Robert Philbin



This butterfly, this poetry, this nomad:
Things were clear, speaking past each other,
To settle on my mind and of learning to live
And embrace ambivalence, as Freud knew.

On one hand explaining beyond experiencing,
Letting it get under your skin, to learn
The power of osmosis, the limits of embracing
The known; on the other hand, this mind free.

The self catechism of approaching winter,
The rabbit at the lake front edge, foreign writers,
Translations from the past, to sing together
Discovering, like goats, the ability to misbehave.


As of Monday this memory of heroes on the web
Reminds you that this is Bach, Beethoven, Verdi,
Guernica the outrage, the stunning theft of Mona Lisa,
Real doubts requiring fictional interpretation, or silence.

Meditations too passionate about painting, the bombings,
Volatile relationships intrigued by fighting the cold solidarity
While generosity arrives at different speeds, so egotistical,
A future second fiddle, this Aristotle of the censored mind.

This slide show of photographs, this collection of hooligans
At the altar, the printing press, the microscope, the license
To propagate the imagination, this acceleration, speculation to
Challenge coincidence, among the hard-working and the free.


To clarify loneliness, life’s flatness and abysses, ever beautiful
My death goes away; the moon makes a turn, my cradle leaves
Surrounded by people, alone, cut loose to dispatch a shadow
Into hiding one night, in August, when we made each other cry.

Neither good nor innocent this danger of love, this impalpable ash,
Like a modern movie, I go to bed early and read about the politics
Of public parks, on Long Island, years ago, when my grandfather
Abandoned his tenement for a potato patch in Garden City Park.

Falling upward, defying air, this scent of luxurious food along a
Narrow street in immigrant Belleville, the ancient Jewish streets
So trendy, this riot of bars and the disenfranchised, to remember
Each history not lived, on a Thursday, like today, in autumn.


The gift of memory, Cesar Vallejo is dead; hit him with a stick,
In the sense that the stars have names, setting sail for the mountains,
Finding light and mystery among the fruit stands, the brown and green
Banks of the Loire, among black stones, to make what evils we master.

Soir fait un feu, this evening makes a melancholy fire, an ambulance
Arrives as we plough the earth in every season, thinking the burnt
Wood and the wolf occupy the garden, the little man who dances
Is taken away for interrogation, into earlier texts, awaiting deconstruction.

This light, this rebellious stance among the water-lilies, this warmer
Inquisition to discover the world is all there is. . .


Where sea-herds drove across the mountains and fishes lodged
In all the elms, this metal sharpened, better destined for the Persians,
And of battles too, this wind, stirring thistles in the barley and the mews,
Still listening to the blues, and a crack shot, with progressive views.

The general calls meetings to address urgent escalating deaths,
Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor,
This soul that glows in darkness, this neon summer night, this rejection
Of archaeology, so many voices on the surface of the moon.

This hand holds no chalk, the stillness of its ease, whispers out of time,
When the hum of thought evades your mind, to see what the poets of Ghana
Are doing these days, the films they make in Syria, alive with war and grief,
Where sea-herds drove across the mountains, fishes lodged in all the elms.


To call upon whatever it is you believe in: the carnal apple, war of lightening
And two bodies; the narrow channels of blood, unquiet stones, to return
Against the hot season, the dry mouth of corn, as musk-rose blooms strong
Men clothed in blue illusions confiscated by weather cults and the butterfly.

Dreaming a night of calmed constellations, filled with voices on the wind,
The mundane language of the sea where the best poets wait for words along
The barricades of silence, an eruption of emotion into thorny sound then
Thought shapes the lanes where rivers flow; it was you who broke the new

Wood and there is commerce between sound and silence, a thin war of metal
And consequence, bound and bent in a confusion of colors, powdery gold,
Musk rose and blue baboons and periwinkles, going nowhere you have not
Been, drunk and asleep, lost in red weather, e vecchio cinema italiano.


This water’s pristine coolness, the road sun-drenched and white, a moment
Disappearing, like bird-wing ripened fruit, to explore the relationship between
The ruthless and the poor, waiting for the next cycle of aesthetic registers
To unfold, another wolf man among mechanical dolls and dazzling art.

Someone died in San Francisco, Tuesday, like today, there is no rain
And all the children imagine they share some elements essential, doors
To another different world, postmodern and improvised, like bath time
And homework, designed to free fall, toward some destination under sea.

My form follows function, model of rationalist ingenuity and compromise,
An anarchist in the good sense, like an ironworker in the south of France,
Or Picasso’s 30 days at Guernica, you would never survive the journey to
Any improbable posthumous role, let alone the climate at Maison Tropicale.

Fourth of July

When the endgame withers
the crow’s head realigns its feathers
against the wind.

We are all shoeless gamblers
crossing the fjords with icy diligence,
that calm that comes when nothing else

stands in the way. sometimes it matters
and then suddenly it doesn’t, like a breeze
stirring the elm leaves just above

the river down on front street. the perpetual
outsider, once welcomed, the intriguing stranger,
and then disappearing into the festive crowd.


I want to be a well dressed man,
a satorialist in splendid hand
me downs, with a slight scent of war
and nostalgia for a woman who
is comfortable around me;

a woman who kicks off her shoes
and talks about her dead mother.

I want to dress so fine even death
is intimidated by my antique Italian
tie; I want to be the kind of man
whose smile fills up with so much history
around the eyes, it makes certain

women think of rain on a cobbled street,
or the peaked lapel of another century.

I want to wear my hat at a jaunty slant
like a proud Greek miner with broken hands
and a pistol in his belt; a man who
understands the winter of his own life.
His worn shoes singing of love and roses

under my bed, where death's calculus slumbers.

Copyright © 2013 Robert Philbin