The Tower Journal

Allison Joseph



Encyclopedias

Ripe with information, we once were
the center of everyone’s living rooms,
proudly shelved to show the world

how smart each family was,
so many volumes spanning
countries, worlds, universes.

Every mother thought us necessary,
bought us on the installment plan,
book by book as a supermarket

promotion. We had our glory
years of solving family arguments
over state capitals and Miss America

winners. Now we’re dumpster
dwellers, library castoffs,
Goodwill and Salvation Army

inmates, or left in basements
to rot and mold, no one caring
if floods leach ink from our pages.

No longer do sons and daughters
pour over us, thinking us book-report
worthy. Our city data and population

charts are out-of-date, we concede,
but our color photos still vibrate
all the spectrum’s hues—images

of planets, moons, galaxies!
Won’t you save us? When you claim
there’s no room in your house

for us, you’re saying there’s no room
in your life for knowledge. Keep
your ignorance. Someone, somewhere

will love us, want to turn our pages,
because we know so much more
than any of you can remember.




That Poem You Wrote

Sprawled in the back
of some shady sedan,
that poem you wrote
is dating someone else,

stray syllables spread
all over that leather
interior, loose phrases
lounging untethered,

naked, bursting to be
anyone’s but yours.
That poem you wrote
wants a refund, rebate,

a return to its previous form
where you doted on every
line, proudly clucking
on its beauty, its curvaceous

lineation. That was before
you hacked its heart
and called it revision,
before you slashed and cut

instead of gently shaping
and cooing. Your poem
slipped out while you slept
slack-mouthed, not suspecting

that what your words wanted
was the easy hook-up,
backseat groping. The only
way to make your poem

come crawling back, sad-eyed
and sorry for having left—
is to write a new poem,
a brand-new darling

bodacious with metaphor
and meaning, brimming
with beauty, a poem so
brilliant your old poem

will run back to stand outside
your door in the rain, bawling
for the comfort of your familiar
pen, your haughty headspace.




To Lyric Poetry

You mercury-slippery river
of reason, you blithe and bitter
heat under my bedclothes.

I’m stuck over in the tundra
of consequence and plot,
thumbing through old

newspapers for the truth,
fingers sticky with flop
sweat and chip dust.

But I am persuaded
by your nervous elegance,
your lean lines, your staccato

brevity pinging the shaky
heart I claim as mine.
I want to live inside your

vertigo, spinning and
spinning until I fall
at your feet, unspooling

all my ignorance
and grit. But I fear
the feeling of no

net below, suspended
in a harness always
threatening to give way.



Last night, at the filthy casino,

under the clatter of neon and the unrelenting
din of fake coins rattling my slot machine,
I felt the leathery hands of a man older
than my dead father slide across my back,

fingers taut on my bra’s clasp as he stopped
to pluck that second skin. Startled, I turned
to see his eyes swimming in a dark red
haze of booze or bad luck or both. I should

have smacked his hand, repulsed, should
have called for security except there’s not
much security in a casino where gamblers trip
over lost weave hair and spent cartridges

in the parking lot. Fedora over wrinkled
forehead, he grins at me, says let me
take you home—this is no place for
a woman like you,
hand down on my

hip now, ready to steer me clear
of the aisles and worthless poker
chips, the bullets on the sidewalk.
I tell him no, and turn back

to my penny game of loss and gain,
knowing this casino will blacken my lungs
with each breath and liking it, know
I dare to lose as much as I possibly can.



Long After Rydell High, Sandy Takes Her Twins to Summer Camp

Today I’m an SUV filled
with girly pink suitcases
and plump sleeping bags,
Hello Kitty sweatpants
and snap bracelets.
My twins, dark-haired divas,
prattle on in their back-seat thrones,
prissy twelve-year olds who can’t
resist screeching aloud at anything,
everything—tugging my I-Pad
from each other, squealing
give it back! when it belongs
to neither of them.
While I wrangle this beast
down the highway to their
overpriced sleep-a-way camp,
I marvel at what I’ve become:
single mother to Danny Zuko’s
prettiest mistakes, postmodern widow
after his prison stint, head-on
motorcycle crash.
I mourned, I wept, I put away
my black leather pants
and red fuck-me pumps,
covered my bare shoulders
and went to college, made
more money than anyone at Rydell
ever dreamed. No longer a good girl
or a pink lady, I’m mother to these
faces who look like their foolish
father, who want all the things
he did: an easy life of no work,
a fast ride with no consequences.
I try not to hate them, but
all I see are these bullying girls
pushing each other back and forth,
princesses who hiss and preen
just like the girls who tortured me,
laughing at my saddle shoes
and poodle skirts, mocking me
before I became one of them.




Copyright © 2016 Allison Joseph


Allison Joseph lives in Carbondale, Illinois, where she co-directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University. She serves as poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review. Her books include What Keeps Us Here (winner of the Ampersand Press Women Poets Series Prize and the John C. Zacharis Prize),Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon), In Every Seam (Pittsburgh), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon), Worldly Pleasures (winner of the Word Press Poetry Prize) and Voice: Poems (Mayapple Press). Her most recent full-length poetry collection, My Father's Kites, was published in 2010 by Steel Toe Books. Recent published chapbooks include Trace Particles (Backbone Press) and Little Epiphanies (Imaginary Friend Press).​

The Tower Journal
Spring 2016