Dick Allen's Poem 'If You Get There Before I Do' Captures Vivid Snapshots in Time

Dick Allen's Poem 'If You Get There Before I Do' Captures Vivid Snapshots in Time

Tuesday, 10 August, 2021

Poet Dick Allen (1939-2017) was one of the founders of Expansive poetry, a movement in the 1980s that emphasized the sharing of authentic, unpretentious subjective experience. That’s a lot of multisyllabic words to say that his poems are rich with imagery that trasports you directly into his experience to make it yours, too.

This is such a nice poem for the lazy days of a winding-down summer. It starts as one thing — anticipation of a holiday-to-be — and evolves into a wander through memory and a celebration of the moments that make a lifetime.


If You Get There Before I Do by Dick Allen

  • Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
  • and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
  • lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
  • and look out the back windows first.
  • I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
  • leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
  • of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
  • I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
  • only a General Store. You passed it coming in,
  • but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
  • along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
  • If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
  • that state where people are folded into the mountains
  • like berries in batter…. What I’d like when I get there
  • is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
  • on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
  • and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
  • or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
  • take small steps into what they never do,
  • the first weeks, the first lessons,
  • until they choose something other,
  • beginning and beginning their lives,
  • so never knowing what it’s like to risk
  • last minute failure…. I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
  • or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
  • That would take decades…. Don’t forget
  • to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
  • just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
  • make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
  • the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
  • In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
  • who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
  • on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
  • to salaam into joy…. I expect you’ll find
  • Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur’ans,
  • as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
  • old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
  • You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
  • when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
  • you lose your bearings,
  • your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
  • until finally it’s invisible — what old age rehearses us for
  • and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
  • Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I’m on my way,
  • the long middle passage done,
  • fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
  • checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
  • out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
  • pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
  • then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
  • until you tell them all—the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,
  • those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses—
  • that I’m allowed,
  • and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
  • I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.


Dick Allen was born in Troy, New York, on August 8, 1939, grew up in the Adirondack Mountains, and was influenced by Zen Buddhism. He is the author of eight poetry collections and also co-authored science fiction anthologies. He received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded the Robert Frost Prize for Poetry and the Hart Crane Poetry Prize. In 2010, he was appointed poet laureate of the state of Connecticut, a role in which he served until 2015. He died on December 27, 2017.

Top image courtesy of Roberto Nickson/Unsplash.

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