FOUR POEMS by Michael Robins


We ushered provisions. We joined
frontiers to ask what war was like.

By war vis-à-vis oil. Oil vis-à-vis
we were asking how some wildlife

would survive. We were a secret
lured to the halogen of a window.

Well-renowned was our handiness:
We put down our cots & the cots

of others, we advised swimming
& our umbrellas were better for it.

By swimming, vis-à-vis our souls
were likely sea birds floating there.

We treated our month of Sundays
like any other day. We supposed

in a serious way we were godless.
Our symptoms were the following.


In Memory of Brilliance & Value

This poetry will not cap the well. This
is only a test, a figure & speech looming

like a streak, cadmium in choppy seas:
Dreaming, some animals phone in sick,

each preening to reveal a trodden thing
underneath. Wishing I too were a dream

pouring forth as the marshland speaks
to say goodnight, this too will be alright.

I am a lullaby singing as much as I am
birds changing color. The shoreline too

is changing color. This is my recording
of the shoreline & birds changing color.


The Tyranny of an Object

I am a room full of people. I am a room
of people facing forward. What we’ve done

keeps me filled. To build this room took
all the trees from the epoch of the lake.

My people burned. My hospital burned
& burned. Birds went thump for the light

where my people burned inside a window.
Heat of so much clapping made blisters

on my skin. I am a room full of people
who counted one hundred small birds

& burned each one. Other, smaller birds
were the birds left burning with their nests.


The Staff of Knowledge

It’s a summer day, good for looking
sexy & warm. Happiness in question

more than origin, crudeness washing
coastlines by the sea. It is a bad day,

weeks into several months & years
eager on someone’s slow conclusion.

Numbers are up on the scale of one
to ten, quantity founded like a voice

unreasoned, shoring the oil’s mouth.
I’m exaggerating of course: successes

are lowered cups & pails for drinking.
A happiness come later than sooner.



“In portraiture, you have the fleeting moment to capture the image as it passes and before it dissolves… It captures the shadow of a moment.” –Allen Ginsberg

After cutting across the south lawn among hundreds of thousands who witnessed the swearing-in of our 44th President, I turn north from the E Street overpass to photograph the scattered revelers walking the empty lanes of Interstate 395. Some travel through the cold in groups and at least one walks alone. In the afternoon light, then and now, the shadows are as long as the bodies they duplicate.

In recent weeks I read that BP (insert moniker here), with the cooperation of local Gulf Coast sheriff’s departments, has restricted filming and photography from the oil-covered waters and beaches. Some reporters, including a news crew from CBS, have been threatened with arrest. Of the shockingly few photographs that have indeed emerged—and I feel guilty saying this—some are stunning in their beauty. The pelican, covered head-to-toe, appears as though cast in bronze.

I feel a similar pang of guilt building the much-needed shelves in our kitchen: two trips, by gasoline, to the hardware store. The next Sunday we drive far from Chicago’s north side to learn first-hand about sustainable farming: a farm cat times its passage poorly across the country road. The spent gallons correspond to dollars and, walking back to the car, I wonder what to say to my daughter who is crying in the backseat.

Ten years ago, Jeffrey and I miss the last train from the Harvard Square bars. Passing by foot the dark and quiet homes of Cambridge, Jeffrey (a fiction writer) divulges story after story from the days before we knew each other well, when he haphazardly tested the boundaries of delinquency. In the morning—exhausted, hung-over—he reveals that only half of his plausible narratives, just as my narratives here, are true.

Accuracy matters less to me than the fact that stories are told, repeated and, with abundant frequency, repeated inaccurately. I’m not so naïve to believe that CEOs and government officials—including our Presidents past and present—offer full disclosure. The headlines, sound bites and even some of the photographs are full of falsehood and deceit, and while I don’t care so much about the details—how many gallons exactly, how many birds this week as opposed to last—I do expect someone (naïve after all!) to make this nonsense stop. If not for the fisherman and residents of the Gulf Coast, for the sake of our forgiving planet and the shadows that we leave in our wake.


Michael Robins is the author of the chapbook Circus (Flying Guillotine Press, 2009) and The Next Settlement (UNT Press, 2007), which received the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. His poems have appeared in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Make, Ploughshares, TYPO and elsewhere. He was born in Portland, Oregon, and lives in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.

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