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2 poems by Garth Robinson

The Smallnesses

Mornings when I go to the laundromat across town, the day

comes to me as if through a thick fogscreen or a very heavy,

woolen quilt. Nothing could be right at all. The sky, in

absentia. I can grow even heartless. In the face of my own

tediousness and my pretension, I sit next door at the café, in

one of the iron chairs set out on the sidewalk. On the table I

have a book open and never the mind to read it. Loose quarters

in my breast pocket. The filmy clouds. Smallnesses and the

smallnesses and the smallnesses. Last time, however, an old thin

woman in a polka dot dress, white glasses, skin like an elastic

waistband washed of all its tautness, fell face-down on the

sidewalk and got her lips and her knees and the backs of her

arms and even the ends of her bare small toes covered in blood

and in grit. When I ran over she was crying big tears. She’d

cracked the glasses and everything. I just spoke to her and held

her shoulder. Small freckles there, and on my hands. The

tipped-over world. The world, full of dirt, cloth, nerve endings;

the air, cement, salt, the stuffs of our insides. And, for a

moment, we were only two humans just breathing alongside

each other. That lilt of something random and incredible. But

then I helped her into my chair and the cashier from the café

came out with ice in a Ziploc bag and the woman cleaned

herself up. Very dignified like. Smoothed out the creases in her

dress. I held open her purse so she might find a Band-Aid, and

she apologized when I saw her panty liners tucked away in one

of the flaps. “I feel so stupid,” she said. As if we had not known

each other for a million years, for all of time itself. And, in this

way, the idea of mornings resumed. Later, I saw the old woman

from across the laundromat, eyes down, folding her fleece

blankets in half very lovingly.

Dog, Geese, Skillet

My parents once took very poor care of a little cast iron skillet that is now in my possession. You have to ask, what were they doing that whole time, loving and degrading each other and making up all sorts of truth and nonsense about it. I think they are working in a factory on Ship Street together, gluing bits of metal to other bits of metal, making no money at it and cursing themselves for their bad luck. But then I think my mother is getting home and painting a portrait of herself in a fruit hat like she’s Carmen Miranda. She paints in the Jack Russell sitting on her knee, she spends all day getting the wet glob of a nose just right. As if that dog would ever sit so still, this would be a miracle. And my father’s out nailing slats crosswise, he’s building a goosehouse, and together they’re naming the geese ridiculous things like Ba-Ba-Beep and Mother Mary and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Sometimes they’re saying nothing at all to each other, sometimes their words are great loosened knots that come undone all at once. They’re falling in and out of love and taking their rings off and on and off again and hiding them in little spots throughout the house—in the slotted drawer beneath the spice cupboard, or stuck among the needles and the thimbles by the sewing machine, or pressed soft into the dirt around the snake plant. They are like guarded jealous animals hiding their wares for winter. Whatever they were doing the whole time, my parents let the cast iron skillet get covered up in rust and waterspots. But all that gloom and confusion and big joy and old light and neglect lets the skillet speak in tongues, and now, you and I by the stovetop, slicing up onions, oil slickening itself in the skillet, the surface as smooth and black as the nose of a dog, it’s like two songs being sung all at once.


Garth Robinson lives in Roanoke, Virginia. He holds an MFA from Hollins University. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in DIAGRAM, Variant Literature, and Glassworks Magazine, among other publications.


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