Graham Allen – In a Time of Terror

Graham Allen LE P&W February 2019

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In a Time of Terror, poems by Graham Allen

Graham Allen is Professor of English at University College Cork, Ireland. He has published three collections, The One That Got Away (2014), The Madhouse System (2016), Holes: Decade 1 (2017), all with New Binary  Press. He was the winner of the 2010 Listowel Single Poem Prize and has been shortlisted for The Crashaw, The Strong/Shine, The Fool for Poetry, and Listowel First Collection Prize. He was included in Poetry Ireland Review’s edition, The Rising Generation, in 2016. His poem, “Bright Star: Elegy for David Bowie,” was RTE Poem of the Week In December 2016. His new collection, A Tower That Knows No Ghost, will be published by Salmon Press in 2020. His on-going epoem Holes can  be accessed at www.holesbygrahamallen. org . Previously poems can be found at

In a Time of Terror


The centre of hurt is not a target,
the idea of hate is your own hostage.

Lack of faith makes the idea of God,
no one with hands can injure your soul.

If the world turns right, face towards the sun,
indemnities do not hold in the dark.

The loudest scream disappears in the morning,
even the crows know what you have betrayed.

Take a pillow and smother your conscience,
the heart of your peace is a ticking sports bag.

The logic you live by has failed its repeats,
even the mountains cannot conceal you.

On a cloudless day you still hear the rain,
fear has abolished all silence in you.

If they pleaded with you, you would still play dumb,
effigy on a stick in the market square.


I have put my face in front of the sun,
nothing you can say will save you from time.

The sea drums on a wall of distance,
the Earth laughs at your arcane cravings.

The book you have all your life imagined
is trickling away from your memory,

like the sand in which it was originally written,
mad constellations steering the drifts.

We had been told we would rival the heavens,
that the age of wandering would come to an end,

the blinded and tortured children of the world
gathered like angels into congregated song.

We had been told we would re-enter the citadel,
the animals waiting with their names intact.

Meanwhile, in this new created desert,
strange birds pick at the unquiet dead,

as melancholic creatures temper their flight,
waiting patiently for something to drop.

We are not scribes of salvaged fragments,
or skilled rhetoricians released from the heights,

we are not fanatics, charismatics or evangelicals,
alien voices inhabiting our throats,

we have no cures, no magical phrases,
we are simply believers, belated and bereft,

cowering as lightning forks into the prayer room,
silent in the face of inevitable death.


You will not be seeing any stars tonight,
the weather you ordered has been discontinued.

The wind is up, the clouds have spawned shadows,
the sun has been dragged to another zone of space.

Knowledge lies smothered in a bombed-out schoolyard,
what was once good in us is hardened into ice.

This is an age of inertia,
Gnosis is our only feasible goal,

the one consolation as the big ships go down,
bleak insight on the storm battered heights.

If we set out now towards the West,
hope and necessity set in our jaws,

we would not confront our better selves returning
with blazing eyes and magnificent descriptions.

Put those notions aside, they do not concern you now;
now is the time to be resolute.

From this moment on you are being scrutinised,
your every movement set down in the records.

Someone keeps hitting the restart button.
You are in a loop at the end of an LP.

The children you intended to bear
are inventing illicit torture practices.

The family relations you never forged
are enflaming a new generation to war.

When they bombed the mosque in the middle of prayers,
someone was heard calling out your name.

Tonight you will watch as the oil wells burn,
and listen to cant about sovereign nations.

American Requiem

The out of work actor
in a Ronald Macdonald costume

is no longer able to hold up the world,
as he strokes his glistening submachine-gun

and thinks about what high school to visit.
Lincoln squats and shits on his monument.

The Rushmore dolls hold their heads in shame.
Emma Goldman buys a pink tutu

before throwing her dancing shoes in the river.
Walt Whitman paper cuts himself to death.

Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground
write a song about teeny-bopper day dreams.

The cast of The Brady Bunch drive to Death Valley,
roasting themselves into non-existence.

Elvis, who for all these years has lived in the mountains,
cuts off his tongue and feeds it to chipmunks.

Eleanor Roosevelt sets light to her hairdo.
Rocky Marciano punches himself unconscious.

Amelia Earhart sells her bi-plane on eBay
and takes to digging elaborate tunnels.

Donald Duck, clutching a Colt 45,
shoots himself into a world without pencils.

We Demand Victory

after Emerson

With one hand clasping a bar of soap,
he puts the Passion behind him,
all sacrifice itself,
outmoded obeisance and cull.

He washes away the years,
the death camps still to come,
the Bomb out-troped,
the gates unguarded,

the schoolyard clear of guns,
drawing a direct, irrefutable line
between the idea of sin
and money’s crass dominion.

He inspires vision, poetry,
heliotropic travel,
the search for a sweeter,
more habitable garden.

Wise men cannot stand his smile.
Politicians avoid him.
Babes in arms gurgle
at the softness of his voice,

imagining angels at the door,
the radiance around their parents
dancing away like sprites
into a night that never darkens,

and the apple trees burning
with a pure blue heat, its fruit
in their golden, outstretched palms,
all power transformed to play.

The Naughtiest Thing You Ever Did

If truth be known, we would have all our children
run through fields of ripened wheat,
free to express themselves
in the sheer joy of their infinite innocence,
in a natural world we have finally freed
from the slavery and scalding pollution
of mindless business and industrial insult,
unaware of nightmare cityscapes,
where masses of the hopeless and abandoned
weep through their lonely, malformed lives
in bitter images of uncultivated desire.

None of us believed you anyway.

No, the naughtiest thing you ever did
was to fritter away the power we gave you
in playground squabbles with friends and neighbours,
clinging to your office like a child to its mother
as you enter the overcrowded passenger ferry,
toughened by a thousand fruitless voyages,
spitting like a brat at those who cross you,
never once stopping at the well of goodness,
pulling everything and everyone down with you,
unwilling to halt your mad dash into the void.

©Graham Allen