(Robert Milby must be the hardest working man in Hudson Valley poetry. Alas, he has chronic lymne disease but no health insurance. In New Paltz on Sunday, June 10th, there will be a reading for him from 1 to 6 pm at the Cafeteria Coffee Shop at 58 Main Street. Here’s a poem that I’ve written in his honor by plundering words and phrases from his book, Ophelia’s Offspring, then adding some truths and lies of my own. He’s one of a kind. God bless him.)
A Barbaric Yawp for Robert Milby
By Will Nixon
You’re not welcome in their propaganda chateaus,
not with your op-ed rants channeling Edgar Allan Poe,
or your corpses and caskets thick as nursery rhymes.
Your elocution blows down dust from the rafters.
Your attaché carries a well-thumbed library of
consumptives, suicides, and syphilitics, the masters
of bad debts and broken hearts bedded together at last.
You celebrate their birthdays with shout-outs to the “yargs!”
You disguise yourself as a prep school English teacher
with your brown jackets and recitations of Poe’s “The Coliseum”
to remind us everything looks better after falling into ruin.
Your center-parted hair longs for the return of 1842.
Your Amish beard comes and goes. Your datebook
has spider webs inked for every night in April.
You drink dinner coffee and don’t waste gas money
on therapy, Pixar movies, or the latest ironic poetry.
You studied finance from Baudelaire, calisthenics
from Bukowski, career advancement from Van Gogh.
Shy, sainted Emily writing her own hymnal, she’s the one
you’ve wanted to nurse your colonoscopy, your tunnel
vision of what ails Amerika that magick will not cure.
You loath the gasoline exhaust of corporate air.
You despise the talk show hostess shilling excuses
in plastic biomes. You’ll never stoop to Barbie Dolls.
You’re a connoisseur of graveyard ghosts draped in fog.
You’ve bedded one or two on your bachelor’s peat moss.
To say you’re death obsessed doesn’t say the half of it.
You don latex gloves to separate the sinew from the bone.
Donald Trump is lucky not to have you as his bastard son.
Nor will you run for mayor, marry Jerry Springer’s daughter,
or write haiku. Nature in your view is a black bloc Occupier
donning its black mask, while buzzards gossip in the hickories.
Let me nominate you as our chaplain for the roadkilled.
Let me appoint you as our regional manager for café poetry.
Let me tell you, don’t throw your heart any more into the Hudson
to ride the brackish tides. Those women will not read what you write.
They’re too committed to sanctified cigarettes. You’re the one
who has traveled to diseased oceans beyond the Holy Land.
You passed the crush test. You pushed past Sisyphus.
You survived forty days in the desert by drinking the mirage.
You saved your liver from the angry incinerator.
You fed your madness sunflower seeds in a cage.
You counted out paranoia pills to survive spying monarchs
and pretentious masses. You fondled the ripest clouds.
You seduced pianos. But did you listen to opera in a cave?
Do you listen to opera at all? One thing I bet you don’t do
is get a tattoo, not of Sara Teasdale’s Village bathtub
or Sylvia’s oven. You’re loyal to Ted’s crows as winter totems.
Your philosophy is hyperbolic doubt. Your flag is
bunched up panties. You hate dogs in sweaters
sweating surrealistic fantasies. You salute the new sky
bathed in chemicals. You helped Van Gogh select a pistol
for his final canvas. You roll out carpets at the tollbooth.
You taught the brainless concubines how to swing
from their maypoles. You’ll be dead by August
if Quentin Tarantino doesn’t want the sequel.
Sorry, there is no cradle of civilization story to tell.
You’re descended from squatters in castles
who rooted for lions during the Crusades.
The forgotten abyss was your maternity ward.
You were suckled by ravens, raised by wolves,
schooled in the phantoms by e.e. cummings.
The King’s black caravan raised Texas dust
to coat your lungs against plagues, the gift
that keeps on giving in your lifetime of shouting
You’re the conductor of lightning overtures.
The ring leader of the demented circus.
The astrologer of the singing moon pocketed by
apathetic co-eds when no one was looking but you.
You’ve died three times already, stealing antique coins
from fountains. Each was right—at the time.
Self destruction is better in brothels.
Baudelaire kept changing apartments.
Poe tried his cousin. Ted Hughes found his muse
in a whitetail’s ribs polished by maggots after a winter on ice.
Sylvia’s hands turned into mist on your windshield.
In Cambridge the rain falls in tongues. You listen
to what fills the cracks in the pavement.
You never let the orphans stray from your heart.
Onion dirt is your native soil. Orange County your carnival.
You’re so good you’ve been banned for life.
You’re too busy for an epitaph, but here goes:
You will not carry an alligator handbag
nor drive a harridan home from a car show.
You will not grace university halls
nor be the man for our contagious empire.
But you, yes, you, who still regrets
not being born under the Sign of Syphilis,
your sick flowers will pass for poetry.
* * * *
The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.