J. Allyn Rosserís new collection, Foiled Again, won the 2007 New Criterion Poetry Prize and was published last fall by Ivan R. Dee. Her previous books are Misery Prefigured, and Bright Moves. She has received numerous other awards for her work, among them the Morse Poetry Prize, the Crab Orchard Award, the Peter I.B. Lavan Award for Younger Poets from the Academy of American Poets, the J. Howard and Barbara M.J.Wood and Frederick Bock prizes from Poetry, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, the Ohio Arts Council and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in Slate, Poetry, The Hudson Review, The Georgia Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Kenyon Review, and Best American Poetry 2006. Rosser has taught at the University of Houston, the University of Michigan, and Vermont College, and currently teaches at Ohio University.

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Three Poems by J. Allyn Rosser



Fourteen Final Lines

The favored sight is that which disappears.
Wise angels only hum, and hide their wings.
Some toxins will not drain except by tears.
The monkey throws his feces as he swings.
In heroes, itís the flaw that most endears.
We watch the puppet show to spot the strings.
Success occurs when you forget to fail.
Some people seem more naked when theyíre dressed.
(The garter and bouquet but not the veil.)
He dreams about the smiles she suppressed.
The prisoner doesnít care who makes his bail.
Some stones bleed if resolutely pressed.
The bay leaf is never served with the stew.
Iíd never have said this if not to you.


Perfect Pitch

When Dean Martin sings, "Send Me
the Pillow that You Dream on," he is so far
from sounding sincere that it doesnít even
occur to you he might once have meant it,
not even the first time perusing the lyric sheet
over coffee and cannoli, nor while trying it out
in the presence of his latest squeeze
who did way more for him than dream,
and this releases us from all that hooey
about being "true." Itís a reason to love him.
And do we? Encore! We adore insincerity
as long as itís piled on thick enough
not to question our cultivated jadedness
while sipping at the martini of its hyperbole.
Our real feelings donít come into it.
The songwriterís feelings never came into it.
Purely lovable are Deanís silly vocal fillips,
the light melodic curlicue he adds
like a twirl of clean-shaven mustache,
the heart-shaped moue,
the smiley-face-dotted i of his absolute distance
from the songís semantics, while he drips with them,
fingers them back into his shiny black hair.
We love to see him simulate a tipsy weave,
slipping on the fifties-width oil slick of suavity
his tinsel-thin heartstrings are soaking in
while he fondles the mike with a deft twist,
a swizzling motion for all the prop drinks
biographers insist were really apple juice —
not even a genuine drunk! —
his gesture flanked by flashy cufflinks
like gold quotation marks around his act:
every eye-roll, wink, triply rehearsed
doubletake and limp-kneed moan
when the pretty legs walk lavishly away.
Nothing in that creamy maraschino manner
pretends to so much as an inch of depth.
How refreshing in a land rich with charlatans
to find one so pure, so true to his métier
he sells nothing but his perfect sales pitch,
seduces us for nothing but a counter-quirk
of eyebrow, and the rapt half-smile
that canít quite summon the indifference
of a smirk.


Lunch Break

Once the whole world is over,
once God takes it into her head
to get out of the business for good,
just go yee-ha whoo-eee completely to town
with the grapes of wrath, stomp it all to pulp,
there will be this swollen, voluptuous silence,
like the endorphinous bath of still air
when the tireless man outside your window
lays down his jackhammer and heads for lunch.
Thatís what time has seemed like to her:
a constant, consciousness-battering drill
with a high whine behind it, and all our
petty dissatisfactions the crusty rubble
it leaves, and the dream of harmony
a blueprint not just lost in the filthy overalls
but soon blurred to illegibility in the wash
when he forgets to check the pockets.

There will be this luscious, velvety silence.

And for about twenty-five minutes
God will be so glad, so exceeding glad,
until she realizes she doesnít know
how long twenty-five minutes has been.

[Selections from Foiled Again (Ivan R. Dee, 2007)]