People Don’t Know What We Mean When We Say “Us”

Will it be you, first?
Will someone else trim your fingernails—still

growing—while I sit in a black dress,
in a wicker chair? Will my head bend

or drop, heavy with the dim bulk of your body?
Wicker seems too temporary (everything will be

wrong then), its thin flutes suited to the mouth of a zoo
panda or a white porch painted over and over

and over until the dark spaces between the planks
clot, then swell. For a while. Wood gives too.

The animal under the deck has been scratching
again. Soon it will slip into the wall, and who will I tell

if not you? Or will we continue to talk as we do, one voice
questioning, the other quiet, an unwound clock? Minutes,

once spent, harden.

                                  The first time the young surgeon pulls
something from a heart he lies

in the zone, a wet field, standard-issue
boots inquiring of the ground a notch

hollow enough for slow breathing. He believes
he can fix the beat of a song only you

and I hear. Bass blasts from behind
a cloud, from the earth itself—his eyes

closed now—one finger sweeping the sweet warm muscle
for metal, another pressing the soldier’s throat.


Rush On, These Cows Aren’t Dancing

Wet pressure               music, what a
steamy boot-
            to-floor tune. 
                        walls shiver, the
            candle can’t
quiet her
                        wick—too much
            field air leaking
            young fingers
                        snapping—      the band— 


Not a single penny
                                    to prop the door and
            we girls are full out
            Wicked and racing and
                        miming sleep, we hatch
            ask the grape   vines to braid us
                          in           and
                                    sprawl.  We
with our faces pressed
            to pondwater               kissing, the
                                    tuck our arms
            in, nervous to flip
                        on the thick needlebeds. 


A tinkling                    refrain—the storm
            bursts in
the pines:         rain’s
                        rounding the bend
                        toward the fugitive


            Someone         is seeking, we think
we are hidden, not
            buried under
                        the farm—       one frantic chicken
                        the ground       scratching
                                                            at crusted
                                     its red             skin,
                        fallen   comb                           jugging
                        from corner                 to corn. 


            trip and try to
            stand and the mud sucks
            my hands, whispers:
                                    go on, catch
the outbound bus.       morning comes
            on so gradual—


Across the clear          black I can see
            the city’s lightcloud hanging. 
Faceless arms raking the barnyard, broken
sagging, restless pig chewing
                        his own
                        pink hooves. 


The house
            table needs
washing but waits
                        like a secret star.  Not
clumsy, not
            dirty, just
of feeling                                 the same          fraying
            scrubbrush, I am running,
                        this road, it
barely reflects
            on the compass           glass. 


So many locusts crowding
            the dark. So many stalks
            back    to the worn porchlight.


Self-Portrait as Aging, with Vertigo and a Singing Six-Year-Old

Like a shell game in which coconuts trail the fringe of their viscera
across a bartop’s clotted gloss, each doctor declares my dizzy wildly
imprecise, swaps in vertigo, though rebound dominates, I insist, there
in the produce aisle, where I blink and center twice a week, as if I’ve
just jumped from the apex of a swing set striped like stick candy, to
right myself. Fatigue, he writes, when I say I’ve never taken speed,
but can imagine. Each time it happens, I’m reaching for clamshells of
spinach barely high enough to pinch a nerve, much less to flood my
inner ear with dreams of going over Niagara in a barrel. The white
coat reassembles his model, cochlea coiled, tame, that sleeping, pearl-
plastic nautilus. That there’s no falling at all, we should remain
grateful, he says, but suspicious. Whatever’s meant to settle at the
bottom of an escalator is, in me, bent instead on rising, plunging up. I
picture snorting moons riding a g-force. It’s like that with our
spherical world: everything believing in myths of a better angle.
Holding out for the circle beyond pixel-point—the ideal, with its
luminous skin and eyes wide as dinner plates. But where can we find
more freedom, more truth, more unrepentant joy than this raggedy
concrete? The ball pit at an interstate rest stop: primary colors
pummeled, dented, sucked down into the spiral of nothing, like the
class clown who danced atop corn in a grain elevator before being
swallowed like a hand in an endless sleeve. Ruby red! cobalt!
sunblood gold! The ball pit, a distress of rapture. What else could so
much color do but drown in itself, in other words how’s a body
supposed to handle it when a six-year-old girl opens her mouth to sing,
I mean really sing? Some days I am that mouth, I tell the doctor, others
only the memory of a note it used to hit. He lifts his pen. But most
days I’m the humid crumbs, the bobby pins and small coins some
teenage boy sweeps into small piles when he comes halfheartedly to
clean the vinyl pit, already dreaming of the girl he’ll take to the movie
that night, of the dappled rash her loose-knit sweater will leave on his
arm as she leans against him, a scent of orange—no, gardenia—
circling her hair like a crown of tipsy, hiccupping birds.

ALLISON ADAIR’S first collection, The Clearing, was selected by Henri Cole as winner of Milkweed’s Max Ritvo Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in American Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, and ZYZZYVA; and her work has been honored with the Pushcart Prize, the Florida Review Editors’ Award, the Orlando Prize, a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, and first place in the Fineline Competition from Mid-American Review. Originally from central Pennsylvania, Allison teaches at Boston College and Grub Street.