June 12, 2022

Alison Luterman


something was stolen—not
the election, counted and recounted, nor
their livelihoods, abandoned, it seems,
without a second glance; not their womenfolk
who turned their cell-phone boasts and Facebook posts
over to the FBI, nor the Confederate statue, lassoed
by a million ropes and toppled
into the river, not even the fewer
and fewer white children playing cowboys
and Indians in vacant lots, or the more
and more Black youth winning
Merit scholarships—but something
aches, a phantom limb, the tongue
searching for its gone tooth, the stomach
ringing hollow no matter how many Big Macs
were eaten—something
has been mislaid, like a wallet
or the one set of keys
that unlocks the only car that still runs; something
once thought valueless, handed over
too easily, the way we relinquished
our wildness as children to sit behind little desks
made of molded plastic,
miniature businessmen in training. Something
that has vanished like youth, elusive
as a coyote’s howl; open the door, there’s nothing
in the bare back yard but plundered
American desert where even now a jackrabbit
pauses to sniff the air—where is it where is it,
do you miss it too? I do. I miss
knowing what belonging to the land
might have felt like, long ago. I miss the honor
of shaping my footsteps to the pine needle path—
so even if I hate
what they did, I understand
that something is missing in the maelstrom of the lie
that made us American, something like an umbilicus
connecting us to this earth, something like innocence;
once gone you can never get it back.

from Poets Respond
June 12, 2022


Alison Luterman: “This last week we heard again about the January 6th assault on the Capitol. This poem seeks to empathize with the grief of the insurrectionists, if not their grievance.” (web)

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September 29, 2021

Alison Luterman


He said it like it was a good thing,
and it did sound better in Spanish: 
I took it as a compliment
as we twisted together like eels
in the dampened sheets,
but decades later the term haunts me.
To have such a pool of want inside 
is a weird desolation. Afterwards, 
there was still the ache.
The ache was how I knew
myself to be alive, but it repelled
unwary swimmers who ventured
out beyond the buoy lines, and I
don’t blame them—it repelled me too, 
although I was harbor and hothouse,
incubator and incubus
to the ancient reptile self, 
sea-creature of horror movie fame 
who ate and gorged and writhed
and somewhere in my gut is twisting still,
though thickened with age now, barnacled,
monstrous—at bottom, as I said,
where our small vanities, once planted
carelessly, grow—there’s the Void. 
And now, after The Thing
has eaten and eaten its fill, and swallowed
whole decades in its gaping maw,
I come to reckon with history, and how
people with white skin have gobbled
brown bodies, continents, goods—
and I know I wasn’t there
at the theft of the Americas,
but I’m here, now, 
treading with unlawful feet
over sacred ground, asking even the trees
for solace and wisdom. Being trees
they don’t refuse. They tell me I’m a child 
in a prison of my own making: 
avidity and ignorance. Let’s not
call it darkness, because darkness
is fertile. And this is blank. Nothing 
for it then but to allow
myself to be swallowed whole.
And know:
this giant sea-slug, pale imitation 
of desire’s sweet hurrah, this thing
I long deplored in all of you—
I look inside, and lo, it’s in me too.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021


Alison Luterman: “I write poems, eavesdrop, loiter, teach, and pull weeds, in no particular order.” (web)

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August 28, 2020

Alison Luterman


I have not dug up the root.

I’ve sweated, I’ve thinned 
ornamental grasses high as my waist;
clipped waving fronds of night-blooming jasmine
that lunged through the fence like girls at a rock concert,
borne the smears of their sticky lust all over my shirt.

I’ve hacked crowded purple sage 
back to its rightful place; snapped at dry sticks, 
yanked prickly leaves and stems,

but I know, in the darkest,
smallest place inside, 
that I have not gotten to the root.

Not eradicated,
merely cut back, periodically, 
the relentless ego, the chattering need
for attention
so a few roses might flourish
here and there: my better angels.

But there’s the root: call it vanity, call it excess
of thinking, call it personality: 

the incorrigible, prickly, human root.

Look at that castor bean tree, beautiful,
poisonous, which someone planted years ago,
in a fit of reckless aesthetics,
its Martian pink rubber ball spikes
covering the toxic black seed.

That’s me, too.

And no matter how close to the ground I raze it,
it grows back, like a haunted thicket. 
And I know: even my best qualities (a certain
openness, a generosity of heart),
go rank when allowed to squander themselves. 
And I know I am the witch in this story,
as well as the prince, hacking his way through brambles 
in hopes of reaching Love, that sleeping maiden,
even as I am also the noxious weeds, the protective barrier …

Is it the better part of prudence then
that keeps me from ruining
my back tugging up something hell-bent on staying
stuck in the earth where it was first planted?

Or just plain cussedness?

Or could this whole fairytale be a ruse
behind which the face of my true self is hiding?

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Alison Luterman: “I write poems and plays and songs, teach, pet my cat, fret about the state of our country and the state of our world, and live in Oakland, California.” (web)

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May 10, 2020

Alison Luterman


We don’t have snow here
but some mornings the whole world
is white and hushed and soft with fog
and whatever troubles we went to sleep
clutched to our thudding hearts
have loosened overnight and are dissolving
in mist. The regal hills
to the East have been erased
behind a cottony scrim, and people
appear to appear
out of nowhere in the dawn hush.
An old woman in mask and gloves
pushes her shopping cart
full of salvaged empties. A mother hauls
two babies up the street, one in a backpack,
one in a stroller. A man
with dreadlocks and headphones
cruises by on his bike,
no-hands. All of them
whoosh into the frame
and then vanish. Like the future, or the past,
or some other dimension, alive,
but invisible to us.

from Poets Respond
May 10, 2020


Alison Luterman: “I feel a kind of mental fogginess creeping in as we enter week infinity of sheltering-in-place with no certainty about what the future holds—not that we ever had certainty, not really. At times like these it’s helpful for me to remember that there has always been mystery at the heart of life.” (web)

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February 24, 2019

Alison Luterman


It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Like so many others. Sleeping with that guy.
Not checking the address. Letting him put it in
without a condom just the once. Who hasn’t done
all that and worse, is what I was thinking,
driving to H&R Block to get my taxes done
and listening to the radio where everyone keeps talking about
the young black gay actor who orchestrated
a fake hate crime against himself.
It must have seemed like such a good idea to him
at the time, I think, clutching to my chest
the scattered bits of our financial life—
receipts and pay stubs, the record of all I’ve spent
on poetry contests and that workshop
on musical theater—enough
to buy a hot tub, a cheap used one, anyway,
on Craigslist—and that might
or might not be a disaster, too, you never know.
I’ve booked an appointment
with the nicest CPA in the world—Dennis—
who says to me, “You’re not a cookie-cutter person.
Don’t be ashamed of your life.” Really, he should be a therapist
instead of an accountant, but I hope he stays at this job forever,
smoothing out my crumpled 1099s, recording
the five hundred dollars I made coaching
for Poetry Out Loud, the thousand
from that one contest I did win, and then all the bills
when our old home’s ancient plumbing gave up the ghost.
It’s more than I can face head-on, this evidence
of how we live and earn and spend and waste
our lives, and I heard that the young man, an actor, staged the crime
against himself because he felt he wasn’t being paid enough—
though I bet he was paid more than a poet—
well, who isn’t? And who, in the end, doesn’t feel
attention must be paid? Although few would go
to such lengths to get it. I’ve had my share
of Bad Ideas, God knows, and all of them seemed Good to me
at the time, and so have you, I bet, and so has everyone.
It’s the human condition, after all, to be assailed by a million thoughts
a day, most of them insane—I remember I once thought
of becoming a dominatrix, for example—that didn’t last long,
then I thought maybe I’d write a play
about a woman who becomes a dominatrix
in late middle age, to pay the bills—and well,
you see where all this is heading.
I have to forgive this young man his terrible
idea, I have to because, in my own way, I’ve been him.
And while we’re at it all those others
whose freakazoid fancies must have seemed brilliant
to them for a minute, the way all our eurekas do at three a.m.—
gleaming like fool’s gold … haven’t we all
chased them like magical butterflies
through the meadowlands of imagination,
only to end up empty-handed and chagrined,
and far from home?

from Poets Respond
February 24, 2019


Alison Luterman: “Like everyone I’ve been hearing a lot about Jussie Smollett, the actor on Empire, who appears to have (badly) stage-managed a fake hate crime against himself in a misguided bid to get a higher salary. I’ve heard him mocked and condemned for this, and he’s facing criminal charges, but as a creative person myself I thought of all the misguided just plain bad ideas I’ve had over the years, and how grateful I am that no one can see inside my head which continues to hatch hare-brained schemes which will hopefully remain confined to the page.” (web)

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February 26, 2018

Alison Luterman


Morning; I wake to an empty house.
That quietness.
Sun’s tipped his gold hat
over the hills, beyond the condo complex
where Mr. and Mrs. Domestic Violence
are sleeping it off. Kids trudge
to school, knee socks and backpacks.
The news, of course, is dismal.
Yet glints of magic persist:
jay’s glitterwing, silver snail trail, peach bud.

Olly olly in free is something we used to yodel
when we were kids,
meaning you who were playing dead
get up and race as fast as you can
to home base.

Today I call my beloved vanished friends
back from wherever they went—
he who lived in music
like a mansion with infinite rooms,
she who wheeled herself down to the ocean
to face infinity head on.

Know that I’m watching for you now
from whatever big tree you’re hiding behind—
in pollen mote and leaf-flicker,
in every eyeless beam of light.

from Rattle #58, Winter 2017


Alison Luterman: “A lot of my poems are about my neighborhood, or take place in my neighborhood. Clearly, I don’t get out enough. But jokes aside, enough happens here every day to fill a thousand books. And I only get glimpses of most of it. I try to be an honest chronicler of my time and place.” (web)

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March 26, 2017

Alison Luterman


In the beginning, we wept.
Well, some of us wept.
Some of us walked around stunned
as if pieces of sky
had fallen out of the sky and revealed themselves
to be chunks of blue plaster.
We examined the chunks.
We shook plaster dust out of our hair—there was so much dust!
We craned our necks and stared up.
Now we saw the scaffolding,
the what-do-you-call-it—sheetrock?
The drywall, the lath. We saw the insulation,
full of asbestos, we saw how the walls were stuffed
with it, like money. Everything
was revealed, yet nothing was clear.
If we were in a cunningly devised structure
not of our making, was it a theater
or a prison, a shopping mall or a mausoleum?

In the beginning, as I have said, we wept.
And raged and questioned. We embraced on the street
when we saw each other. We sat together
in cafes drinking coffee, digesting our grief.
The rest of the time we sat in front of glowing screens.
We gathered at night and made signs:
Not My President and Pussy Grabs Back;
we stapled them to sticks
and marched in exultation all over the world.
We had never seen before how many of us there are.

We clicked and liked and signed and donated and called
our Congresspeople, and sent postcards and checks.
We spoke of girding ourselves for the long fight.
We spoke of a marathon, we spoke of walking
in the footsteps of the elders, we spoke
of coal miners in Pennsylvania and Kentucky
who had voted for Trump.

And still the cat box needed to be cleaned, the oil in the car changed,
classes taught, bills paid, dishes washed.
And still the rains came down, especially, biblically—
we joked about End Times—and the witching trees
with their bare black branches
sprouted the tiniest of new buds,
almost invisible at first, a red tip at the nodes, a subtle fire,
and then overnight, purple blossoms;
the trees who knew nothing of elections,
the trees who outweighed us and would outlast us
and despite everything the earth continued to turn
from light to darkness and into light again, over and over it rolled,
as it had been rolling through generations of empire and uprising,
extinction and evolution, and once again
to our surprise we noticed that it was spring.

from Poets Respond
March 26, 2017

[download audio]


Alison Luterman: “Even though these past two months have felt in some ways like two years, the earth has continued to turn toward the light, and all the rains we had this winter have created an exceptionally beautiful spring. News of the human world of politics and news of the earth both move me.” (website)

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