Occasional Poem

P is for poem, as in occasional. Specifically this urban pastoral,
commissioned not for the coronation of a queen but for the
coronation parade of all Queens. I’m proud that the impulse,
the practicality, the public spiritedness of this piece rained on me
in the shower one morning six weeks ago when I was soaping
up my privates and thinking of this podium. I’m proud of the
poem’s presumptions—I’m even proud of its imperfections.
P is for pre-parade: the years before the very first march;
For each country that marches, the years before their first.
Me in San Francisco, 1993 on Market Street 30 minutes before
the Grand Marshal. The crowd made a music like an orchestra
tuning up. People milled around like galactic detritus that
gravity was about to pull into a world, a planet bound to abound
with life. Me, deep in that silence I fall into when I’m on the
precipice of a sublime decree. At last a rumbling from the north
end of Market, the nervous stomach of an unpredictable giant.
The tuning burst into overture. The curtain rose on bike after
bike—motor upon motor—Harleys guided by bachelor women,
Harleys bearing couples whom the long road had wed—some
with breasts bared—some baring victorious flesh where a breast
once breathed. These riders, these leather Valkyries—their
staggering number combined with the sudden knowing that I
loved them made me cry the way I cry at weddings, the way I will
cry cradling the winner’s bouquet as Burt Parks
declares me Mr. Poetry USA. I’m proud five nights a week,
snuggling on the sofa watching Rachel Maddow. Proud that
Mike and I both wear the pants in this house. Just as proud if
one or both of us wore the panties. I was proud the first time
Mike corrected the desk clerk at the Hyatt Regency, “No, just one
bed. That’s all we need.” I was proud and helplessly grateful
when aunts and cousins started addressing Christmas cards and
invitations not to me but to us. I’m proud that I can pronounce
the Vietnamese names of his nieces and nephews, even if I can’t
get the tones right. I’m as proud as they were when, seeing a selfie
of him in his academic regalia, they asked if he was graduating
from kindergarten. P is for private first class. For Priapus and
Penelope and the promise that someday I’ll have a girl pal by that
name. I made that promise years ago when it was hopelessly
unlikely. Now I know: no power on earth, no prig in the skies,
no president on a purple throne, no proctor at life’s exam, no
‘possum perched on a poplar branch trying to make us say,
“Yes sir and no ma’am” will keep us apart. I’m proud to
come up with songs off the cuff. To be paid in applause and
know it’s not enough. Proud of the big cop in the park on a
horse that never uses brutal force. Proud of those who take
care of their people, who know their lives, who wait for
promotions that never arrive. Proud of soldiers whispering
and giggling like 5th-grade kids rifling through dirty playing
cards. The clacking of hooves bouncing a carriage over
cobblestone makes them snap their fingers loud as firecrackers—
makes them laugh like fools who’ve lost their laugh-blockers.
I’m proud of the savior across the tracks giving away
kindness she never gets back, oblivious to her own ocean-deep
mercy. I’m proud that Mike and I produced twenty years of
partnership [snap] just like that. Each year a new child in
our clan of time (20—reminiscent of Bach’s progeny.
P is for prolific). Year one, we dug a tunnel for the BART and
flooded it with whispers. Two, we piled our pasts into pillow
cases and slung them over our shoulders come Christmas Eve.
Three, we looked back on our first quarrels like an old couple
rewriting an ancient honeymoon. Four, our love-making reached
a pitch it won’t reach again. Five, like aging sopranos we began
replacing high notes with coloratura. Six, we planted passwords
in Westwood’s petite cinemas. Later it was his job to remind us:
“That’s where you lost you wallet.” “Bored by M. Night
Shyamalan, it was trying to escape.” “That’s where the old
woman played footsie with you through the trailers.” In a
world that frowned on her fetish, only she could accomplish

[growled like a trailer voiceover]. Seven, at the Fox Theater
with its pretentious back-lot spire, we crashed a premier pretending
to be Press. Eight, he went to France without me. Two months
of flies in the dormitory, feeding on a solitude greater than any
passion Paris had ever ignored. Nine, in his dream, we were
boys in Hanoi, eating sweetcorn on the street, climbing trees at
the zoo, peeing under our desks in the classroom, running
naked through a nation’s doom. Ten, I rode in a taxi without him.
The paranoid cabbie dropped me off at the foot of a hill that
became a mountain as I climbed it. Eleven, when I reached
the top I knew I was no one and would remain no one till, twelve,
a merciful Roc seized and bore me back. Thirteen, in the ER he
brushed the nurse aside, took me in hand and aimed me at the pan.
Fourteen, I sat through two years of Unitarian services, animals,
on occasion, wailing in my ears, preaching at cross purposes
while he waited in the car, rehearsing for a Tourette’s
audition, wondering what was taking so long. Fifteen,
we shined a thin hot light in soup kitchen corners. Sixteen,
I painted the walls with portraits of every King, Count and
Duke of the Weather. Seventeen, he covered the floor with
the Number God’s paper trail. Eighteen, we won the respect
of towels and spies and doctored photos and soldiers turned
student, and immigrant mothers ready to hand over respect
the instant they walked into a classroom. Nineteen, our auto
insurance grew restless. Twenty, we took out life insurance
policies for ten bucks a month. P is for privacy embodied in
his mother’s daily sutra recitals behind a paper mâché partition.
P is for pugilistic, which is how my mom sounds when
she says to a church lady, “My oldest son is married to a woman
who makes him smile, something none of us could ever do,
and my youngest son is married to a man I know will take
care of him when I’m gone.” P is for periphery where we no
longer dwell. P is for plain—the day when joint bank
accounts sitting side by side in lawn chairs with tired seats,
nodding at joggers and strollers that compete for the Lake’s
edge will be too ordinary to merit the desperate word Pride.

Timothy Robbins has taught English as a Second Language for 28 years. He has been a regular contributor to Hanging Loose since 1978. His poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Wisconsin Review, Bayou Magazine, Slant, Tipton Review, Cholla Needles, and many others. He has published three volumes of poetry: Three New Poets (Hanging Loose Press), Denny’s Arbor Vitae (Adelaide Books) and Carrying Bodies (Main Street Rag Press). He lives in Wisconsin with his husband of twenty years.