By Allen Guest


A thesaurus would eventually 
lead me to “dappled,”
the way the sunlight plays
on the lawn as the trees – 
a poplar, two sweetgum, a red maple – sway
in a light breeze on a cool morning in early May.

But dappled does not really capture it.
“Magically dappled?” No.
This is not eighth grade Honors English.

What if there were no word
for the way it – the light – moves 
on the lawn?

What if nothing is as anything else?
Every moment itself only, singular,
temporary, passing in perfect alignment 
with what came before
and what will follow.

Perhaps this is all we know:
sunlight moves on the lawn as
it filters through new leaves trembling 
in a morning breeze.
Everything is in motion.
One moment follows another.

The House at 315 Poplar

The house is still there, 
fifty-one years since
we last closed the door,
fifty-one years since
our big Buick followed
the moving truck up the street, 
fifty-one years since
I kneeled in the backseat and watched
it move into my memory.
I drive past the house whenever I go back,
usually for funerals – aunts and uncles,
maybe a cousin, the youngest of us
now sixty. There will be a few more 
phone calls at odd hours, 
a few more reasons to return,
then there will be none. 
No reason for me to pause
at 315 Poplar Street, 
save for this:

to roll down my window
and inhale the silent
residue of our years there,
still hanging in the air 
like smoke from our grill 
on a summer evening.
Saturday smoke that lingers,
mixes with Mom’s cigarettes,
Dad’s cologne, the freshly cut grass.
Smoke that drifts from backyard
to backyard, gathering in smells – 
burgers and beer, chardonnay, 
the doctor’s cigars and scotch. 
Smoke that sways to Brubeck floating 
cool from open windows.
Every day is Saturday, every object reeks 
of optimism and Apollo missions.
Everything is a reason to return,
to pause, to breathe an affirmation;
the migratory pull 
of the ordinary dust 
of our ordinary days. 

My Apology to William K. for Failed Telepathy When We Were in Third Grade

We were made to read aloud most days – 
idiotic stories, dry facts from 
a sanitized state history book –
a forced public performance of sorts. 
Down one row, up the next, 
each of us speaking nervously until
Mrs. Savage told us to stop.

My classmates stumbled over
words here and there, words that I, 
offspring of devout Methodists who
hauled me to church and library 
with equal fervor, had known 
since first grade, if not before.

But William, one seat ahead of me,
would stumble over the simplest 
of words, his embarrassment palpable
in the smothering silence 
of the always-too-hot classroom.
I would look down, stare at the page,
at once thankful and ashamed
of my circumstances, ones that owed
to the vagaries of birth, and nothing else.
Nothing else.

Every morning I read the Atlanta Journal,
every evening I watched Huntley and Brinkley,
every Saturday I perused Time and Life 
at the library. I knew exactly
why Detroit was burning,
why gloved fists went up in Mexico City,
why college kids were gunned down in Orangeburg – 
why William struggled and I did not.
Such was the duality
of Georgia in 1968.

So I sat there behind William
with my eyes closed, doing my
Star Trek best to beam proper 
pronunciation to him. 
A sci-fi obsessed third-grader’s 
attempt at a mind meld, 
a sad effort to bridge the
three feet, 
four centuries,
and countless transgressions
that had separated us, just
two boys in the third grade.
The vagaries of birth,
the duality of Georgia in 1968.
One place, two worlds.
Nothing else.

My apology, 
read aloud.

3 thoughts on “Thesaurus and Other Poems 

  1. My Apology… creates so many possibilities for readers to make their own connections and construct their own meaning. I am tempted to read this poem as a commentary on race or perhaps on socioeconomic status. Or perhaps William K. presented with a literacy development difference, such as dyslexia, that was unaddressed by the dread row-by-row read-aloud (although your many cultural references lead me away from that interpretation). Regardless, you’ve created two most-likable characters for us to ponder. That’s a personal goal for me as I write poems about racism, antiracism, social justice, and politics in education. Thank you for sharing this strong model that will stay with me.


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