365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor


Mark Strand at the Dock Street Theatre

The light's in his eyes. He steps back
from the lecturn, startled or pretending
to be startled by his own shadow.
We don't care if this is fright or ruse,
real literary jitters or just an act.
His teeth are large and genuine and white.
We laugh and settle in our seats.
He squints and grins, putting us at ease,
even the ones who worried his poetry
might be unfriendly territory, like
those surreal Italian landscapes no human
can inhabit, where statues cast shadows
across blank stones. Each word is like
a footstep, oddly brave, each echoing
its own question mark, until we are so deep
into that strange country there's no coming back.
The light's in his eyes. He grins again
and follows his long shadow, slowly, so as not
to hurry it, off the gleaming stage.

Let angels prostrate fall

I think of you, Miss Etta, at ninety-eight
dying in the same room you've slept in
for a decade without waking, so small and still
the nurses have been leaning down for years now
holding their breath to listen for yours.
I try to imagine you turning, as the preacher says,
from that long silence into the eternal one,
his God reaching down and trading life for death
as if he'd merely changed the sheets. Instead
I hear the great commotion of your soul rising,
the men's choir at the Methodist Church
in Lancaster, South Carolina, loud and clear tonight
and perfectly on key even without your accompaniment;
the tenors finely strung as if a single instrument;
as if they'd seen a vision of your gnarled hand raised
to help them hold the note past hoping; the basses
braver than ever, but sweet as lovers in their longing.
They'll sing you home, Miss Etta, all heaven clapping.

Upon finding The Times Book Review
at the Bowman Truck Stop

What are you doing here, Stephen Spender
barking about Leavitt's borrowing your life;
John Irving imagining Bombay circuses;
Charles Parnell, Coco Chanel, and Cary Grant
all buttoned up here at Exit 165 off Interstate 26,
halfway from Charleston to Columbia and about as near
to nowhere as you can get? It used to be
my half hour here was a respite from the fast lane,
a greasy fantasy for my low-fat life, where
I could be sloppily happy with the pot-bellied truckers
licking real butter off their fingers. I would exit
for a plate of rice and thick brown gravy,
collard greens and fried chicken --
white only, thank you.

The business here is fuel, diesel
and cornbread, an oil change, sweet tea
and a bag of chips to go. Not much time
for talk, and if there is, it's how are the kids
or the bad wreck up the road. So tell me
how Gail Godwin got in here along with Yitzhak Shamir,
perverse desire and the politics of art?
What sneak left Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
exposed at my table, Midnight in the Garden
of Good and Evil spotted with grease, down
this week from number two to number four?

Lee Robinson grew up in Columbia and now lives in Charleston, where she is the first female president of the Charleston County Bar Association. Her novel, Gateway, will be published by Houghton Mifflin in March. She is a three-time winner of the S.C. Arts Commission's Fiction Project, and her poetry has appeared in Harper's, The South Carolina Review, The Hollins Critic and other magazines.

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© Copyright by POINT, 1995

Last modified 8/8/95