Allison Joseph


In my dreams I am always drowning,
always that scared girl, toes curled over
the edge of a public pool, suit straps
sliding off my shoulders, fearful

all the boys will see her flat chest,
ruffled two-piece suit soggy, sweaty.
Always the water churns an ugly
blue, chlorine gagging my breathing,

making me turn my head and cough
like at the doctor’s, except no kindly
nurse hands me a sucker here.
Instead, I’m the sucker—so afraid

of sinking that I’m ripe for any
troublemaking boy to trip and push
me into that city pool where the signs
above say NO RUNNING

Swim At Your Own Risk
And before I can say no,
I’m a sunken stone, heavy

but flailing, a skinny bag
of bones, terribly uncute.
Is it any wonder now, adult,
I cannot even float,

that the swim instructor, baffled,
wonders aloud how can you run
and bike but not swim?

I laugh, tell her I don’t trust water,

and really, I don’t—it lies about
how deep it is, comes crashing
uninvited into basements,
aids and abets hurricanes.

No one should trust anything
that beautiful that causes
that much damage, anything
capable of bloating you up,
soaking you dead, leaving
you wasted on the shore.



Advice for Wannabe Rock Stars

Track sound until it disappears.
Stick lips way out in sexy pout.
Work school like it’s a brand new dress;
work class until they kick you out.
Shine shoes until they earn guitars;
sick seas on all your enemies.
Light days inside smoke-darkened bars,
Stand still for no one but a breeze.
Knock knees for funk and nothing else;
break hearts if no one listens up.
Stroke heat and keep some for yourself—
burn suns, red flames in paper cups.
Spangle stars ‘til all goes dark.
Out burn the rest, leave only sparks.



Allison Joseph lives, writes, and teaches in Carbondale, Illinois, where is she is part of the creative writing faculty at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The author of many books and chapbooks of poetry, she is the widow of the poet and editor Jon Tribble, to whom The Last Human Heart is dedicated.