Daniel Robbins


When she could no longer
live at home, Juanita
gave it to me with a stack
of records inside, through which

I could see my mother’s family
passing in time, the space
from Guy Lombardo to
Sergeant Pepper’s like a bridge
over the history of the world.

She died on the anniversary
of when Elvis did too.  Last year
I was in Memphis when it came.
I always pictured Beale Street
the way Miles Davis plays it

but it was all beer and ghosts,
the king’s death celebrated
by people fighting in a garden,
two drunk teenagers pissing on a wall
blocking a bronze plaque
that holds the names of famous men.





is where I have studied
her secret language,
observing her behavior
like a male Jane Goodall
in a jungle of lips and thighs. 

I have learned
what it really means when
she reaches across the table
for my hand, when she
draws invisible pictures
with her finger, or when
she looks away while
drinking water. 

Currently, all research
is concentrated on her late-night
diner rituals: building a shrine
out of coffee-creamers or
spinning the ash tray in circles,
stirring coffee for three
unbroken minutes.
And her car keys – how
so much depends
if she puts them in her pocket.

And it can mean many things
when she says I’m not hungry
or this egg isn’t cooked; but
tonight I have discovered
it can only mean one thing
when she looks at the bill
and reaches into
what is called a purse,
says I’m paying for my own.
This means something
not expressible in the tongue of men
but instead maybe by the table
we leave behind: coffee stains
marking time like the rings of trees,
an ash tray heaped like Pompeii,
one clean knife and a five dollar bill,
an unfinished crossword,
done in ink, forever waiting
on those final answers to come
like the voice of God: Rosebud,
corpus, a six-letter word
for First apple-picker.





it was set free when
I was a teenager,
out the passenger window
of a 71 Cutlass, leaping
from the arms of a Michelle
into the suburban forest
where still I hear the creature
howl its song; listen
and you will hear it too,
the un-capturable beast of many escapes
moving through the darkness,
its presence like a ghost—known only
by story and the rustling
leaves of night.




I have a notebook full of them
Most are about the dead like
my friend whom the plumber

found on the floor or a purse
snatcher’s white chalk outline
in the parking lot of a grocery store

One is about falling down concrete
stairs  I got a concussion and
dreamt I was an old fisherman

Two of them are about New Orleans
I don’t know why but they were
not about barges of scrap drifting

down the Mississippi at dawn or
a clarinet version of Amazing Grace that
made a man go to his knees  I remember

he wore a yellow suit Instead they are
about cab drivers who jerk like beeline
clockwork down the narrow of each street.

In some of them my middle name
is a very courageous character who
drinks too much and carries a lucky

French coin  All characters are
smokers and most in love that is
unrequited because they are

after all only first lines  My favorite
is one about a girl  She had lush breasts
and one day in rage knocked a glass

ashtray off my desk  It chipped but
I still use it  The day prior we had gone
to a cornfield to see the Virgin Mary’s

image in the stalks and the roadside
of Mexicans who had traveled and
camped in tents  There were fires

and chickens on the shoulder of
the highway  I could never get past
the gas station that sold plastic rosary

beads and little wooden crucifixes
next to caffeine pills  I’m not Catholic
but I bought one and some cigarettes.




The first night in my new house
all I bring is a box of books,
a liter of vodka, a blanket
I stretch across the carpet antarctic.

The air conditioner hums into the night,
making it cold like a Soviet winter
while I open Chekhov and sip
from the bottle.  And as the little

campfire inside me begins to die
the gruff Russian voice that tends it says
throw on another log to the man lying
against the tree, his hat tipped forward
and head dipping into sleep.

Daniel Robbins is a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he served as editor for the Kaleidoscope and technical writer for the IT department.  Recently, he has appeared in The Allegheny Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Aura Literary Arts Review.  He has won several awards including the Barkesdale-Maynard Poetry Award and a Hackney Literary Award for Poetry, and is currently working on a book about comic-book literature entitled In Defense of Men in Tights.

Daniel Robbins was nominated for Poets Under 30 by Bob Collins.

Poetry copyright 2004 by Daniel Robbins.