HomeArchiveAboutMastheadJoin POW ListserveDonate
Joshua Robbins

11-16-2010

Less Than Ash
 
I’m beginning now to hear
the voice that sings just beyond memory:

heaven-flung and not quite
an afterthought, something settling

on what shifts in the heart.
It’s mid-summer now and the sky

peels back above the turnpike
as another August late-afternoon

boils over. I remember the hard pew,
the voices singing Soon we’ll reach

the shining river, soon our pilgrimage
will cease.  But here there is no ghost,

no elegy, and no wavering
Amen to be found in a hymn’s last line

like the one I sang later, off key
and to no one in particular,

as I pulled the soiled mattress out
of the bedroom where my father died,

tipped it over the balcony railing
and onto the grass below.

Even then, what was it I wanted?
Not the river, its murmuring choir.

But something, yes. Something pure
like this asphalt steam’s resurrection

of all I’ve forgotten or have tried
to forget: how after the service

behind the sanctuary, I wrote out
and diagramed my sins. How I’d lied.

Said I’d miss him. That I could hear him
singing with all of those called home.

Then, striking a match, I held
the paper’s flame and told myself

I wanted nothing more, nothing less
than ash, and no water to put it out.

               -originally appeared in Still

When I Say Hymn   

I mean breaker-crashed gunwales, yes,
    John Newton’s near-shipwreck conversion,
and, of course, “Amazing Grace,”

    but as Janis Joplin screaked it,
her voice full-throated and grainy
    bending the phrasing. And it’s two

young men, homeless on a suburban
    church pew, one high or getting there,
the other striking matches,

    each small flame tossed
toward a pile of gasoline-soaked
    hymnals, and how the day after

the fire we sang over the sanctuary’s
    ashy smolder. It’s the photo
tucked in my mother’s Bible,

    the one she snapped circa 1967:
Pearl’s mouth wailing, the stage
    set ablaze by the fiery coal

of her heart that Summer of Love.
    Sundays, having passed out
the night before, Mom would sing

    a wretch like me tuneless
but extra loud, raise her Bible
    when the preacher’s tongue

cast our sins away.
    How we burned then, bright
as when we first believed.

            -originally appeared in Apalachee Review

Doxology    


Because spring’s grace by now
    is worth nothing more than the vacant
wind as it lays down

    roadside cheat grass and smooth brome
into the scrawled shade
    of a hand-lettered billboard’s He is Risen,

I can raise now this sweating
    and half-empty longneck
to August’s full bloom and bring it

    back to the lips half-full,
blessed by whatever it is
    that jinks the last monarchs

fluttering like quarter notes over the driveway,
    its flat, sun-glittered tongue,
its hymn of sawdusted motor oil

    ascending into nothing
but the wash line’s pinned-up t-shirts
    and damp shorts flapping pointless

as prayer flags in the sweltering breeze.
    And although fall’s back soon
with its hard tally of leaf change

    and leaf drop, its apostate
yawn of jaundiced light
    hung in the barren trees

like torn sackcloth, I’m content
    for now to love, to watch
summer’s penitents stumble

    down the path of sweat and sacrifice:
contrite women with bad knees
    and sensible shoes, young mothers

like exhausted pilgrims
    pushing their chubby toddlers
who point to the empty sky,

    even the bare-chested young men
who jog the tortured asphalt
    with furrowed brows seared

by August’s mark and headed
    God-knows-where, who know
we all take nothing with us,

    not even the relief of these
our long purgatorial shadows.

                   -originally appeared in Center



Archive


Kim Addonizio 03-14-08

Agha Shahid Ali 09-14-07

Alice Anderson 11-16-08

Christianne Balk 07-27-07

Brian Barker 07-07-07

Polina Barskova 09-13-2010

Bruce Beasley 11-22-08

Nicky Beer 09-06-2010

Nicky Beer 08-22-08

Nathaniel Bellows 04-27-09

Ciaran Berry 01-25-09

Linda Bierds 08-31-07

Kristin Bock 08-17-09

Brian Brodeur 03-29-09

Michelle Boisseau 09-20-2010

Anne Caston 09-24-09

Nicole Cooley 04-05-09

Nicole Cuddeback 03-07-08

Elizabeth Biller Chapman 01-25-08

Steve Davenport 03-29-2010

Cortney Davis 05-03-09

Todd Davis 11-01-2010

Elizabeth Dodd 09-05-08

Karen Donovan 04-15-07

Mark Doty 04-11-08

Stephen Dunn 11-09-02010

Lynn Emanuel 08-30-2010

B. H. Fairchild  09-04-09

Nick Flynn 10-04-2010

Carolyn Forche 09-21-07

James Galvin 02-23-07

Margaret Gibson 01-24-10

Mary Jo Firth Gillett 02-22-08

Dana Gioia 08-23-2010

Eugene Gloria 09-20-08

Louise Gluck 03-17-2010

Kevin Goodan 08-29-08

Robert Grunst 11-16-07

Elizabeth Hadaway 06-15-07

Donald Hall 02-10-07

Jeff Hardin 08-10-07

Brooks Haxton 03-08-10

Seamus Heaney 09-11-09

Dennis Hinrichsen 11-02-07

Andrew Hudgins 11-21-09

Lynda Hull 05-20-07

Major Jackson 05-02-2010

Mark Jarman 10-19-08

Rodney Jones 10-26-09

Barbara Jordan 02-02-09

Brigit Pegeen Kelly 10-12-08

Jane Kenyon 04-01-07

James Kimbrell 04-07-2010

James Kimbrell 01-19-07

Galway Kinnell 11-09-07

Yusef Komunyakaa 07-15-07
Phil Levine 06-03-07

Eleanor Lerman 11-02-08

Larry Levis 04-04-08

Larry Levis 02-08-2010

Sandy Longhorn 04-26-08

Corey Marks 10-03-07

Adrian Matejka 04-18-08

Davis McCombs 01-18-08

Michael McGriff 02-22-09

Jay Meek 01-16-2010

Anne Michaels 01-18-09
Nils Michals 02-29-08

Malena Morling 05-12-08

Simone Muench 02-08-08

Sharon Olds 02-22-07

Sharon Olds 10-19-07

Michael Ondaatje 02-01-2010

Eric Pankey 09-07-07

Gregory Pardlo 06-22-07

Ed Pavlic 09-28-07

Oliver de la Paz 02-15-2010

Lucia Perillo 12-04-09

Donald Platt 02-15-08

Joshua Poteat 11-3-09

Amy Randolph 03-01-09

Robert Randolph 12-12-09

Adrienne Rich 04-20-2010

Josh Robbins 11-16-2010

David Roderick 12-07-07

Pattiann Rogers 3-21-08

Steve Scafidi 10-09-09

Jim Schley 10-19-09

Tim Seibles 10-08-07

David Shumate 10-26-08

Dave Smith 04-10-09

Katherine Soniat 11-30-07

Gary Soto 03-23-07

Mark Sullivan 08-28-09

Frank Standford 10-25-2010

Mark Strand 02-22-2010

Mark Svenvold 03-23-09
Brian Turner 05-13-07

Tribute to Virginia Tech 04-24-07

Charles Harper Webb 10-12-07

C.K. Williams 05-25-07

Susan B.A. Somers-Willett 06-29-07

Charles Wright 01-27-07

Robert Wrigley 10-11-2010

Robert Wrigley 08-17-07