Robert Hill Long – Five Poems


His given name is Robinson.
He changed it to Robinsong
as a trust-fund stoner,
but Robinson returned at forty:
his inheritance was too blue-chip
to maintain the Earth-First masquerade.

People mistake you for Garcia
though Jerry’s dead. Premature white
in the beard, plus guitar
plus aviator glasses plus belly—
his father always shaved, wore
contacts, breakfasted on Special K

and left him a million
after his fatal Nixon-resignation-speech stroke.
When Reagan confessed to Alzheimer’s
Robinson possessed half the principal
after years of jam-band cocaine.
He could live on that.

All he had to do
was fire the redneck roadies
who drank his Jack Daniels
and let his backing quartet
(plus shrieking, witch-haired, redneck vocalist)
keep their money-losing hippie band-name:

Robinsong. He surrendered massive amplifiers,
coke-stocked limousines, trashed hotels, groupie
anonymities, in his father’s name.
Spent winters learning rent-party swing
off the 78s father spun
when he was getting nothing

from mother making her career
of weeping upstairs, with views
of the Atlantic that reduced
everything to salt—Lot’s wife,
no daughters provided for her
widower to screw to perpetuate

the world. Here’s Robinson, solo,
middling, resembling a dead rocker,
paying inherited steep property taxes
in order to master what
Coltrane produced by forgetting slavery.
He’s no robin-song, but like

a songbird’s progeny he migrates
Manhattan to Key West: guitar
generous as his mother’s hips,
tight as her shoulders, arched
to deliver whether the gig
is lounge-cheap or uptown-chichi. “Yes,

Robinson here,” he intones (her
telephone, rotary-dial, ancient, black). “No,
I don’t do Robinsong solo—“
(he has principles, no manager)
“Do you like Joe Pass?
United, JFK, Miami? Sure: Yes.”

Quartered/Halved Century

Robinson 50 to Robinson 25:
Kid, prepare for extensive disillusionments,
also intensive, with as-yet-unknown women.
Will you marry? Very soon.

Divorce? Swiftly. Father kids? Consult
childhood’s Magic Eightball: even I
don’t know that. You’ll vex
many parents when you jolt

the pop charts with singles,
two, three if we include
Billboard’s Top One Hundred. Tingles
of transcendence, brushes with genius,

yours during the devil’s deal
where punk overthrows art rock,
metal murders disco, and fundamentalists
seize the American steering wheel.

A decade. At its end
you’ll inhabit Dante’s dark woods,
both parents dead. What then?
You’ll enter hell, bearing goods,

money, ambition, and lose half
descending steadily, level by level,
from lusts to casual betrayal.
You’ll call your oldest friend Judas,

get lost in cocaine’s blizzard,
alienate fans who bought your
well-crafted country-rock ballads
with onstage shenanigans: projectile barfing

into front-row seats, forgetting words
to their anthems, hurling guitar
at the lousy replacement drummer,
stalking off, refusing to refund

tickets after a half-hour show.
Oh, the opportunities you’ll blow.
Care for more?
Robinson 25
to Robinson 50: Still alive?

Because I see you, seventy-five,
spending your first anniversary in
an urn. On someone’s mantel?
Nope, Santa-whiskered dude, way down

in earthworm dirt, unmourned, barely
remembered. Those old-school jazz meanderings
won’t earn even a centimeter
in my lurid faded-rock-boygod obituary.

Still, I’d like to ask
why you turned your back
on writing songs people sing.
Because I love that task.

Somewhere along your self-pitying way
you gave up on words
as angels, so their poetry
gave up on you. Jazz

became your hermit cave, bad
as dad with his twilit
solo golf: a terminal withdrawal
from love, speech, the hit—

better than any designer drug—
from making stadiums of music-lovers
happy. I know how brief
that ecstasy is. How big

the emptiness afterward, breaking down,
back onto the interstate bus
with girls wanting to fuck
my name from Saint Louis

to Denver. Maybe that’s when
you began to be born,
post-ecstasy-Robinson: those girls
so like mom, so avid

for love dad wouldn’t give
she made her couch headquarters
for a parade of lifeguards.
Sorry, but she felt alive

in a man’s arms. No?
You have a rebuttal maybe.
More cereal-box wisdom, further stale-bread
prophecies? I didn’t think so.


Broken Water

Stars befall Alabama, but meteors
shower Robinson when he showers—
musical ideas clear as water,
as democratic, alas, and vague.
Falling water’s the pedal note
to his most naked improvisings:
he scats modal chromatic things
that once he towels dry

fail to resume, or if
they rewind and begin again,
don’t constitute the ultimate beguine.
Does this mean water is

essence of compostion and life?
Sure. Robinson has been there,
swimming through his mother’s broken
waters. He’s the surviving skin

of her heartbeat’s excitable drum,
boom boom, and getting wet
and naked keeps composing him
into a song she tried

to sing after it fell
out of her, bloody, wailing.
Why couldn’t he have been
there when she was done

with breathing, trapped upside-down—salt-marsh
water refilling her magnificent lungs—,
grabbing at her broke-necked spouse.
It’s a truly mother-empty house

where Robinson lathers his hair
with Doctor Bronner’s Peppermint Soap
and scat-sings as though hope
had a perpetual maternal audience.

Sorry, Robinson. Perpetuity occurs once
or twice, then God yanks
the wheel and mother drowns
amid sawgrass and fiddler crabs.

This is why melody grabs
fistfuls of water, unable to
stave off forgetting itself: why
being drily alone is drab

and apparently unending until God
remembers to loose another meteor,
Robinson-sized, to cancel his vain
recreation myth in the shower.

What power God has, improviser
of the highest degree. See
where mother’s memories become marsh?
Robinson drives past each day

he’s home. It’s not much
of a curve, Airlie Road,
descending left where the Waterway
sprouts clouds, sails. You touch

the wheel, the vehicle responds.
Oversteer its margin of error
and she says, Never mind,
my boy, you’ll live forever.

Define forever: stars falling into
her marsh. Water cascades down
Robinson. Don’t leave the shower,
child. Our music ceases here.


Spanish Moss

Blow over, black December, blow
through Robinson’s hollow bones. He
had innocent friends here once—
they’ve changed to unlisted telephones.
Holidays are where his ear

rings with endless busy tones.
Blow backward, black December: Robinson
is home. Fog and sleet
muffle the processional, irregular bass
drum beat of storm surf

where Quinn, his prep-school drummer,
lost that dependable high-hat foot
to a bull shark. Quinn’s
in ICU this Christmas—advanced
lung cancer—he won’t be

walking out. Down the beach
Robinson’s ex will be pampering
mini-Doxies and her third husband’s
grandkids—marshmellows, rum punch, whatever
pacifies kids and lapdogs equally.

She was shopping the pharmacy
earlier for stocking-stuffers: Ambien, Vioxx,
squirt guns, Punisher, Cosmo, defibrillator.
Behind her, Robinson spied over
Vintage Guitar, aisle by aisle:

doggie-sweaters, stuck-pig-strength Tampax, butane charger,
a decisively blond and trim
Mrs. Santa. Afterward, the clerk
confided Hubby Three was nursing
his second cardiac incident, hellacious

grand-spawn their since both parents
had checked into Serenity Lane.
“Recognize me?” the clerk pressured,
inspecting Robinson’s Visa. “Candy Fitzgibbon?
I played the crippled shepherd

in the Episcopal Living Nativity
where you played Wiseman Three.”
Robinson remembers being a statue—
bathrobe and Spanish moss beard.
Candy has a polio leg,

equally dead parents, gets off
at six. Drinks? Why not…. Midnight:
Candy snores somewhere behind Robinson’s
sleety vigil. What strong arms
she has, hair honest gray.

Her Scotch-ballad fingers played across
their old yearbook, tragic-comic refrains:
Holwick, Rouse, Pettit, divorcees rich
and/or drunk; Alpern, Langston, AIDS-wasted;
homely Rosanna Robichaux on Broadway.

Candy filled Robinson’s empty Christmas
stocking. Blow harder, black December,
blow through his gapped teeth—
bathrobed on beach-porch, fog-whiskered, exposed,
baby’s-breath in a funeral wreath.


Air Conditioning

White heat. Salt marshes simmer,
wavery between low tide, high.
Coastal thunderstorms disrupt this humdrum
Predictably. Welcome to Robinson’s summer.

Goose your refrigerated rent-a-cars sporting
out-of-state plates into his foresworn paradise
and try to be nice
to locals existing on ice

in otherwise empty glasses who
will sell you footlong hotdogs,
rent surfboards to watch you
flail the waves and fail

to ride, whose service-industry livelihoods
depend on making you feel
good in Robinson’s franchised neighborhood.
Oysters, scallops, shrimp: your mood

flows, ebbs, depending on whether
you found a sand dollar
whole, a seagull’s perfect feather,
and what about the weather

that alternates between broiling oven
and hints of apocalyptic hurricane?
Sunglasses, sunburn; visit the aquarium
with sharks in perpetual motion

among their ordinary prey; consider
your fatal relation to how
they depend on one another
but please get out before

they feed those sharks yesterday’s
unsold seafood platters. You didn’t
finish yours at the restaurant
and though captive sharks don’t

care where their nourishment originates,
Robinson and five thousand locals
know it was your dinner-plates.
Every monstrous natural predator sates

its appetite on what’s available.
So enjoy that nostalgic sail
skimming the Intracoastal Waterway, snap
digital photos of the frail

black roadside paralytic who presides
over an engineless riding mower
at the now invisible border
between Wrightsville Beach and Macomber

Station, last trolley-stop for ex-slaves
living outside the white beach.
You can photograph their graves.
Don’t imagine you’re enlarging lives

you’ll never understand, having bought
all they’re willing to sell.
Robinson’s neighborhood indulges this defeat
daily, priced to sell out

for thirty pieces of silver
to carpetbaggers, franchisers, out-of-staters, whoever
can live with the mosquitoes
who own all this forever.