see through it to the middle of the river and its restless fish.
In the middle of the fish is an evident river whose bones are future to the rest.
The long dead not yet missing,
nor the two-ply moon.
We do not awake from this. We repeat it
over and over.
The river writes its name, but it’s such a bad speller.
The process of composure decomposes too.
The asking is the exit,
a long story in one line with meanders.

Cradles of Civilization

The future does not speak our language
Water rises
and falls in the twin sinks like the breathing tides
Babies are everywhere in bulrushes
Wherever we say it is now it is elsewhere
we cannot surmise
This is purposeless which is not to say useless
Where you came from was not an elsewhere
but here from available parts
You will dissolve where you fall

And when the answer comes back from the inner world
on Hua Shan or Delphi
or Sister Madame Zodiac in the trailer on highway 4
Reader and Advisor
it is cryptic and difficult  Yang dragon and Yin phoenix
the spontaneous chatter of all the plastic hangers
in my closet who have shed their bodies to talk
among themselves

We should be ready to find out everything we know
is wrong
sunrise a phosphene something daily pressing the sky
clocks accelerating
enough to one day spin off their arms  We read in the skull
bone the history of needs
each example a long story a room crowded with tapestries
hunting scenes  kings  a cardinal
behind me whose face became sharpened by experience
but not its own
To remember who gave us history follow the money
the greedy the astigmatic
the scared shitless glittering dead from whom all knowledge
has been multiplied then lost