the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2011



Allen C. Fischer

Untitled Landscape

Untitled Landscape
by Donald Elder


An orange pasture crosses my dream,
like a wide Fauve river. For what is color
but attribution: a road cone, metal primer,
hunting vest and in the extreme, agent orange.
Keep out it says, falling rock, wet
paint, chemical spill, a crime zone.
At times, this is how I see things happen.
The orange river crossing my sleep
pretends a pasture where cows are purple,
sheep are green and my imagination runs wild.
After all, what is color but radiance.
It is the dawn's Day-Glo, quiver of a monarch's
wing tip, the clock ticking and then its alarm.
And suddenly, river and pasture turn
pastel and out of the morning mist churns
a tanker upstream big and brown and black.
And from the television comes news
of a foreign war; its flames orange,
orange that crosses my mind on impact of a fist,
orange the Fauve ghost hanging over me,
the warning I carry like a lunch box to work.



An Unspeakable Art

All Changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
"Easter, 1916"
William Butler Yeats

If wreckage can be called beautiful, and
artillery the hand-maiden of unmerciful art,
Then — with truth upended — pain circles
its calling like a coarse brocade:
to the beholder goes the masterpiece.
A hurricane does with water
what no sculptor can imagine;
fire storms wield such colors
as nature meant for sunsets;
and collisions, oh the rearrangement
of stone and metal, their inconceivable abstract.
The pounding sculpts an anarchist's dream.

As you take aim, as you take what isn't
yours along with what is, language folds its tent:
there is not room for so many meanings, for all
the conflicting visions. Suddenly, beauty shrinks into a fist
of pre-emption: everyone in the passing lane,
preachers with bull horns, your phone dead,
terror in the cockpit. And when it's over,
the high-rise demented into its cellar hole,
bridges dangling like broken necklaces, the land-
scape unrecognizable, and when the bleeding stops
and the red, the viscid red ends its search,
metaphor regroups, appears at the site, the bedside,

on set like a nightmare nurse with a healing potion,
a hallucinatory drug. Take this, she intones, open
your eyes and take in the scrap material of life,
the slag, burn and rend of beauty. Let the fever
die down, the dust settle and invective splinters
disperse to wherever sound goes. In what remains,
you may find a heart's desire. Except it will look
nothing like you thought it would, will not be seamless
or clean like a spring day. Blue and green are gone.
This metaphor is haunted, compressed into wordless
annals, its contagious portrayal tainted with confusion.
It is unlike anything you've ever seen or once called beautiful.

(Green Mountain Review)


A Frog in Theory

"Thou must harbor chaos
to give birth to a dancing star."
— Nietzche

Quantum mechanics may mean well.
A kiss in time and things will change;
The frog becomes a prince,
the turtle a mandarin, and suddenly
from touch small tyrannies break loose.
What masterstroke next?
Words are immaterial, inflict no fire;
so you wait for a little magic: an omen, colors
in discovery of shape, maybe a frog fleshed from stone.
But you're fixed on the way things are.
The heat of the moment flares and little more.
From the moon, sunlight flaks a tone-deaf yell.
A death in the family comes and goes;
the heart's lie detector clocks a nervous tic.
Have you checked the phone for messages?
Did you pick up your medication, pay the rent?
One thing leads to another, yet goes nowhere.
In dream's mirror, surface to air mimics Jacob's Ladder
and all the king's men rise like ducks in a row,
each with an agenda, each a different idea of
how to make you fit in. Force the issue, they urge.
No need to turn back. Rethink. Remodel. Try
some alchemy or pound the living daylights out
and go dark. Now listen. Listen to the prince croak.


(The Laurel Review)


The Spell

(after Self-Portrait, Picasso, 1902-3)

Cracks line the artist's face,
incise brittle slits between crown and brow,
across his cheeks and chin,
as skin crazes and
time continues the portrait.

Picasso stares from the canvas.
As though in control,
he fixes the viewer like a model,
his eyes reaching out to adjust her pose.
But the woman he will paint
turns into someone else,
breasts corked into the body's washboard,
rump like a melon, Siamese twinned,
lips preening the rose in her hand.

As paint defies the artist,
he finds no peace but suffers fits of color,
time in control,
the canvas its accomplice.

Call it live art.
Call this poem a page
from a writer's diary,
a note left in case
the poet disappears into the portrait.



We load, cock, crave a name,
flaunt what must be said —
no stopping
the curse.

"Go, stranger, and when
you reach Sparta,
tell them that here,
we fell fighting."1

"Mother, mother, there's
too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother,
there's far too many of you dying."2

Headlines wrap their lights
around 42nd Street's
flatiron building as if
the news could hold it together.

The Dow runs its tape
of initials and numbers,
gains and losses, life's rite
of passage: GE 15 Intel 21…

Jews were assigned
numbers, purple
tattoos worn
like monograms.

HELP had been
trampled in the snow,
but the wind
had other ideas.

On a wall in Pompeii,
and nearby, by another hand,

Doctors dash off one
prescription after another:
metoprolol to ease the heart,
nitroglycerin, the pain…

"I have a dream!"
Across the sky's
blank screen
a jet plane draws the line.

Trees! Bless God's
nervous architecture
that we may
Carve our names.

"Kilroy was here"
and Hannibal. Even you.
Logo after logo appears
in the face of logic.

"Yankee go home!"
Turks, Chinese, gypsies, too.
Everyone wants his. Hers.
Wants in. Get out!

Esperanto, Ersatz, E Pluribus!
No lingua franca for the student
who wrote "FUCK YOU"
on the wall of a Berlin bank.

Or was the angry
paint Cyrillic,
an apoplectic
hit and run?

Take my word
for it: "SAL 139"
don't live
here no more.

A list of tenants ascends the building:
invectives occupy the street level;
20 floors up, BOSCH in red neon;
higher still, HITACHI; then smog.

"Gaius Adores The Ass,"
it says below a donkey
scratched on a cross
by some kid in 313 A.D.4

Up against the wall: sex,
politics and sworn
Any god will do.

In Hamburg, 1999, a park
bench is inscribed:
"I love Rebekka Rosenkrantz."
Who would have thought.

Who, what, where, never why.
Captions out of context.
I take you "Mother
Fucker" to be my blood

and wedded word.
This poem,
this poet —
my space!



1. Herodotus. The Persian Wars, Book VII. The Modern Library, Random House, New York, 1942.

2. Jobete Music Co., Inc. Excerpt from lyrics of What's Going On by Renaldo Benson, Marvin Gaye, and Al Cleveland. Copyright 1970 by Stone Agate Music and Jobete Music Co.

3. Krenkel, Werner. Pompejanische Inschriften. Koehler & Amelang, Leipzig, 1961.

4. Bruhns, Leo. Die Kunst der Stadt Rom, Bildband. Anton Schroll, Wien, 1951.


Dog Nights

Moonlight tweaked a dog and the dog barked back.
A flea found its ear, touched a nerve, inciting
the moonstruck stray to bark again and again.
Star bitten, its neighbors shook off their shadows
and the street bristled and howled
a ruckus of nothing near. As distance
invaded the hour, the hungering void fed and,
like a time of locusts, drained the outcry
of dogs, leaving the street to wait
for the stars to sting again.

Then, somewhere in time's warp, a jeep
growled and left its lair, the night ahead.
Its headlights flashed one way and another
like twin moons, two eyes patrolling, searching.
Suddenly, as if those orbs had entered the ink
of gravity, they rushed forward and the dogs
lying in the shadows like trip switches went off,
one after the other, in twos and threes.
As the jeep came on and the roar of its
motor grew, the sound of the dogs
rose into a feeding frenzy of warnings,
frantic barking, howling, snarling and then
the military police did what militias do.


The Marksman

He shot himself
in the mirror, dead
center in the mouth
and shattered his world

to shrieks of facial shards.
The old revolver never failed.
Or was it just his conscience
sounding off again?

Though only a reflection,
that face had been all he could think of,
smile thin as a warranty,
eyes steady, nose in between.

Everything the way it should have
been, when bang! He went to pieces.
Bang! Just like they do
in the Mafia, in some

back alley, right
between his eyes,
before he had a chance to
get control and shoot back.

Bang! before he could
change his mind or
answer the phone, the phone…
He gunned the thought down.



"I feel more like I do now
than I did when I got here."
Bus Terminal Bathroom,
Miami, Florida

A name hangs around your neck
like a price tag. Some things in life
can't be returned. Like your sex and
who's responsible. Like whether you're
smart and what was done about it.
After eighteen years of advice and free meals,
suddenly you're on your own and,
as they say, time is yours to make or break.
So here you are: out of school, away from home,
the future closing in like tackles on the other team.
What's this got to do with an apple or an oyster?
That's how your teachers spoke of the world.
You could take out a loan except
you have no credit rating. You could
get married but you don't know anyone.
Many jobs require you to join a union
and have an address. In the Army,
you might get shot. You could always
be a messenger and walk around town
delivering packages…except
you might get soaked and freeze
your ass off, catch pneumonia and
wind up back home with your father
on your case telling you what to do.
So you took off and came south
where at least the weather isn't bad.
Of course, you don't know anyone
in Miami or where to stay. But
at least you've gone somewhere and
now, if you can land a messenger job
and find a place to live, maybe
you'll feel more like yourself.



As the candle's flame reckons with darkness,
a solo voice sings to itself, braids
loss and calculus. Without a script to follow,
it projects a random scene, maneuvers
fact and fiction and soon retreats to the edge
of nightmare. By this time, the candle's
pillar of sanity has gone out, leaving you with
nothing between coda and a blank screen.
Armies of the night gather in the wings.
Were it their choice, the land between
would become a killing field, your body
riddled by nerves.

But the projectionist has
a different notion. Equipped with every
moment you've ever known, he improvises,
conjures the touch of an alchemist and
brings to your mind's eye a woman
you've never seen before, a mix of mother,
wife, women you've met in books,
movies, a woman of such warmth
and inner compass, a presence so real
that when you awaken to the morning
sun and she disappears, the mind stalls
and, for a moment, you are lost.


Your Ad Here

You again, confides the mirror,
as though you were as simple
as one, two, click. Click on
Photo-Shop and there you are
morning, noon & night
showing that, with repetition,
your presence is assured,
reality little more than a sound-bite.
Say your name again and again
and see it reappear so often
people will believe you
exist. You in a tux, on a
tractor, on top of Old Smoky,
you shoveling snow, heading off
to boot camp, you before
you got shot, being married,
celebrating your 32nd birthday,
you smiling as though
you were meant to be there,
the page yours to occupy.
As after a shower when
the mirror is steamed,
you may be hidden
beneath the condensation.
Surely you are there!
Smiling in the mind's eye,
in a bubble of the universe,
a page to yourself, you may
be the one you think you are,
the one you want to be.


April Snow

As daffodils pantomime gaiety,
snow begins to stick, thicken and, inch
by inch by inch, rise around their stems.
Is it white magic or madness of the spheres?
I know a man whose hair turned white
when he was 28; they said it was in his genes.

Suddenly, the wind accelerates in gusts
of 40 and 50 miles per hour, snapping off
snow-heaped hemlocks like dry wood.
The ground trembles and powders.
I've heard of people so struck by fear,
their bodies aged in weeks.

Although April has not
cocked its temper toward me,
I wonder about sudden weather.
Predestined or premature, I wonder what
time will poise over my head and if, nearby,
there will be daffodils prattling about spring.


Tell Me More

Time says this to the riff of wonder
played by all who ask. It whispers sweet mushrooms
in the dead of autumn, hawks what is left
of sunflower, and seeds the return of songbirds.
It numbers your days in concentric circles
as if a wintering tree would never fall,
nor cold waters carry the news.
Time holds your hand in a loose grip and
leads you on. So how are you to understand
fire and ice — one throwing everything out,
the other locking it all in place? Time looks
past these judgments. Not even the message
of snow or the slow slumming of the land matters.
As fields face the stars, roots find cover.
There's comfort in silence as there is
in the rifle shot of ice breaking. Comfort answers
the alarm sounded by a cricket. An owl hoots
two haunting syllables and awaits a response.
Somewhere a church bell rings: Tell me more!
Soon someone will come to take you in.



Allen C. Fischer, a former director of marketing for a corporation, is as likely to draw on the ambitions and conflicts of business as he is to describe the seasonal extremes of upstate New York where and he and his wife live. A graduate of Haverford College, he attended Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and served in the US Army in Italy. He came to poetry relatively late. For about 12 years, he worked closely with William Matthews. His poems have appeared in The Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, The Laurel Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner and River Styx.





Poetry Feature