A note about “Petals”

/ April 24th, 2011 / No Comments »

A small voice in the back of my brain tells me this poem was inspired by a dream, though if that’s true I have no memory of the dream itself — scattered by the winds, no doubt. What I can tell you for certain is that, surprise, surprise, there’s really nothing speculative going on here, despite the trappings. This piece is very autobiographical, a look back at the stages of my own life through the bleakest possible lens … though it’s not necessarily a truthful representation of how I view my own history. Tricksy, tricksy poetry.

On that note: Happy Easter, everyone!

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash VII

/ April 24th, 2011 / 1 Comment »



field of memories
flickers, blooms brushed
by charnel winds;
desperate to preserve
what searing gusts
leave behind,
I crawl amid
the vein-dark stalks
that sting my
hands, my face;
I crawl amid
the nettled stalks
to find the flowers,
to eat:

petals from
my island childhood,
papaya thick,
at first breadfruit sweet
but bright yellow inside,
tinted with red ant fire,
full of wriggling legs
that struggle
in my throat;

petals from
my mountain boyhood,
tobacco tang,
coal bitter,
thorns hidden
in the creases,
blue as chill air,
blue as bruises
under skin of dust and mud;

petals from
the brink of manhood,
white as paper
and as dry;
the salt of lust,
phloem of love;
visions burst on the tongue,
blood-red hope,
blood-red despair,
flavor the same;

petals from
my middle age,
blackened before
I arrive:
brittle ash,
peeled paint,
crust that crumbles
as I pluck;
who could want
such tasteless dregs?

I blow a kiss,
scatter the petals,
share them with the wind
that sears my face.

“Petals” first appeared in Star*Line, Vol. 31, Issue 2, 2008. Copyright © 2008 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Detail from “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562.

A note about “Manifest Density”

/ April 23rd, 2011 / No Comments »

All my poems stand on the words of others in some way, this particular one more explicitly than most. When my buddy Bud Webster became poetry editor at the controversial Helix: Speculative Fiction Quarterly he hit me up for some verse, but I was stumped at first. My longtime friend Vickie Holt started me off by suggesting what became the poem’s first line — and during a beta-read another longtime friend, Cathy Reniere, suggested the line about Slurpees and U-turns. Finally, it was Bud who came up with the poem’s title. So I owe all of them for the existence of this piece, which is a delight to perform live.

As to the topic: in our corner of the world, zoning law is an ungainly thing akin to water and sewer utilities — it’s something that affects our daily lives in all sorts of ways seen and unseen, but nothing about it fires the imagination. As a government reporter I tangled more than once with the unenviable task of attempting to present a zoning issue so it would be interesting to readers. In my quest to come up with something for Bud, I got to thinking that I’d never ever seen a skiffy poem that dealt with things like commercial and residential districts and comprehensive plans. So that’s what I wrote.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash VI

/ April 23rd, 2011 / 1 Comment »

Manifest Density


Let’s play a game of chicken with the Universe.
Let’s extend our suburbs to the quasar edge.
Let’s burrow condos into every moon,
open discount stores at each new sun,
carve two-way traffic tunnels throughout spacetime,
plan cul-de-sacs of gated nebulae.
Let’s evangelize all unearthly aborigines.
(They too need Slurpee cups and no U-turns.)
Let’s fill the empty saddle with ourselves.
And if we can’t kickstart the Big Crunch with our Masses,
let’s break bacchanal through all the thinning Cosmos
to keep each other warm as the stars die.

“Manifest Density” first appeared in Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Issue 2, Oct. 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Images courtesy of Wikipedia.

A note about “Midnight Rendezvous, Boston”

/ April 22nd, 2011 / 2 Comments »

This poem is a lighthearted commemoration of the first and so far only time Anita and I attended Arisia in Boston, a sci-fi con that takes place in the dead of winter (rather inconvenient if you’re driving from Virginia.) That was in 2002, so maybe things play differently now, but when we were there I observed two local quirks of note. One, all Bostonians go out on the town wearing black from head to toe. Two, the way Bostonians handle things that are off-kilter — such as a man in a satyr costume (shirtless, with horns) lounging in a hotel lobby, or a woman (in the real life instance, my wife) having dinner in a posh restaurant in a full-blown nature spirit outfit complete with antlers and a mantle made of leaves — is to act as if they’re not there. How could I resist having fun with that?

(Read and hear the poem here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash V

/ April 22nd, 2011 / 1 Comment »

Midnight Rendezvous, Boston


The satyr lounges on the hotel lobby sofa,
one hoof dangled over the carpet of endless
fleurs-de-lis. Men and women in long black coats
stumble past, in flight from the flash-freeze winds
hidden in Boston’s flurries; they crawl up the stairs,
weighed down by liquor and the doorman’s gaze.

The satyr’s eyes track a waitress’s slit skirt
as she hurries outside for a forbidden smoke.
He smiles, paws the carpet, runs an idle ebony hand
through his curls of beard. No one
meets his gaze or looks his way.

The revolving door squeaks; his horned head turns
to look at the haughty antlers crowning the beast
bearing down on him, with its mantle of leaves
hung on shoulders strong as trees,
its hide of soft fawn down stretched taught
across an iron-muscled chest. The Horned One twirls
his javelin, impatient, stares down his snout
as the satyr reaches out, traces playful fingers
down the groove of the avatar’s hard belly. No one
stops or asks them to stop — in Boston,
your kinks are not our business.

Later, the janitor pauses, appalled
at the animal noises from the restroom stall.
Someday they’ll take out all the doors in here, he thinks,
and goes on about his business.

“Midnight Rendevous, Boston” first appeared in EOTU Ezine, June 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Mike Allen. Reading by the author, © 2008. Art: Detail from “Idyll” by Arnold Böcklin, 1875.

A note about “Bacchanal”

/ April 21st, 2011 / No Comments »

This poem has a fairly innocuous beginning. Jessica Wick, co-editor of Goblin Fruit, challenged me to write a poem about her favorite Greek god, Bacchus. Of course I accepted the challenge, and, pain in the ass that I am, since she made the mistake of telling me Bacchus was her favorite, I decided I would try to come up with the most mortifying incarnation of the old goat that I could imagine. My concept was fairly simple: update the god of wine and parties into the modern day deity of drug addiction.

Yet doing that threw a number of disturbing doors wide open. News accounts of crystal meth use in New York sex parties and addicts going into withdrawal after Hurricane Katrina are sautéed in with the fashion industry’s glamorization of “heroin chic.” And my own encounters with drug use, drug crime and its consequences while I was a courts reporter provide underpinnings for much of what happens in the poem — one story in particular that I worked on, of a teen who tried heroin for no better reason than alleviating boredom and irrevocably ruined his life, weighed heavily on me as I wrote this piece. There’s a reaction to my first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” that surfaces, and thoughts of my own father’s terminal cancer and the painkillers he takes that act as firewalls against pain also float in that mix.

Bacchus becomes conflated with Pan and the satyrs and less than any of these, a chemist consumed by his own product, summoned everywhere someone uses, everywhere someone craves, hopping like the Jersey Devil, his untrimmed and neglected hooves leaving bloody footprints wherever he goes.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

(See a stage performance here.)

Poems from The Journey to Kailash IV

/ April 21st, 2011 / 6 Comments »



he traded his robe for a lab coat
its filthy tail
sweeps through oil-sheened mud
flaps with back alley lurch
spine hunched in huddled conspiracy
hooves split bleeding
a black bile wine
reeled everywhere on the tainted ley lines
blind husk heeds
the zombie century call
hopes the fix fixes all
hops the walls
prints trickle behind
rolled up sleeves reveal
the needle
tracks of self consumption
sore of entry throbs
purple jellyfish
hissing mob slithers behind
hollow-eyed         supermodel squad
anexoria hot         pop singer dirty
wilted parrot plumage
used-up Maenads
hunting for another Orpheus
no talent required         any orifice will do
pop’n’play in the master bedroom
to the music artery beat         mad-eyed
waif kneels curls fragile fingers
in the wool of His hips
boy        girl        no matter
liberate the libation
gunshots outside         the undead
can’t wait their turn
cultists sweating and trembling
in the Superdome
the worst of this generation
the best of this generation
bored to distraction
conjure Him          in the seedy glade
of tire ruts      beer cans      broken glass      hymens
clumsily torn
see the horns on his haggard head
glint in the headlights
of the pickup truck
sticks into snakes for everyone
curl them round your arm
to raise a vein
discover something new to do
for true           we’re all born again
grown on our fathers’ thighs
like a cancer

“Bacchanal” and accompanying reading first appeared online in Goblin Fruit, Issue 3, Autumn 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Mike Allen. Art: Detail from “Goat” by Francisco de Goya, 1820-23.

A note about “A Curtain of Stars”

/ April 20th, 2011 / No Comments »

From time to time I’ve written poems inspired by things domestic. This one is particularly dear to me, inspired by the curtains Anita crafted specially for my home office, made from thick fabric with fanciful celestial patterns. Tim Pratt published this piece in Star*Line in 2002, but it’s really not a skiffy poem at all; at its playful heart it’s about nothing more than the two of us sitting at the fire, her sewing, and me, presumably, composing a poem.

(Read and hear the poem here.)

A review of “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves” — and fan art!

/ April 20th, 2011 / No Comments »

At the Fantasy Literature blog, there’s a review of the March 2011 issue of Apex Magazine that includes mention of the poetry. Reviewer Terry Weyna has this to say about “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves,” the poem I co-wrote with Sonya Taaffe and Nicole Kornher-Stace:

…the imagery is drawn with immense care, and the language is chosen to great effect. This poem, though, doesn’t just draw pictures — a noble enough quest for a poem standing alone, of course, if not the goal of this trio of poets — it tells the tale of the rivalry between the King of Cats and the Queen of Wolves across time. This is a perfect poem to read to celebrate April, which, after all, is National Poetry Month.

It’s always nice to see the poetry included in a review of a genre publication.

On top of that, Francesca Forrest, who interviewed myself, Sonya and Nicole about “King, Queen,” has created a piece of fan art based on the poem’s middle section. She posted it first on her LiveJournal. Check it out:

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