Richard Robbins: Three Poems
Culver City | Postal Commemorative: Nathanael West | Euan Wilson: How He Got His Name
At one point his company was building cottages, stocking them with every imaginable household appliance down to dishes and glassware, landscaping the grounds, putting the car in the garage, everything: "So completely that one might step in and prepare a meal by only supplying the groceries."
He woke between the white still crisp enough
Bruce Henstell, on developer Harry Culver
to sing, the pillow goose down, the spray
of bougainvillaea still fragile, alive
in that bedstand vase. Half the wall's faces
he knew better than when he lived with them,
left them buried for good last week, boarding
broke, without luggage, at Carbondale.
Practical black trousers hooked nicely
to the chair-back. Good western sun through salt fog
fell on his things for the first time, and on hers.
Where, as her train rolled, was the high Nebraska
grass rolling in her dream? Where, when rivers
quit, was the desert waiting to follow?
At the station, Los Angeles filled
with stubble and brick, her bags somehow fell
into earth. Where was her mother's aunt?
Instead, the man she'd cook for that evening
lit his smoke and saw her and loved her,
and she, seeing him then across rows
of newcomers, loved him too. What did they say
over lunch? Where did they get married?
By six, just short of the coast, they entered
a house the stars prepared for them: one arm
cradling their food and three hands free to test
each switch, the loft of the davenport.
She counted jams in the pantry as he sorted
their first mail. Daddy sends his best
from Osceola. Fay Burch writes beside herself
with joy at news of the orange tree, gladioli,
these two lovers already expecting.
Postal Commemorative: Nathanael West
Men in baggy, outdated suits
are picketing a mute riot
the size of sand. A lover
soars in yellow sky, blue heart nailed
to his vest. O, he says, the pale
mob lurching. O, they never
say themselves until the pickets
robed Egyptians now in delicate,
and spin, kissing away their signs,
spin, eddy, and just out of sight
the tidal basin of rage.
Euan Wilson: How He Got His Name
Hot all July and August, the dead wind,
and then the earthquake ten days before,
gas explosions in the neighborhood, smoke
pooling east toward Claremont, his mother
moving back without the father, the old
room still hers, the house where he'd be born.
Around those last hours circled comforting
aunts, divorced or not, and two sisters
never left behind for the long weekend
in Tijuana. Each aftershock came
and went like a guest. Wall and ceiling cracks
filled with dark. By then the father's name,
all but dropped, and the girl's name he had chosen,
all but dropped, sang softest in an air
full of Marie and Kate and Olive Mae
and Will and Raymond and Gordon, all there
notes for a future daily singing.
By the time she knew for surehome now
after delivery, her grandmother
fussing in Gaelic, running about
she'd already grown used to Irish hills
dreaming in the word, the place where earth
stayed put. Even in this city, smoke-filled
and flat, and she soon enough divorced,
lonely woman calling her son to meals
from her parents' front porcheven here
she would say amen each time she called, air
soft as fog in the country of his name.
Richard Robbins' collection Famous Persons We Have Known was published by EWU Press in 2000, and a new book, The Unscheduled Hand, is due out this year from Sandhills Press. He lives in Mankato, Minnesotawhere he directs the writing program at Minnesota State University, Mankatowith his wife, the poet Candace Black, and their two sons.