THE WAY OF TIM ASH
Poems by Timothy Robbins
The Way of Tim Ash
You have a way of appearing, the chorus in
a Satyr Play. The night before my hernia repair
you look better than you have in years. Your
cheeks imply you’ve renounced fasting.
You look as resilient as you did when we
kissed in Dunn Meadow. In the Trojan Horse
we kiss the baklava. Like president and
governor, we tour undergrad shelters. The hut
where a tree sowed persimmons
among gravel, the hovel where roaches
drove household gods from the oven, a night
sky, somehow still there, slowed down by
airy-headed fire balloons. Talking all the while
like years ago when I thought we were falling
in love. You preach the virtues of polygamy —
poly-fidelity you call it — and communal
child-rearing. You tell me you still sleep
with Eddie. (He picked you up the summer
you hitchhiked to Vancouver. You both
pretended it was a rescue.) What am I thinking
through all this? What am I supposed to
think when you ask to crash here? You have
this way of showing up like the stranger in a
Jewish tale appearing to the bride on the eve
of her wedding. She can’t tell the angel from
the demon unless she un-shoes him and checks
for hooves. I make up the hideaway for you.
Leaning on a pillow, you read me a poem
by Shelley. I read Matthew Arnold. In the
middle of the night the white strip of bed
beckons like a ledge. I lie against your
back growing stiff-necked and hungry knowing
I can’t eat till after the operation. I hear voices
whisper, “Love, let’s be false to each other.”
I like to think you’ll find me limp
on the floor, light enough to be
picked up with tongs. If you have
trouble locating my bangs, look
with the same anger that kept you
on hands and knees whenever you
thought someone had swiped your
mislaid baggie. Spread me in every
state: solid, liquid, gas, even Utah.
Shotgun my essence to the mourners
(feign kiss or rescue if necessary).
The woman who swallowed wine
only once and that in ignorance, who
eased her calves and shins before bed
with witch hazel and my sins. The
woman who joyed in my foolishness
even more than I did. (“Someone’s
getting stoned in the stairwell.” I
called 911 to report a lapidation.)
The man who is as close as man
can come to disembodied memory,
whose recollections are all the eternity
I can endure. The kid who terrified
me in the dark of our shared bedroom,
whose arm protectively scything
my shoulders when the guide doused
the light in Mammoth Cave redeemed
darkness. The archetypal homeowner
who promised one last traipse over
his cerebrum’s salt flats, whose scared
fist sank into my face rewarding us
both with the shock of familial satori.
The Great Contrarian who greets me
every morning with “More and More
two-headed sharks are popping up,”
news of ever-expanding camaraderie
I withheld the names to slow you down.
Bored with A Walk in the Woods,
I go for a stroll downtown. Pass a house,
flying American and Confederate flags,
standing despite its value-lowering
state of disrepair, as though it can’t decide
whether to prove or challenge Lincoln’s
opinion of duplexes. I pass the Speedy Wash
and remember a time in high school
when a broken Maytag sent me there. The
Cadillac in the parking lot was a hickey I didn’t
want to hide. An old woman shuffled from
machine to machine, looking into the drums
for her reflection. The radio kept insisting
everything was going to be all right. I din’t
believe it but felt good anyway. Maybe
the disbelief was the source of the feeling.
The woman sat down beside me. I was
tempted to play footsie with her.
Raphael, pushing CVS glasses on
his face, has forgotten the price
of Renaissance specs. He’s working
on a Holy Family — as soft, as
dreamed as an early masterpiece.
I’m on a cushion. Mom’s on the
ottoman. Between us, backgammon
spears aim at each other.
Dad reads and toe-strokes my
shoulder. The composition is
stabler than a dream, not as stable
as a painting. On the shelf, Grandpa’s
firm throat is framed by his navy
collar. His cap is a dark halo.
His mouth is sensual and humiliating
like a uniform. His left hand rests on
the left leg of my father’s baby overalls.
The buttons on Grandma’s blouse
like cows in a field attract the child.
Sharing a mind, Mother and son
fix a point off to the right. Readers
are strewn throughout the flat —
some with the crossed arms of
Egyptian slaves in 1960s Panavision.
Some with arms extended in
welcoming rigor mortis. Did I
get these poses from bath-houses?
Hypocrite lecteur, when you read
readers did you think I meant you?
These holy trios, would they be truer
in the the desert’s unflattering light
or in the cramped dim where the
Frankes held their breath? Something
or someone, not Herod’s or Hitler’s
horsemen, comes for us. No dream
in Dad’s head urged us to flee
to these stanzas. We remind me of
Ling from China, Miguel from Peru,
their adopted boy from the Ukraine:
excited, unclear messages.
More convincing than Alec
Guinness, Peter Sellers, Max Baer,
I play multiple roles in this film.
There’s one part I can’t point out
myself. That’s the one I’ve become.
For decades I railed against Joyce’s
obscurantism. Now I start my
mornings with an audiobook of Ulysses,
and the passages I enjoy most are
in languages I don’t speak.
I find myself longing for Greek,
whose alphabet I can’t recite.
Like starting over. Being four again,
looking forward to following
my brother to kindergarten.
Another three years till piano
lessons. Mary Legenhaus, who
smelled of tobacco and hairspray
and the huge bag of dog food
she kept in her Chevrolet.
I mentioned her, separately, to my
parents. “One hell of a lady. One
fantastic woman. Taught two
generations to play.” Words in
lockstep, like Republicans on the
Sunday news shows. And then,
to back it up, the story of her
handling a drunk in a nightclub
with blistering elegance. She
taught me to play “Just Like a
Woman” (she taught me to play
just like a woman) before the
name Dylan meant anything to me.
Said it was his most melodic song.
“Nobody feels any pain.” Someday,
when there’s no one left to say it,
that line will be true.
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.