Allegory, NJ

By Julian Koslow

Looking back, perhaps I should have known—
I mean, I had a crossing guard named Hope,
and my third-grade teacher was
Mrs. Schoolman—that life in Allegory
was not as it seemed.

But of course in childhood the marvelous
will greet you as the given,
and the habitus of your natal genre
accommodates even the extraordinary
without interpretation:

The lady on the white mule, trotting through town
followed by a dwarf carrying her purse,
certainly inspired her share of wonder
among the seventh-grade boys out for bagels
at the Jewish Deli. And the knight seen
galumphing after a beast with a thousand tongues
(very Monty Python) prompted serious
concerns among local parents, even
an emergency assembly with the police
at Everyman High. But no one ever thought
to call in the exegetes.

If, in grammar school, we suspected
the gym teacher (Coach Lust, an amateur
taxidermist) and the art teacher (Ms. Seeley,
a talking paintbrush) were having an affair,
we didn’t think to say, “Aha,
the marriage of soul and body!”
We just wondered what they were up to
in the custodian’s closet.

And when the snow fell, it was white
as regular snow, sparkling just as cold
and diamond-bright in the sun. That it
spelled out the word INNOCENCE
in the parking lot of the municipal building,
made no difference to us as we threw
snowballs, built igloos, went sledding,
and peed our steaming names in gold
behind the library.

In high school, my friend Boredom and I
spent weekend nights wandering the town,
keeping clear of Idleness and Vice
who were always hanging around
the Duck Pond of Despair, smoking weed
and listening to The Dead. We roamed
the satyr-haunted golf course and the
foundling-littered park looking for
something to happen to us that we
couldn’t explain. But adventure
in Allegory seemed in short supply.

So when we got tired of killing Time
(even in Allegory, a victimless crime)
we’d head to Music’s house and hang out,
listening to records, poring over lyric sheets
and album covers, pondering the mysteries
of life and death, love and sex, Aqualung
and Stairway. Later we confirmed our
insights by telephone, which was otherwise
useless except for getting busy signals
from the universe and silence
from unrequited crushes, which, in Allegory
felt like having your whole body
stuffed in a pressure cuff.

And if you fell in love it meant
tumbling down a heart-shaped well,
the result of not watching your step
when AMOR walked by in a bright red sash
and silver crown, with a face that no
two victims ever described the same
(and our sketch artists could only
draw visions anyway).

From the bottom of the well, you’d watch
the patch of sky above, an eye
opening and closing, going from day
to night and back to day.

And once they’d pulled you back up,
blinking in the literal sun,

nothing was ever the same again.

Julian Koslow‘s poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Atlanta Review, Cider Press Review, Journal of New Jersey Poets, and The Broadkill Review. He was at one time a professor of English Renaissance literature, with published articles on John Milton and Ben Jonson, but is now a full-time parent/deeply concerned citizen. He lives with his spouse, Carla, and two sons in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. 

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