Excerpt from “The Songs of Robert”

by John R. Crutchfield

Imagines a particular field Robert
penumbral fallow small
abeam the ragged pale of town
roiling accumulus
of stormphosphor and the steam-engines
of cloud impurpled peeling thunder
heads to roll in
elemental blood
knotted air like whiplash expounding on
sporadic cedar straggly ash
and hemlock hissing the whirl of dirvilish
garble and barbwire ingroaning a
shudder through bewildered bindweed
and seething corn stalks
round and around
and innumerable in the milling wind
break voices vertiginious to twist
of fatal breath cyclonic in his hair
in the rising dark
––so beholds he at the fulcrum Her
lips moving the full
and auburn falling teetotum terra
caught around the terrible sable eyes
the spectral fortification
of an upraised hand her
thin white fingers splayed so wide apart.


              They have nothing to do with me.
              Quartet of crows advancing single-file
              across the lawns of Harvard Divinity
              picture-perfect grass and the trees well-

              proportioned those rude arrogant bastards
              wouldn’t even talk to him so fuck them
              the gentle breezes ruffling his sheaf of standard-
              ruled pages scribble of sound above him

              “shadows of shadows and a small leaf––”
              ––”shadows of leaves and the small––and these––”

              written words look back at him as if
              from a great distance. Could I have chosen this?

              He stands up scraps of colored paper
              dropping from his pockets. Memories. Her.


Robert gits nekkid, gallops through the snow
thick-stacked on stalk and stone, as plodes from deep
adown his lung a joyful whoop, rings out
across the Flatirons, far from home, where laden
pines draw up themselves like brime-dark surge
beneath the white flotillas, and like fire
the moonflux sparks and glistens and is not
consumed on icy, pendulous tongues, and tongues
to him a perfect nonsense, perfect light
dropping its silver coinage on the cliffs;
and then his best friend and his other friend
into the trees at various angles take
off, kicking like ivory gods through clouds of frost
or deep-sea silt aglitter in the monstrous dark,
their various voices he perceiving through
the woods fill up in echoes cross the mountains,
uphill now into the deep woods Robert
dream-slow runs, pitches his ascending
over natural wind-break, high-heaped, hid
sometimes, or plunges up to boyant thighs
to surface somewhere in a sudden pool
of brightness influent and silent forms
arboreal, my breath percussive in
the thrumming air-tight air, expounding heart
upon my lifeblood, lifting up my arms,
stretching me just as far as I will go,
and so I know this is a sea-change wrought
upon me as they gather, stepping lightly
on the snow, yet traceless under pliant
foot and ankle’s golden pulse, to turn
old shapes and substances perspicuous,
as my streaming breath aplomb fulfills
the whole sky, unpremeditated, un-
prepared-for as a future gives
the sudden tree, my new breath’s bursting forth
in starlight, sown several years ago
and sown in darkness O in darkness sown,
in darkness and in grief and unbeknownst
even to him, yet he has I have felt
this bearing fruit, this breath gone forth from me,
an ornament of grace, a reaching hand.


              Dreams of Minnesota mid-winter
              suntipped lurch into grievous dusk
              darkle of grizzled cornhusk
              and hardwood shaw in bitter

              cold shouldered air apparent
              to appalling snow, as one
              by one last high-lofted clouds burn
              out, caste in disarticulating print

              too for Robert dim to read his
              self driftwalking perforce a way
              from town, and does come, let’s say,
              to where the telephone poles

              lean out into the tenantless dark
              and pauses, places side-by-
              side his feet, boots creaking in bone-dry
              snow. What will happen? Is it worth

              while? Whereupon appears
              unto him a little girl lying in a pool
              of slush, beautiful but so pale

              And what if it’s too late he whispers

              as wind picks up over petrifying farms
              ––oh no––
                                     and so slowly down
              he still bends to her to lift the frozen
              body pillow-light in his thin arms.


A sudden twinge–
in the deep dark leguminous unknown whatsit of me
An awful awful clang
setting all my meticulous technologies
atremble– bolts shread, rivets pop,
all the patchworks of intention torn
apart at the seams,
the taught homologies
of my hard-earned loves unhinged, unpromised,
scattered and effaced,
my silly will
caught spinning and dallying
somewhere on the way towards itself–
and so my doing only undoes
and the whole thing goes.

JOHN R. CRUTCHFIELD is a poet and dramatist holding degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Cornell University. His lives and works in Boone, North Carolina, where he teaches at Appalachian State University and continues to produce verse drama. His Songs of Robert has been performed in North Carolina by Mr. Crutchfield and his associates in the X-Factor dramatic group.