James E. Allman Jr.

James E. Allman, Jr. holds degrees in biology and business, has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes, and has poetry in, or forthcoming from, 'Black Warrior Review', 'The Literary Review', 'Nimrod', 'Phoebe', 'Prairie Schooner', 'Sugar House Review', and 'Third Coast', among others. He’s written reviews for 'Rattle' as well as other journals, and is the co-founder of an artist community called Continuum. He can be found online at the following addresses: www.facebook.com/JamesEAllmanJr ; www.twitter.com/jallmanjr ; www.jameseallmanjr.wordpress.com


A handing down. To us


from Latin trans-, over (or across or beyond), and dare, to give.
Also, to surrender


through traditus, traditio and traditionem. Down, say the Via Appia, or
the Appian Way, over the Alps and later by way of
French townships. Whose townspeople would say:


tradicion. Which becomes a word of interest out of its antiquity,
its lengthy history as a
doppelganger for treason, a handing over.


Which is handed down and


over the same Latin way—road, route, or Latin roots—except


via an unexpected twist taken by the French: traison.
The French being so persnickety and peculiar that way. Being


Gauls and ghoulish and having the gall, being also somewhat foolish,
to distinguish between up and down, or over and under, or over and


down in this way, as if down the road there isn’t also over the hill. Isn’t also


our own doubts? And how many we aren’t yet over. As if
it is always one or the other and not first
handed over before it is handed down to us


to doubt. Remember


Rahab. Who for her part is always called the harlot.
Letting down those spies from her


Jericho high rise. Down a length of rope,
never mind the length (the length being irrelevant):


and each one hand over hand.


Too, letting down her townsfolk. Handing them over
to the Israelites. Even those
who had admired and kissed her thighs. Or
Judas, called Iscariot, whose betrayal was a kiss.
Whose betrayal was long foretold. Some say decreed,
a handing down through time.


But woe to that man who betrays: for he is often found at the end


of his rope. And betray being betrair—be-, thoroughly, completely,
or surrounded on all sides and given over and over and from hand to hand
across all time. Which is
just down the road, being itself the end of the road.


And so many of us on this road without


so much as a rope: trair, traitor, tradere. And trado, traditio, and so
not so far beyond


“to surrender to.” A handing over of self
to another self, whom himself is handed down and


handed over.


makes perfect, they say. Habitual
as in tradition or in the
practice of a tradition,
anyway, which is
a handing down. Say
from the Greek word for
practice, praxis, or from
Medieval Latin,
which too is praxis.
“Praxis, praxis,” said
a hundred zillion,
trillion times by a million
voices—praxis, praxis,
practice: perhaps here and there
just a little slip of the tongue.
Like a gaggle of kids once
making a game of it,
like playing telephone: between
here and there, or
just between you and me—
whispers Demosthenes to
Augustine: “There’s
a pear tree in the orchard
next door to us. And ripe for
climbing.” Or
Clytemnestra to Agamemnon:
“Welcome home; so
glad to see you,
dear.” Or how we
“used to” implies the imperfect
past tense
of out of practice: Us
now winded in the bedroom after
long eons of our last
shouting match.


In the Third Grade There Was No Slouching

or rat-tails or poor penmanship. Miss Moss-Ayad wouldn’t stand for it.
A far cry from now in the backyard, cheeks on the ledge


of a seat. Shoulders slumped.


Watching a siskin on a Boxelder as upright as any siskin.
Same demeanor, same posture as every siskin I’ve ever seen.


And on a wire, a siskin, as upright as any siskin.
Same demeanor. Same posture.


Same as every other siskin ever on any Boxelder tree.
Neither bird with deference in display, nor


admiration of the other, nor appropriate inferiority
complex. Rather stood as equals.


As if neither siskin had ever read
Darwin’s notes from the H.M.S. Beagle, nor considered their genetic favorability quotient.


Didn’t know they were competitors, even.
For the early worm. For seed. For cloacal kisses.


Not a single siskin pointing an outstretched wing singing,
“Nanna nanna boo-boo,” or cheering itself, “Rah rah sis boom bah.”


Or giving one, or the other, the bird.
If so, the vantage from my lawn-chair might be something other than a backyard perch.


Might be the front-yard, where I got my ass kicked
the first time right before sprinting into the house all weepy-eyed


frantically rifling for something to level the odds—a baseball bat, perhaps.
Came out swinging an Encyclopedia Britannica before the wind


got knocked out of me. The slump.
The din of cackling cocks and hens disco dancing in a ring-around, a nosedive.