ALFRED AND MOSES
By Timothy Robbins
Alfred and Moses
(for A.E. Housman)
I picture a Merchant Ivory flick.
Young classicist with patrician cheeks,
face of an Arabian prancer, features
precise as a Latin declension.
His friend, the rowing Blue, with a
Clydesdale jaw and nostrils that boast
they can sniff out spoony beastliness
behind any doll-sized lapel.
The athlete’s swagger is drawn to the
scholar’s snub as though they were
Something in his Great War poems
tells me: mother, father, sibling, bride,
the gay poet, lingering at sick bedside —
all have a flower only they can lay.
Something tells me the gray flesh,
peeping from under the sheet,
reminds him of Moses at the end of
a race, in a teammate’s lap, abs heaving,
tears flowing, handsome face clenched
and unknowing. He’s thinking of shells
undressing soldiers and occasional
poems re-dressing them for wakes.
He’s remembering when he exploded
his love in their lodgings and in Moses’
eyes his famous paeans to bravery
were twisted into shrapnel pornography.
Already Moses strides British Columbia
haughty as rowers bearing sweeps to
the Thames, silently shouldering
She invited ex-bride’s maids
to her Wedding Dress
Burning. The silk/rayon
blend smoldered like grassfire,
shone like a witch at the stake,
blanched like the moon at
a woman’s wedding with
her Self. I wondered if their
faces reddened, if their eyes
shot red sparks. I remembered
a guy I picked up. How
he flickered behind a tube
with a pebble called the
Devil’s Eye stuck in one end.
His complexion enraged
others who don but don’t burn
white veils and gowns, though
they do burn other
The route to her home of 15 years is suddenly
as faint as the Appian Way. She doesn’t notice
the change. Past Fire Station One (there is
no Two), past the Church of God (no Church
of the Devil) where Pastor Robert Browning
preaches without an Elizabeth, past the dress
factory (a long brick barrack that hasn’t sewn a
stitch in twenty years), past grape arbors kids
raid after nightfall (the Concords slip from
their skins at the gentlest pinch), up our front
steps through the unlocked front door.
My grandmother finds her mentally
cataloging the furnishings like a drunk slowly
waking in a strange room. Why is the floor so soft?
Why are the ceilings too low and getting lower?
Half an hour later Grandma sees her on her
hands and knees, crawling up the steps, a penitent
atoning for a sin she can’t remember.
I can only approximate his Malay
name. Can’t picture the sturdy
Mohammedan face he rested on
classmates’ shoulders. The heat
must have felt immature, amateurish.
Indiana was a new country for him,
as teaching was for me. He wrote
simply, longingly of a hairdresser’s
half-repressed smile, of her nails on
his scalp making the locks’ black
stingray undulate in the watery sink.
His lids met like fingertips
extinguishing a flame.
Dolores Park, Dating Between Boyfriends
A bronze priest squints. His furrowed brow casts
a protective shadow over his eyes.
Lito. His nurse-y voice, Hallmark promises in
Tagalog and belly swelling with compassion.
A bronze bell hangs between two white arms
in line with palms and the busy street. I was afraid
to touch it, lest the kindness spill out and be wasted.
Lime-colored parrots loop tree to tree, swoop
past the Mission where Jimmy Steward stalked in
Vertigo. Oh, what’s the point of lying after all
these years? I didn’t want his belly pressed to mine.
Everywhere you look, look again. Our beautiful park,
wasn’t named for the Mission two blocks north, tourist
monument to Spanish domination.
William. Also Filipino. Handsome as J.D. playing
Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer before his parents
shipped him to Culver Military Academy. El Grito
de Dolores, The Cry of Sorrows rends the air.
Freedom fails to mend it. Something about me
William didn’t want to press against. The priest,
hand on his outraged heart, is Padre Hidalgo,
Father of Mexico.
A Chinese chemist in Palo Alto. Caltrain actually
passed under a rainbow, a high-speed, tuneless
game of limbo on the way to a weekend of sacrificial
lobsters and yellow Calvin Klein briefs falling
from a bed that remained aloof from the floor.
This high ridge we call Castro Beach,
whose view reaches past downtown and touches
the bays, was once a Jewish cemetery. The dead
were moved not for being Jews but because
the precious real estate of this city belongs to the living.
A Buddhist named Steve, drinking tea in my rocking
chair, wants me to strap him to Samsara’s Wheel.
About the Author
Tim Robbins teaches ESL and does freelance translation in Wisconsin. He has a BA in French and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Indiana University. He has been a regular contributor to “Hanging Loose” since 1978. His poems have also appeared appeared in “Three New Poets,” “The James White Review,” “Slant,” “Main Street Rag,” “Two Thirds North,” “The Pinyon Review,” “Wisconsin Review,” and others.