BY JOHN ALLMAN
She was never that. Years in the Catholic home
for children with bad hearts, until the nun who taught
piano wrote her mother and said it was just a murmur.
As if the child had been speaking too low to be heard.
Or the river upstate that slashed among the rocks
was her true pulse, where children in hand-me-downs
sang about heaven’s glory and the nun raised her pale
hand to keep time. Which is all there was. Time.
And then the running out. Father long gone somewhere
down Tenth Avenue. Mother with son and another
daughter at home, and another daughter missing,
the neighbor who took her just a myth, since mother
really gave the child away--love a rounding-out to the
nearest whole number, the space between decimals
a lack of air. There's a turn in her eye. A suitor’s face
blurry, his hands not the ethereal doctrine and psalm
of Saturday confession or girlish story-telling. What
slides along the thigh, what burns? Something rising
into her small breasts with an incipient mother’s urge,
something behind his tongue. A slow throb. Red
the way blood darkens in the air until she can hardly speak.
“Portrait” will be included in John Allman's forthcoming collection titled Older Than Our Fathers. His most recent, and eighth book of poems, is Algorithms (prose poems) just published by Quale Press. Other recent collections include Loew’s Triboro (2004) and Lowcountry (2007), both published by New Directions. His first book, Walking Four Ways in the Wind (1979), was published by Princeton University Press as part of the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets.