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Kelli Allen
Four Poems

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Testing, testing, testingKelli Allen
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Go on asking, then throw a shoe into the four corners


Is anything just a rhythm? 

The foot’s arch 

is the same drum 

skin no matter what 

nests between the legs. 


It’s our first child who 

comes into the tent 

when we are bound 

in sleep to cover 

the smoke hole 

with her closed fist.  


The seamstress is rarely 

as kind as we remember. 

She, too, leaves houndstooth 

buttons out for the weasels, 

hoping they choke, wishing 

their teeth off duck eggs 

meant for pickling. We need 


affirmation that our labors 

are bigger than I saw that 

thing you did. Have you not 

realized that the husband 

you love has two foxtails 

behind his back? How dare 

any of us forget how 

to spoon dirt into our mouths. 




Not the first time to enter tonight 


Passwords to enter the washhouse

are tattooed small across elder asses

and we have to bend waists extra low


to catch the fading glyphs humping

along from sulfur springs to nickel-

plated knockers guarding squat doors. 


But this is just the story you sell

when you want me on my stomach,

pressed full-bellied into cotton springs. 


These are tales cast on lines thrown

far into a past you well know I cannot 

resist, will instead open wider, pillow


a pyramid my hips mount, climb. They

say the youngest Greek horsemen knew 

best how to ease a nervous mare onto one


longboat by walking her backward, rump

a bouquet of sweaty curling hair, flanks

already soaked through want and seawater.




When the ocean brings the gravity



Eels in the well are rarely a sign of anything

fortuitous. Still, the shock of bodies that move

regardless of tides might mean we are safe yet.


Some gods give us the picnic tables we need. These

are, of course, the lesser gods, the ones who let us

drown when we swim too long in the same waist-high


tidal pools. After reaching the right logs, calves burning

from the honor of keeping us afloat, despite pulls

toward some vague heaven our sister warned us about,


we make it to the breakfast baskets. Do you remember

lowering your eyes across such a meal? Was it the current

that carried us this far away being regal, from being anything


more than beggars? The minuscule women under the sand

push us on anyway and we eat and paddle our arms

in smaller and smaller circles and blame the gulls for our luck.




Anyway, a long time ago is here



A young Algerian pushed his hand, once, hard

as a stale cigarette, against my belly and told me

the pushing back, from within, meant

that the baby would be born hating anything

that grows in winter. The child makes up its mind


to arrive and we can do nothing. Jung wrote in circles

about circles and all we have is some canvas already

burnt in three corners. Maybe it’s true we are like ourselves


best when we are faithful. I carried an infant to avoid living

with inevitability, invisibility, what my mother called missing.   


It is January now and I know what lasts longest

is some country orchard road and not this regret, not

this hopeful antennae borrowed from early summer

millipedes. I hold hard to remember what Harod promised:

a swaddle is the difference between reputation and redemption.




Kelli Allen

Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. Allen is the co-Founding Editor of Book of Matches literary journal. She is an award-wining poet, editor, and dancer. She is the recipient of the 2018 Magpie Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Some Animals, won the 2016 Etchings Press Prize. Her chapbook, How We Disappear, won the 2016 Damfino Press award. Her collections include, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, ( John Gosslee Books 2012), Imagine Not Drowning, (C&R Press 2017), Banjo’s Inside Coyote  (C&R Press 2019). Allen’s latest book is Leaving the Skin on the Bear, C&R Press, 2022. She currently teaches writing and literature in North Carolina.

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