Robert Philbin

 

Robert Philbin was educated at St. Agnes Cathedral High School, studied literature and philosophy at Dickinson College, and Humanities at The Pennsylvania State University. He lectures frequently on subjects pertaining to the Humanities, and his published essays, reviews, political commentary and poetry are available on line. Among his plays, Finca Vigia was recently produced at The Little Theater; Buffalo Dancing was produced at Open Stage; and his play, Finding Utah was produced by The Park Slope Theater, Brooklyn. He is currently developing a mixed media poetry - graphics project with New York artist Joseph Nechvatal.



culture



There was news today of an extraordinary find.
A culture seven thousand years old discovered
along the great seas and rivers of Old Europe.
Along the Danube, near the Black Sea. The one
my great-grandmother came from only to land
on the Lower East Side of Manhattan a century ago.


It is said the discovery will broaden our understanding
of this long overlooked culture, which was almost
but not quite a civilization long before the rise of Egypt.
They were a technologically advanced people at the time,
who appreciated their women. Artifacts indicate they bred well.
Then they disappeared, for no reason. Except of course,


all the usual reasons: poor nutrition, climate change,
wars over resources, and endless invasions. President
Obama, convinced our security is at stake, announced
another 30,000 troops will depart to Afghanistan.
Some will surely die there. Their blood and raw sinew
baking in the hot sand. Overrun by ants.

Children will poke at bits of their flesh with sticks.
I remember the aroma of my great-grand mother's
chicken soup. Nokedli, bits of boiled dough,
chewy at the center. Tomatoes on the kitchen
table, a fresh chicken adrift in icy water in the sink.
Garlic paprika strung from a nail on the door,


and all of it in a white light. A memory. As
Vermeer would have painted it, or Scorsese filmed it.
And there was through a large window a back
yard narrow and overgrown with red bricks and grass.
In summer we visited and lights were strung,
mandolins, a guitar, a violin and Nagymama's


sweet voice soothed the wine glassed evening.
My great-grandmother's husband was a piano
maker from Budapest. The echo of music lived in
his tapping hands, his elegant fingers, nodding smile.
He was a thin man. She was a big loving woman,
wide and smiling; always touching, squeezing,


grasping the physical presence of her children,
even after her first daughter, my father's mother,
died of cancer shortly before I was born.
How she came then to stare into my eyes
so deeply. Her hands clasped to my cheeks,
fingers squeezing, pinching my face flesh


like thumbing Nokedli into small clumps
of pasty dough. Searching for her missing
daughter, somewhere in a child's red-cheeked glow?
Outside my window the pine trees have turned brown.
Shed their needles like acid rain, their branches now
poking, splayed skyward. Like a piano maker's thin


fingers imploring his old god for one more season.
Israeli police arrested the mayor of a Jewish settlement
today. Which some say could help Mr. Netanyahu
persuade skeptical Palestinians and wary Americans
he's serious about peace talks. All those years.
How tentative life is really. How arbitrary. How accidental.




rain


The young muslim woman sits patiently while her husband,
dressed in desert camouflage, will soon bring her a sandwich
wrapped in a paper envelope from the counter and sit down
beside her at the table in this book shop. The muslim woman
appears bored, suppressing a kind of anxiety, like pain, or
perhaps it is me, as she awaits these moments to pass.


Soon her husband will open a computer screen, sip his coffee
tentatively and begin his never ending search for a better life.
But this has not happened yet.
The woman's husband will not make eye contact with anyone
in the book shop and all the readers sitting here will go on
reading, filled with the wonders of their own interior worlds.

(As time passes in this poem two people behind the counter
will concoct silly drinks made of milk and cream and
coffee and sugar and then as each drink is prepared they
will shout out each customer's name.) "Alan!" the person
behind the counter shouts now, just before the muslim
woman's husband picks up his order a minute earlier.


The woman's husband is a large olive skinned man whose
name we will soon learn is Alan. Alan has been trained
in bridge building and design at the Biel School of Engineering
in Switzerland and he is fastidious and clean and soon he
will fastidiously explain something to the muslim woman,
but she already knows everything he is going to say.

So she nods politely pretending to be a younger woman
in love but she is bored now and habitually uncomfortable
in public places because her husband, once a graceful confident
man, is now habitually awkward in public places.
So she begins instead to think about Beirut in late autumn.
When the first rains come in from the west over the rocky

coast of the mediterranean, bringing, as the autumn rains
always do, colder nights and a flourish of art exhibits along
Bechir Kassar and Verdun and in Sioufi above the Beirut River.
And she is thinking now: all I want in life is to express what
I feel through wild colors ordered by geometric lines and isn't
it strange how we can surprise ourselves? I was getting nearer

and nearer to the style of the late Piet Mondrian and then he
got a job in Pennsylvania and we have been lonely ever since.
And the muslim woman goes on thinking like this: I know
that this road is full of unexpected ups and downs, but I believe
that the wise and cautious advices which they gave us are keys
to rely on, concerning all matters of life. She thinks this is

especially true in her region, where America’s policies and
strategies have often proved divisive and destabilizing
and thusly she continues thinking I believe it is relevant to
take a closer look at the physical and mental territory
named America through my own eyes. This is neither an
accusation nor a celebration. The purpose of my rude

introversions is to reflect on the mythologies that have
built and perpetuated the idea of America in our minds
and to consider the ways in which America has been both
imagined and imaged by Americans and non-Americans alike.
The muslim woman's husband will finish speaking in a matter
of moments but the muslim woman has already pushed through

the front door and out into the cold November air. Her husband
will close his computer screen in another moment, then join her
at the red Nissan parked outside the window. In another minute,
the person behind the counter will shout out my name soon.
And I will move to the counter and pick up my freshly prepared
steaming seasonal blend of coffee, cocoa and milk.





residue philosophic



Derrida dust in Kiefer's plaster distills the brain with a flash
of where it all began -- in a tea cup when accountants decided
the game is up and all Wi-Fi would now be free.

In Algiers the origins of words arrive in sunlight and salt-sea air.
Photographs of palm sunday, rotting tree fonts in Paris,
the irresistible rust of stability, the red lure of fascists. A rotting
jackboot on the beach.


A fat man dressed in black fingers his enormous catalog of junk,
refuse from a certain kind of death, his shoes gone at the heels
with boredom. In Gogol's bordello, the women come and go,
jerking off Michelangelo.


Hoards of coins, they say, measure violence in any age,
and that old woman lost in her vineyard over there,
waving her mad umbrella in the air -- it may be anxiety
after all, not the search for meaning, that leads us all to some
heightened sense, of vigilance.





*


*archeologists, construction workers
and amateur treasure hunters
have reportedly discovered
hundreds of coin hoards,
artifacts of greed, dating
back to ancient Roman times.
Conclusion: the more hoarding,
the more violent the culture,
the worse the economy.
(NY Times).







tradition


Like an arthritic typist fearing what comes next
she reserved this area for patrons who wish
to work in silence. Except for Bach's French
Suite No. 5 in G, of course, the Gould version,
the one with shitty sound. Even as the pine trees

turn brown drooping along the edges,
fall arrives behind wafts of humid air
and colder nights -- potatoes grow better
in darker places 'neath the cellar stairs, she said.
Smelling of white bread flour and apples.


There is so much more in Warsaw and nothing
to come home to but expectations' loss. Her
old apron worn thin as a Pietà model's
knuckle, misshapen by an apprentice for
some cardinal's urn. Gnarled tree roots,

digging the earth with an ice cream stick,
in my grandmother's side yard, remembering
all the while the open sea, high tide it was
and you bouncing tippy-toe to the salt
swell surge, rushing, faster, faster, up


the sloping beach, gray-black sand
pasted like potter's clay in a splattered spray
up your thigh. Long Island's great ice-age residue,
continental drifts, all mud, spuds, horses,
barrooms and history. Formidable companions still,

and holy as a grandmother's weary-boned fingers,
busy with her black-beaded prayers, the latin murmured,
muttered, mumbled from Sanctae Sabinae until the very end.





brooklyn


The clouds abandoned us. White puffs grayed
at the bottom, shot through with bolts of
star-bound blue. The cracked robin's egg rancid
on the footpath; a useless feather. I questioned
my future as an aviator observing my uncle Mika
with miner's lung contemplating what comes next.


In the sagging lawn chair 'neath my mother's
snapping laundry, billowing white sheets
in the cold fall air, Mika's red-plaid shirt buttoned
up at cancer's throat, his brown fedora rolled above
one black arched brow, like any handsome Russian
with a penchant for madness. And oh the fruits of his

labor gone to vodka! The vineyard laid ruin, the old
Ford model A modified for acceleration's rust up
at Bunzie's Diamond. The leather-wrapped black glass
goggles hung from a nail above the back room barrel
stove, the cold cellar door, silently abandoned to the
autumnal sun. -- But forgive me, I lost track back there.


You were just reminding me how there's this hunger
now for new shops and restaurants, especially
with less to splurge on luxuries like pinot noire
and Yo-Yo Ma, along the brick-lined back yards
where all the foreign women come and go,
speaking of poetry, and god. And the human soul.





conversation with a dead lover

try the mocha that made us famous
you say, uncommonly smooth,
like you in a good mood.

go ahead, take a sip, discover
the true fall treat of eliot bay
years ago when ray carver

read the homeless to sleep
in cardboard rags and you sang
shortening bread and we looked

for profit in a glut of unsold
apartments. they're closing down
Saturn now. I'll show you fear


in a handful of rust -- but wait!
those clouds can't be standing
still like that, above the Belgian

baton birch, bending now in a windy
row, like ragged soldiers home from war,
all the way down the parking lot to the Interstate.



Copyright © 2010 Robert Philbin