Words Borrowed from Sensible Things
Emily Allen

Words Borrowed from Sensible Things

That first duplex we shared, the neighbors’ front walk
was always a pastel collage of backwards numbers
and letters, blurred by the tracks of a miniature fire truck
overturned in the drive. We wrote notes in stolen chalk
to our future children, as heat lightening spiderwebbed
the cloud banks between distant glass towers.
In pink, you printed: There are places where the sky
gets dark at night. Go there and name the stars.

I told you we had our own constellations:
subdivisions, sidewalks, a line of streetlights
with no darkness between. Nights you worked I’d walk
without destination, listening to the patterning of sound,
of need, of people squawking to themselves
like so many flockless birds. I needed to understand
the city’s conversation with the earth, the way the subway
shook bedrock. When the baby came, we called him Polaris.

Idiopathic, they said of his silence, an unnamed expressive delay.
My mother reminded me my first word was lake,
then nothing else, for months, like winter migration.
Syllables would come: We must be patient like water.
He was pointing at everything with wheels,
growling and sputtering like an engine with low oil,
when suddenly you said, car, car, he’s saying car.
All I could do was stutter.

This was how I came to know the interstate’s
habits like a birdwatcher, its deliberateness, its rush.
Internal combustion, the timing of the tongue’s
force against palate, different dialects: I have forgotten
my words, the river’s current. I have forgotten the sky
for a knot of taillights mapping the northern horizon.
Polaris, I know only turbulence and order,
cacophony and silence. Learn from my losses.

Emily Allen

recently received a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of North Texas, and she teaches freshman writing at a local community college. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Foothill Graduate Poetry Journal, Prism Review, and Barely South. She lives in Denton, Texas, with her husband and a host of pets with literary names.