"But first, baby, as you climb and count the stairs (and they total the same), did you, sometime or somewhere, have a different idea?
Is this, baby, what you were born to feel, and do, and be?"

-Kenneth Fearing

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


In 1967, I hadn’t happened yet. He drove the Wisconsin highway
as it was. It didn’t have as many branches;
traffic then, a fraction of now. Although, underneath it maps
the same. Driving through, he passed so many exits
without thought, until the gas gauge, hunger, or a sign
nudged him, get there sooner. He wondered if it’s worse to be tired

or late. Yet, each number matters to someone, so much that they get tired
of noticing. Driving home the same way every day, it’s not the highway
anymore but a stretch of routine. Low on fuel, I look for a sign
and there it is, a simplified pump, an arrow where the road branches.
If I lived here I’d know where to go. I don’t. I rely on marked exits
and routes I’ve already planned. I plot the future with maps,

which are less paper now than a voice in my ear. I know that the map
is not the road, but accept a representation. I wonder where he got tired,
driving to a conference hall, a sales meeting, a waste of time, the exits
more appealing than the speaker. He wished to be back on the highway
but not to be home. They spoke of elevator speeches, a no as a branch
that leads to a yes. Get the yes. Always get the yes. Get them to sign.

They’re all green now, on the side of the highway, the same signs
that were white for him. I compare, thinking that the father is a map
for the son, no matter the shape it’s in, and the son is the branch;
that replaces the tree entirely. I’d ask him how he got so tired
but don’t we all, some days? It’s only a road, this highway,
a name for specific miles, the stretch between entrance and exit

I’ve stared at the photograph so many times, considering his exit.
He pulled onto the shoulder, as if he could interrogate the sign
with a look, and make it change its story. Back then, the highway
was limbo, no cell phone internet. Just you, Hank Williams, a map
on the seat, and whatever thoughts were spinning around like tires
in your head. Until you pick one, every single branch

ahead seems possible. Is that the story, that the branches
collapsed behind you, leaving only the thought of exit?
I’m on the Wisconsin highway, 45 years later, both tired
of and resigned to investigation, as if every gesture was a sign.
But, I hadn’t been thought of yet. You read your own map,
humming the tune to your own lost highway

I drive past another branch, and decide that this sign
is irrelevant. His exit, my entrance, spinning wheels; a map
I drew when I was tired and feeling small against the highway.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


His tarnished metal belt buckle;
bucking horse, rodeo version,
kicking state letters off its back.

It means something now,
but not what it meant
when it still held up his pants.

He knew about horses, fed them,
rode them, broke them, named them,
remembered the names, every name.

He kept the buckle long after that,
when horses were memory and offices
had his attention. Was it important,

to him, or just kept, because it reminded
her, when the box of his things was made,
and utility turned to symbolism.

If he was a horse, the letters were where he lived.
But that’s only me arranging, throwing meaning
at metal as if it could correct me. A man with a son

has all the metaphor he needs; what he was
and wasn’t, what he wanted and did not want,
what he kept and what he threw away.

                             -Brent Allard

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Place Holder


Yours is an answer that lets you sleep.
Mine is a question, so I stay awake.
You have a book you don’t understand
but quote like a word a day calendar.
I have a black and white picture,
packed in a box I won’t open soon.
You need a friend. I need a metaphor.
That’s fine. We had different fathers.

Our gods wouldn’t need to match,
if we could put them aside for a moment,
let them entertain each other if they must,
and talk as if it was only me and you,
as if words in this conversation matter,
as if something could happen here, and now.

                    -Brent Allard

Monday, May 14, 2012

Accidental Collision


Even a little is too much, if it’s blood,
if it covers your son, in the front seat
of the truck, driven too fast, accidentally,
into the side of a bus. Now, in your lap,

he doesn’t move and you can’t bring
yourself to prod him, although every stinging
nerve wants you to try. What if he doesn’t?
You’re paralyzed by what you can’t think.

Mother was what you grasped, but now…
Your thoughts spill out over each other, bills,
Southern Comfort, his death, they still whisper.
They blame you because you’re the one left.

The boy moves. He laughs, and you can’t breathe.
You hadn’t even pleaded yet. Later, you’ll know
that a lip can bleed a lot, from even a small
piece torn out. This will be a close call story;

a reprieve, with laughter disguised significance, the one
you recall when someone cries about hitting bottom.
You’ll remember that you lost him in that moment
and have never been convinced you got him back.

-Brent Allard

Thursday, March 22, 2012

High Noon

The noonday train will bring Frank Miller.
If I’m a man I must be brave
And I must face that deadly killer
Or lie a coward, a craven coward,
Or lie a coward in my grave.

-Do Not Forsake Me [The Ballad of High Noon]  by Ned Washington

We weren’t exactly friends, I’ve said.

But, that isn't exactly right or wasn't always.

We were once. The dislike we grew into

was only possible through some knowledge

and sometimes, even then, it changed.

I still don’t know all the reasons, motivations,

how much was you or me, how much just routine.

The things you said, weren’t all untrue, but still,

I know they felt like truth, for you,

so wrapped up in your scheming,

you couldn’t help but convolute a line.

I couldn’t help but call you on it,

when you sat with the kitchen lights out,

drinking black coffee, sighing out storm clouds

until I couldn’t help but hear you.

You were angry at being confronted.

But what else was there to do?

High Noon, you said later, called me Will Kane

to your Frank Miller. You said, “There’s nothing

noble about saving those who don’t deserve it.”

But let’s go to the clock on the wall again,

the train coming closer. You meet it,

or trail what you didn’t do behind you.

I thought someday we’d patch things up,

laugh about Marshals, trains and villains,

because nothing is ever as easy as that.

But the clock on the wall kept ticking

life kept going, and so easily, you were a part

of the past. A couple more ticks and you were gone.

I wish it were more like a movie,

the unresolved wrapped up by the end,

but it’s never as easy as that. You were

your own Will Kane, your own Frank Miller.

You had your train, your clock. There's little I could add,

except to say that I'd side with John Wayne if I could,

this time, and have your Sheriff be the one from Rio Bravo.


                                  -Brent Allard

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Lost Son


He was a  footnote in the stories, mentioned 

as if such things were as common for the times,

as moonshine, fighting, or chewing tobacco.

His laugh was remembered, "His little laugh."
otherwise, a space in family portraits,
a pause in my grandfather’s speech,

“Got my two girls and, well, … I had a boy...”
I heard it as a flat and bloodless story,
sepia toned and reconciled by distance,

until  years later, Grandfather gone,
 my Mother talked history over photos,

her parents, how their marriage splintered,

and everything changed.  His drinking,
swept through everything, a river 

the dam had let go. “After Timmy?”

I asked, finally piecing together,
the sweetly broken way he passed his life,
and the pause, that never lost its place.


                                                  -Brent Allard

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Our Story


I wasn’t asked either. It was passed down;

my father’s story, which I’ve not deciphered.

He used to take me for drives in the car.

I haven’t solved the questions he left

though every one has changed. Some

are so polished they feel like answers.

Blood is still the greatest mystery.

We create from our own crumbling ruins.

When I couldn’t sleep, he’d sing.

You have me, there in your veins.

So what am I telling you, knowing

you’ll see through platitudes?

You have your own questions,

and you'll construct the memories that stick.

What you need, you’ll look for until you find it.

I was 2 years old in his brown pick up truck,

radio playing Hank Williams. When I couldn’t sleep,

he sang along. I shut my eyes. He drove us home.

                                           -Brent Allard