Timothy Robbins


Timothy Robbins has a B.A. in French and an M.A. in Applied linguistics. He and his partner of 16 years live in Wisconsin, where he teaches English as a second language. His poems have appeared in Hanging Loose, the James White Review, Long Shot and Three New Poets.

For Nell


The summer before he died he hitched
to Oregon and back, returning with a pack
of Andy Griffith trading cards
from a general store in Idaho.
He was interested because he
was from North Carolina and like Barney Fife
he had a middle name that kept changing.
He praised the sense of community
but pointed out that in Mayberry
no one was black, no one was queer,
the poor stayed in the hills,
no mention of Chapel Hill
with its educated Jews.

That summer he seemed healthy,
house-sitting for a Guatemalan refugee
hospitalized with a brain parasite;
bringing me thermoses of miso and tofu
after my hernia repair.
He talked endlessly about Micky,
how after Micky left he would
lie in bed smelling the sheets.
No new episodes and no foreseeable end
of syndicated reruns.
When I was back on my feet we took
the Guatemalan’s truck to the lake.
Marc named thirty birds by sound alone.



I don’t remember my fourth birthday.
I do remember a moment exactly one month later --
June 22, 1969.
I can see myself on my grandmother’s front porch,
down on the concrete
beside a half-wall of red brick
with a square opening at the base that I now know was for drainage
but then thought was the door to another world.
I can feel my safety as solid as brick and concrete.
I can hear the creaking of the porch swing
in which my grandmother rocks
and opens up her newspaper.
“Ah, how sad,” she sighs, adjusting her bifocals.
“Judy Garland Dies.”
“Who is she?” I ask.
“Oh, you know her,” she replies. “She’s the little girl in the Wizard of Oz.”
I pause, thinking the witch has gotten Dorothy at last
or maybe there was another cyclone and this time she wound up under the house.
Just a moment then I return to my play.

One week later to the day something happens in New York
that isn’t reported in the Greensburg Daily News  --
an event as momentous as the realization
that you’ve been wearing ruby shoes while being told that you were barefoot.
A wall of stone that had been both protection and prison,
both freedom and trap
began its long awaited collapse.
Those who had been told they had neither heart, nor brains, nor courage
found they had all three and unleashed a cyclone of their own,
a mighty wind that sent stones, coins, beer bottles
and handbags flying through the air,
a wind that scared the wicked flying monkeys almost out of their uniforms.

I was only four and completely unaware
but thanks to that human cyclone I grew up in a different world --
not without fear -- but at least never fearing I’d be jailed
just for a dance, just for a kiss, just for holding someone’s hand
in a dark corner of a bar.




Arbor vita outside a Denney’s window.
Across the parking lot
white pines fanning high in the air.
In front of the Motor Lodge
three cedars like Christmas trees
stripped of their rank.
Tannenbaum piped into the dining room

The town seems confused
with the students gone.

In the first scare after the test results
you talked of changing your life.
No more cigarettes. No more beer.
No more days when you just forget to eat.
No more euchre till four in the morning,
making love till six,
snatching two hours of sleep
before feeling your way to class.

You wanted to decorate your crib for Christmas.
A tree bigger than childhood,
bulbs of every color, lights
flashing like a migraine.
The florist thought I was crazy
when I asked for the tree of life.

This morning I’m breakfasting alone.
The sunshine bleeds like the words of Jesus
in a red letter edition.
You are in Gary by now.
For the first time in your life
you don’t feel safe in your mother’s home.
The danger is in your blood.
No amount of prayer, no crib, no cross
will change you to the rose e’er blooming.



I don’t want to keep seeing the last time I saw you unzipped,
when you might as well have been dead in my mouth
and the only answer I could get was sea lions barking on Fisherman’s Wharf.
I want to see Chinese lion dancers on the Fourth of July,
a gust off the bay billowing in their clothes
as they rise and sway and booming in the microphone.
While cool gathers in the grass and clear darkness overhangs the bay,
I want to hear a middle-aged woman gasp at the fireworks and say,
“It’s the first time in years fog hasn’t ruined the display.”
I want to see our first bed kiss in the Traymore on Alabama Street.
(Did the roaches watch from the wainscoting?)
I want to see Dolores loll on the stoop,
(her grand-baby’s head haloed in smoke)
wink at me and ask, “Who’s that? He’s cute!”
I want to see us going down the street piggyback on our way to see
“The Wedding Banquet.” I want to see us rising on the escalator
toward Samuel Goldwyn Theater.



For Nell

My first surgery -- my virgin surgery you might say --
a hernia repair -- sewing shut something that got ripped open --
in that sense the opposite of first coitus --
You drove me to the hospital -- napped in the waiting room --
nursed me at your parents’ house while they were vacationing in Mexico --
watched a Hitchcock marathon as I drifted in and out of anesthesia
feeling a lot like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo -- worrying about the tarantula
in a terrarium in your father’s room -- hearing through a fog of deadened pain  
your explanation of how Hitch got Cary Grant to look so scared
by running a spider across his arachnophobic hand
The second surgery -- a lump lifted from my breast --
Gynecomastia which has nothing to do with being transgender
but somehow seemed the appropriate ailment for a total bottom like me
Spotting you in the waiting room, the doctor wanted to know
if you were my wife -- “No, that’s my bosom buddy,” I quipped
I don’t think he got the joke