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02-04-2019

Allison Joseph

Childhood Ballade

 

Where have they gone, those girls who ran

the dusty urban streets I knew?

We came in every shade: blue-black to tan,

alert to find some mischief to pursue.

We'd run our one-block avenue,

ashy legs caught up in speedy games,

frantic to chase a ball somebody threw.

Where are those girls who used to sing my name?

 

We'd duck behind a car or garbage can,

tripping on the laces of our shoes,

knees crashing into asphalt, the span

from thigh to knee bruised and blue

from falls and skids. We'd unscrew

the caps of hydrants, hair untamed

as we danced in spray, broke that taboo.

Where are those girls who used to chant my name?

 

We'd dig through mud, despite the ban

our mothers yelled at us, the slew

of illnesses we'd get from dirty hands.

Our dirty scabs and scars accrued

but still we picked at skin, planned

more exploits where we'd blame

all damage on bigger kids, their crew.

Where are those girls who used to shout my name?

 

Back then, who cared about a man,

what one could do for us, what claims

a man might make? I miss them, my noisy fans.

Where are those girls who used to know my name?

 

 

O Holy Night

 

My father took a razor to the angel

that floated diaphanous atop our

Christmas tree, lopping its golden hair off

as lights fell from the tree’s fake branches,

shards of colored glass glinting

in the carpet. He thundered about

Christmas–the white man’s holiday–

as I trembled in the hallway,

out of sight, out of his mind.

There would be no singing today,

no hymns with “thee” and “thou”

no praising a great white Father,

who would save us blacks from

our sinful essence, the burden

I could see every time he complained

about being called out of his name,

being made to feel less than a man.

He’d crossed oceans–from Grenada

to England, England to Canada–

crossed borders–Canada to the U.S.–

all for nothing, all to be treated

like nothing. So no white angel

was going to mock him

in his own house, no matter

how much my mother tried

to pin his arms behind his back,

no matter how many angels lurked

above us, their skin pallid white,

their hair sinuous as wisteria.

 

 

Confessions of a Barefaced Woman

 

Befuddled by makeup's odd apparatus,

I feel too strange in it--coated, shellacked,

primped to a version of myself I can't wait

 

to wash off, letting bare skin breathe.

Clumsy with twisted mascara brushes

that look like screws dipped in soot,

 

I fumble to draw lines with brow pencils

that come with miniature sharpeners

whose blades shave each pencil to dangerous

 

points. Lipstick has never felt right--

too waxy and thick, so heavy I'm always tempted

to wipe it off, smear it across my face

 

like a girl caught playing at her mother's

vanity table. Face powder makes me cough

and sneeze, rouge makes me look as if

 

I've slapped my cheeks with big red circles,

a refugee from circus college. Some women

know those secrets of color, precise

 

geometries that entice in russet and bronze,

gold and ruby, deep brooding colors

over lips, under arched brows, on lids.

 

I'll admire their artistry from a distance,

know wrinkles I never learned to mask

will etch their paths across my forehead,

 

around my eyes and mouth,

no second skin for me to wipe away

at day's end, nothing to reveal.

-from Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, Red Hen Press 2018, selected by POW Spring 2019 Guest Editor, Vandana Khanna

PROMPT: According to poets.org, the ballade, "not to be confused with the ballad...contains three main stanzas, each with the same rhyme scheme, plus a shorter concluding stanza, or envoi. All four stanzas have identical final refrain lines. The tone of the ballade was often solemn and formal, with elaborate symbolism and classical references." Write your own ballade about, like Allison Joseph, a time in your life when life was less chaotic. When you start writing, don't worry too much about the for; concern yourself more with finding your voice/tone and locating your primary images. Once you have that, start forming some lines and see what yearns to be repeated. Then start working with the form and see where it takes you. If you'd rather shirk form for free verse, do that; if you find yourself ballade-ing, ballade away, my friends! And, as always, have fun.

BIO: Allison Joseph lives in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review.  Her books and chapbooks include What Keeps Us Here (Ampersand Press), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon University Press), In Every Seam (University of Pittsburgh Press), Worldly Pleasures (Word Tech Communications), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon UP), Voice: Poems (Mayapple Press), My Father's Kites (Steel Toe Books), Trace Particles (Backbone Press), Little Epiphanies (NightBallet Press), Mercurial (Mayapple Press), Mortal Rewards (White Violet Press), Multitudes (Word Poetry), The Purpose of Hands (Glass Lyre Press), Double Identity (Singing Bone Press) Corporal Muse (Sibling Rivalry) and What Once You Loved (Barefoot Muse Press). Her most recent full-length collection, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman was published by Red Hen Press in June 2018. She is the literary partner and wife of poet and editor Jon Tribble.