Allison Joseph


Humor Me


I’m functioning on empty
but acting like I’m full
when anxious fevers tempt me
I’m praying to be dull

I’m sorting through my wreckage
in hopes my terrors cease
investigating baggage
and sorting through each piece

I’m managing miasma
and dealing with disease
deficient in my plasma
but living as I please

Determined as I juggle
my pity and my pride
I’m tempering my struggle
and loosening my stride

Next week I might be better
next month I might feel sane
I’m reading last year’s letters
such antiquated pain

I beg your understanding
and hope you’ll humor me
I’ll be the last one standing
in search of dignity

Don’t call this a surrender
my circuits hardly blown
I’m chafing in my angers
and brittle at the bone

How to Write an Elegy


First, there is no time limit.
Grief does not expire, only gains
new hues as time sifts away, new

ways to startle you from the humdrum,
flashbacks flattening you over morning
coffee, pockets of unexplored memory

surfacing as you clean the den, find
the last letter she wrote, last missive
in a now-faded scrawl. Sure, you may

forget a detail, but another detail
will take its place, stiffen your spine
as you sit in class or the movies,

as you listen, stuck in traffic,
to the droning voices of public radio.
Don’t be afraid to call for help—

ask those who survived with you,
call the widows and children,
the mother who knew you as

the best friend, or the last friend,
or the lover who came to the hospital
or the morgue or the mortuary.

The last words you heard him say,
the last words she uttered through
her pain—let those begin the elegy,

connect the living word with the
dying voice, and if you were not there
at the moment of agony, of the soul’s

ascendancy, let the last words she
said to you, the last laugh he had for
you, let those be legacy, etched in ink,

scribbled in the fury of creation,
phrases coming like fists, the
hard glottal stop of loss lived again

in art, in sound, in language,
in the anxious hours before your own
life expires, breath gone, speechless.





Allison Joseph

Allison Joseph lives, teaches, and writes in Carbondale, Illinois, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University. Her next book, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2018.  Recently published chapbooks include What Once You Loved (Barefoot Muse Press) and Mercurial (Mayapple Press).