Dancing with the One-Armed Man
A   l   i   s   o   n       P   e   l   e   g   r   i   n

Home Page       New Releases       Annual Chapbook Contest       Back Issues       Video

Dancing with the One-Armed Man by Alison Pelegrin

Dancing with the One-Armed Man Copyright 1999 by Alison Pelegrin

Poet Bio
    Alison Pelegrin

Sample Poems
Eunice Meets Her Muse
Island Hopping
It's LaDonna, and She Say Ain't No Flood Deep Enough . . .
The Summer of the Joy of Sex

Lucid Moon Poetry Book Reviews by Ralph Haselmann Jr.

Poet Bio

Alison Pelegrin photo by Bryan Davidson

Alison Pelegrin was born and raised in Gretna, Louisiana, a small city just outside of New Orleans. She is currently a student in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas, where she is also director of the Writers in the Schools Program (WITS). Her poems have appeared in several journals, including the Laurel Review, The Chariton Review, Sou’wester, Poet Lore, The New Delta Review, West Branch and Slipstream. She has been awarded the Lily Peter Fellowship by the University of Arkansas and won the John Clellon Holmes Memorial Award. She was also nominated for an AWP Intro Award and a Pushcart Prize.

Back to top


Eunice Meets Her Muse

Eunice had always thought the world stopped
in the river sludge that cupped the city of Marrero,
and never stopped chopping onions long enough
to gaze across the hazy Mississippi
into the neon glaze of the city. She searched
for her reflection in the scoured counters
of the restaurant where she worked,
but the kitchen steel mirrored
only the burnish of a light bulb
and her shadow, slow moving as the moon.
It was one-eyed Jimmie who first took her to the Vieux Carre. From the back of his motorbike,
she imagined Marrero shrinking behind her
like butter in a well of grits. Until that night
she had never known the ferry's call
could echo up the river, or that a man
could hold the brown sound of water in his hands.
She almost felt bruised, being pretty for a one-eyed man,
like an apple he would slice into a pie,
but when Jimmie helped her from his bike
and sat with her on a levee he could only partly see,
Eunice started to believe
that she could sing a song strong enough
to knock a crazy city down.

Copyright ©1999 Allison Pellegrin

Back to top

Island Hopping
for F. C. Hippler

A Chinaman inked him patriotic
one deep war night, and a thick pulse
still floats bruised islands on his forearms.

As veteran, he bumps his tractor to barrooms
where seamless crowds part for him
like water swallowing wreckage.

Pooled against the bar, drowning,
he slams shots back and chases them
like he wants to knock his own teeth out.

His old wife plans to pry heaven open—
has him mow over her church's grass
and sink silently on Sundays in the last pew.

Since the stroke, she's creased his knees
with prayer, propped Gideons beneath his head.
But her verses only blame and bruise his rest,

and in the summons of his dreams
he sees shadows in the foxhole smoke, a hand
that reaches and pulls him to the scratch of bloody sand.

Copyright ©1999 Allison Pellegrin

Back to top

It's LaDonna, and She Say Ain't No Flood Deep Enough
Could Make Her Leave

Ain't no water gonna do to me
what the sun can't fix.
Y'all could forgive my calm,
cause pushing back water only makes a splash,
and I don't need dry land to know my roots.

Gretna floods in the spring just to fill the bottom
of the Delta's cup and swallow bayou silt.
Once the water shake off the land's the same,
only newer and scared. Look like the trees be afraid to grow,
the canals afraid to follow their muddy veins.

I been rode out every flood the last six years
just to see fish swimming in my lawn
and the extra clean green that come from shadows.
The earth rights itself underwater.
So while y'all neighbors shovel panic into sandbags
I send my children to the puddles.

You got to understand the water moves in blinks
and if you watching hard, the changes happen slow.
If I look out the window all day the water rise
but don't touch itself across the street.
To my eyes, water moves and is still.

Even when the water bubbles under my back door
I don't wonder; I just watch,
waiting for my house to change.
A couple inches wet, the walls sweh, the paneling buckle off,
and I can't trust my feet to lead me through the halls.

But there's some kind of beauty here so clear
I don't bother rolling carpets back, raising furniture
or moving shoes out the closets.
Losing everything don't scare me.

It's when I slip on my marsh pants
and join my children wading that I feel it—
one with the water, one with the ground.
Then the river wash over me like a fever.

Copyright ©1999 Allison Pellegrin

Back to top

The Summer of The Joy of Sex

My brother stripped dad's dresser drawers
for smokes and found the book, spine split
to pages of arched bodies sexed and gleaming
beneath mirrors and grease.
Hey little sister-check it out.
We witnessed the slippery rub of cunnilingus
and poured over pictures of vulvas, each one blushed
deed red and shiny as waxed fruit.
We saw the penis and its bulbous cap, the anus
and its punctured grip, the flat slack paddles
of the breasts of a woman on her back.
Flushed, we couldn't touch eyes, even over text—
the sudden distance stiffened like leagues between us.
From the winces in pictures, we knew
we could only hurt ourselves or each other
with the accidental smash of our sexed parts.
But somehow we swam together, plunged
in full view on damp summer afternoons
beneath the heat of new rules.
No more heads dunked beneath the lucid blue spill
of the pool. No yanking my string bikini top,
no nipple flashing. No unanticipated touch.
Penis and vagina wide-eyed different,
we made these promises, hooked our crooked pinkies,
fell backwards from the slick brick lip of the pool,
and scrambled underwater to our modest bodies.

Copyright ©1999 Allison Pellegrin


Dancing with the One-Armed Man
By Ralph Haselmann, Jr.
Lucid Moon Poetry Book Reviews, Fall 2002
Lucid Moon home page: www.lucidmoonpoetry.com

Poet Alison Pelegrin weaves quiet tales of desolation, all couched in rich detail and character illustration. She writes about her mother, her uncle Earl, Eunice and other characters that seem ordinary but have a hint of star power. She dances in the title poem with a one-armed man who moves gracefully across the floor like a Fred Astaire. Reading the poem, you almost wish she was with the real Astaire, then his one arm wouldn't matter. The title poem reads: "He spins me, and his one good arm is stronger than I thought. I can see through his yellow oxford—a ribbed undershirt, air beneath his elbow. When he turns me to his chest I feel the crinkle of his pocket full of peppermints. The tobacco smell he's steeped in wraps around us like a sweet cherry sheet. Heavy and misshapen, the half-arm hooks my waist, and his eyes push me backwards in a waltz. His leather shoes whisper across the floor until they barely touch, and when the song is over we keep moving. I'm afraid he'll dance away my legs or twist me into spins until I vanish. Then he has to cover up my stumbling the way I've poised my right arm to hide his empty sleeve."

"The tobacco smell he's steeped in" is a good description, and it is often smells that reconnect us to memories of a time and place long ago. Alison Pelegrin makes her memories ours. A fine collection.

Back to top