by Timothy Robbins
This morning I read Apollinaire’s “Zone”
and thought him silly. Meaning
being a vagabond, his being a vagabond,
it’s no surprise he wandered
along silly’s crooked paths starting with
a Proto-Indo-European root for
‘happy,’ which he certainly was
in Stavelot, dancing with Wallonian girls,
skipping out on his hotel bill or
springing from the Art Nouveau
Underworld of the Metro, his imagination
as fertile as Persephone.
He was ‘blessed,’ he was ‘pious’ as he
tells us himself when he and his boyhood
friend René crept from the dormitory to
pray all night in the college chapel.
He was ‘harmless,’ he was
‘pitiable’ trailing after an English
governess. Look at this photo
from 1916, a bandage round his
shrapnel-torn temple, the wild look in his
eyes and snarling shape of his mouth,
and tell me he wasn’t ‘stunned
by a blow.’ Read the description in
“Zone” of sparrows, ravens, falcons, owls
and hummingbirds cavorting
with airplanes, swarming from the ends
of the earth to celebrate their
new brother. Think what he didn’t
foresee: birds by the thousands shredded
each year — and only a few
that, kamikaze-like, manage
to smite their foe. Think of
power lines, towers and turbines —
all creations of his beloved
modernity — all killers of birds.
Think of this and ask yourself, was he
‘foolish’ or was he ‘innocent?’
I think of the Roc and the Phoenix
(And why not? Icarus too was just a myth
when he was born) and I’m
inclined to declare him innocent. Then I
think of that photo again —
his wound from man’s first flying war.
I think how he died weakened
(another meaning of silly) from his part in
that war, and it’s clear:
Clinging to one’s innocence is foolish.
At The Track
They run again more fiercely than before.
Rick wants to hurt people. His dad wants to
hurt people. Both assume everyone wants
to hurt someone. Jones avoids hurting
teammates no matter the cost. Winston
feels that running on a prescribed
path with all his impetus and skill is the
perfect incarnation of Will. Ernesto runs
for Christina, which might prove chivalry
flowers from a seed that stirs in certain youths
in all times and all places. Rounding
the curves they make a pounding in my
ears so loud it can’t be wholly real. Each
stride makes them younger. Sweat absolves,
sweetens and renders them enviable in the
sight of the gods of pleasure and health.
At times they seem to run in place.
For one or two this will come to be the
way they think about young spring. They run
blindly at me, all bunched together as
though it were a tide that pulled, not their
toes that pushed, waves of glistening
torso and legs, arcs bisected by running shorts.
They rush at me, panting and pounding.
I see myself in the middle of the track
cross-legged and still, exploring my page.
They part and flow around me. They
could be running water, could be equipped
with built-in radar. Running so close,
they stir air that reminds my face of the shore.
I could break them into metaphors. I could
touch their calves and caress their sores.
On they go, their feet scarring the track.
One, with the determined look of a swollen
cherry, eyes the girls on the grass. One
runs an utterly different course. His white
shorts tighten, afraid to pass.
Last time I consulted my geese by the river
on their guano spotted lawn, immunity’s
walls rose tall and fast around me. I may
have just misled you. You’re probably
picturing some Big Muddy or another stream
grand enough to float a rootless casino.
The Colorado may be waltzing through a
chasm in your mind to the legato and pizzicato
of An der schönen blauen Donauor the
Grand Canyon Suite if your knowledge of
classical music is more than passing.
Our elbow of the Huron is no grander than a
creek. Wading it without wetting your thighs,
you might think, “This was made by a leak.”
We like to think its birds are people-watchers
admiring our brisk nervous movements.
See the big one go out and come back with
fodder. The small one cooks it up and both
mouths water. The small one waits at the
backdoor for the airport shuttle. The big one
watches the front lest the driver not bother
to honk or phone. When the small one flies
away, the big one sings sad songs. When the
big one goes, the little one sinks into glum
repose. We like to think they glance at us
and swap knowing looks just before they
step off our balcony, telegraphing: Someday
we’ll teach you to scorn gravity. I have just
misled myself. We will not learn such scorn.
As for immunity, there never was a wall.
There was, and is, you — a deterrent, but
far from insurmountable.
Saturday morning I cast Pedro Zamora as Tao.
I have the whole weekend to make arrangements.
Nothing could be simpler. I’m tired of —
No, I’m angry at — your telling me my mate
doesn’t deserve mating. Angry that you say it
to my masks as well as to my faces, my recursive
thoughts turned inside-out. Angry that you cloak it
in advice. “You must think of your own needs
once, twice, thrice, ad nauseam” as though
mercy were a bribe. The craggy walls of Fantasy
Land did not think of themselves, not even when
the Beast Master scaled them like a mountain
goat, when a sun more primitive than time
heated them down to their common core, when
Christ invited them to sing, to roar whatever
complaints they felt, for he would hear and
understand. Along 35th Street, black lines straight
enough to be called straight remind me of men
who insist they are straight though they’ve
mutually undressed down to the nerve
with enough men to deserve the name crooked.
No flesh and no desire could be simpler.
They who are wrong have blood on their hands.
They who are right have blood on their hands.
They who turn the right cheek to avoid getting
blood on it, have blood on their left cheek.
Blood has blood on its hands. The president
who goes to war and the president who signs the
treaty. The poet who publishes and the poet who
keeps his poems like sex slaves in a drawer.
Jesus has one deadly drop. Babies have their
mother’s. Nothing could be simpler than the
Beast Master’s foothold. This is not what I
wanted to say. Lately I long for naked description.
Long thin mounds of blacktop divide the street
into three sections equal enough to be called
thirds. They are nothing more than the scat
of the machines that shat them. I can’t help
preferring the intersecting blacktop, lines of
the same width that wander a little, making
contour lines of male nudes broken up and
strewn, waiting for a private strayed from his
platoon to gather them in his arms like a camper
collecting wood he will goad to warmth, light and
eye-hating smoke. If you can imagine delight at
being called to unroll an — arm-length? two-arms
length? more? — scroll on the adventures and
meanings of the Beast Master, you and I will dance.
Oh the hours too serene to name themselves we
squinted at the Beast Master on a tiny TV with an
antenna that never relaxed, stiff as a catatonic
lover — an ancient magic of our days. How
desperately we relaxed from our mental labors —
you from the Ramanujan Conjecture (why
not say curse?). Me from the transmutation of our
lives into verse that hinted at our essence without
betraying our location. Herculean tasks. Though
our brains came humanly close to Hercules,
they were not half, but .01 percent divine. Like
the one who longed to be arrayed like the Beast
Master even if it meant climbing the simplest tree.
For us, nothing could be simpler.
About the Author:
Timothy Robbins teaches English as a second language. He has published three volumes of poetry: Three New Poets (Hanging Loose Press), Denny’s Arbor Vitae (Adelaide Books) and Carrying Bodies (Main Street Rag Press). He lives in Wisconsin with his husband of 21 years.