Robert Philbin-

killing time

another day follows the sun through the morning
oak leaves, casting shadows which lash my feet
like bamboo shoots in the mud. red bricks light
the coffee shop on beaver street, in this town,
old as the revolution, where the order of the arrow

still carries meaning, and artists in baggy blue jeans
still carry a bopper attitude straight to the street.
mr. big arrives in his gray suit, yesterday’s newspaper
and white hipster hat, ready for intellectual action,
unchallenged by the passage of time and the evening

news. we are all tyrants in the name of cheap silkscreen
prints, striving to be liberals, like history in the brick
pavement outside, anxious for the next powerpoint.
the guy behind the counter wears his cheap red wig
at a jaunty angle, his head resembling a distant mountain

range in a red fog, and the women come and go, as they
always do in poems, with bags of groceries and big
coffee mugs; a motionless weathervane points due
south above the ally, where a child scampers east,
delightfully lost in his mother’s swirling skirts.



why not pursue the earliest origins of things
like memory, like first discovering the meaning
of jesus or ants or vodka; like understanding
something personally, owning it, like Hesiod’s
sheep on a hillside, taking it to another insight

like conceptualizations, the earliest encounters
of the self you come to know as the you
in you and another you, discovered accidentally,
like a child first struck by a stone thrown
by another child, the sting of violation lingers,

never forgotten, the pain of it, we are wizened
for war before resurrecting any memory of our
own demise; we need to move around more, discover
nomadic roots in another sentence, in the perfect
architecture of the brain, like a radiologist

mesmerized by darkling spots immersed in pure
white bone. one day the earth will fail us,
and we will never see it coming, all that pressure
applied to the wound, all that spinning gradually
off kilter, all those seasons come and gone with

wind and circumstance, all those cultures vanished
now, without a trace, without a reason we can remember.

*[anamnēsis, from anamimnēskein, anamnē-,
to remind :ana-, ana- + mimnēskein, to recall;
see men-1 in Indo-European roots.]


blue cello

clicking through images
of Picasso drawings,
recalling susan’s horses
in New Mexico,
nature’s melodrama unfolding

like rostropovich
churning icy river waters,
like yo yo ma illuminating
opaque oceanic moods:

who are we

to reconfigure the past,
a blue note lingers cello-
like in a bombed out mosque;
harmony, chromatin, spiraling
oppression of empire:

days of sinew and thistle,
a bus rocketed by error,
architecture deconstructions,
each a history of the previous,
like bach’s tenebrous depression,
a minor chord circles endlessly

in the mellow wood of ancient europe.



a sense of purpose in a window reflection,
a t-shirt caption, westminister seminary california
an infant on a leather couch in a book store, free wi-fi,
a group discussion of gandhi’s dietary habits

what claims we make these days passing unknown
beyond the flow of words and guitar riffs
in my earphones — an african couple stares at a laptop
screen and smiles at the miracle there. the parking lot

fills with ambition, winter disconnects a day or
two, the self disconnects to a deeper self, the one
that excludes the universe, like the inward gaze of the
dying, confronting that final question of life, even as

the future arrives, the weight of the past shaping its contour.



the improbability of memory dissolves
into seashells. then into sand along
a beach, an oceanic lunar tug taking
us all the way back to the first worm,
the one that survived by breathing

out of water. and even here, where
the little indian river winds like
the melding skin of a giant snake to
the open atlantic, a chill rattles
the inlet stalks, the halophytic vegetation,

reminding us, like an old italian movie,
about memory and worms and defeat
and sand and time and il duce strung up
side down at a Shell station, his beautiful

mistress in permanent disarray.

instead, we walk away

from nostalgia, turn our back to it,
stare long into memory’s convex chemistry,
knowing love cannot overcome the chill
passing as it does now among the dune reeds.

the process of age keeps us honest like
a disloyal daughter, honest as an icelandic
volcano spewing ash the winds push south
and east over the european continent; honest
as a mobile city sleeping comfortably, even now,

on airport benches.


Robert Philbin was educated at St. Agnes Cathedral High School, studied literature and philosophy at Dickinson College, and Humanities at The Pennsylvania State University. He lectures frequently on subjects pertaining to the Humanities, and his published essays, reviews, political commentary and poetry are available on line. Among his plays, Finca Vigia was recently produced at The Little Theater; Buffalo Dancing was produced at Open Stage; and his play, Finding Utah was produced by The Park Slope Theater, Brooklyn. He is currently developing a mixed media poetry – graphics project with New York artist Joseph Nechvatal.