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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.