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Todd Robinson lives and writes in Omaha, Nebraska.  His poems have appeared most recently in Margie, Potomac Review, and Mankato Poetry Review.  He teaches at Creighton University and in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Nebraska Center for Writers
NCW: Helpful Hints for Choosing a Theme


Four Poems:

The Lunar Cycle of Cabbage

I’ve been sitting in this waiting room
for six hours, and I’m starting
to daydream at last:  the nurse jiggling
out of her smock, brown skin
against a tan bra.  Maybe the kid
next to me pulling out War and Peace
and reading it aloud in Russian,
maybe a tribe of cabbages struggling
for survival on the moon.
Yes.  That’s the one I need.
I can see the moon’s chipped
fingernail through the hospital
window, and I need to believe
that while dad is getting opened up,
innards scraped and sucked
four floors above me, a tightly-knit
tribe of cabbages is living out
their vegetal destiny
two hundred thousand miles above him.

There, in some sunless crater, the tribe
assembles, waxy leaves squeaking
as they jostle against each other to honor
their dying king.  His green ridges
have yellowed with age, his roots dried,
skin patched and peeled in the airless atmosphere…

The nurse jostles me alert, tells me
dad’s fine.  Hail to the cabbage king.



I watched you snake an arm into the nest,
finger three eggs fresh from the chicken.
In the fecund heat of the coop you scoured
the shells for life, ran your fingers over dark
spots and dimples, tapped out presence
and absence in an unteachable Morse code.
That day, my corn-fed country cousin,
you felt two chicks and put them back--
the third egg, barren, was a gift for me.

It nested in my palm, heavy with yolk
sloshing behind the speckled shell.
With a grunt I launched it skyward, traced
its path through the blue summer air,
squealed as it plashed down on the gravel.

At ground zero our glee soured--
you had read the egg wrong, guessed vacancy
where life had lain.  A chick stretched dead
and wet in the wreckage, gravel flecked
on its matted feathers.  Standing over
the ruined egg, we sniffled in our dusty jeans
until you mustered the courage to cover it.
Your boot scuffed a mound of dirt
over the open beak, the open eye.


Dreaming Ed

I wake up at three thinking how far
I am from the Niobrara, where two
hundred miles north of here the low
gurgle of its voice whispers through
the night, echoing over land rumpled
as the blankets of our bed.  Rotten
cottonwoods and lonely ash line
the river a mile from grandfather’s
grave, the grass thin as his centennial
beard, shaved clean for his long sleep.
I sit dangling cold feet over the bed’s edge,
contemplate Ed in his box, conjure water
cutting through hardpan, shifted and stirred
by sticks, curving around sandbars, slipping
into the Missouri for the slow ride here,
to Omaha.  I shuffle to the sink and drink,
swelling my belly with water, enough Niobrara
to make me sleep all night, dreaming Ed.


T.S. Eliot’s Defunct

Under black
banker clothes
he was white
as his Anglican God,
scrutinizing Jews
with a sidelong glance,
riding the London metro,
orange pekoe tea
from mother tucked
in his vest pocket.

He could pray
like a pope.
Iron-fisted man,
the evening
just spread out
against the sky
where he passed.

Reading Milton
or counting
bank notes
in drizzle
he strolled--
England’s favorite

[Todd Robinson on “T.S. Eliot’s Defunct”:  I began to write this piece shortly after reading Marilyn Nelson’s “Emily Dickinson’s Defunct” (From The Vintage Book of African American Poetry), a poem which strives both to humanize and to complicate the sainted Amherst poet, using well-known lines from her work as counterpoints to earthy, humble images of Dickinson’s body and daily activities.  Like Nelson, I peek beneath my subject’s clothes (literal and figurative) to expose the human being and his human failings, too often obscured by the anthologized context in which we encounter great poets.  The images and ideas throughout are contrapuntal, aimed at revealing the layers of contradictions in him and in his work;  for instance, I juxtapose Eliot’s godliness with his anti-Semitism, his depersonalized poetics with his personal life (in a letter he once thanked his mother for sending him orange pekoe tea), and his yearning to be English with his inescapable American-ness (hence “England’s favorite/stepson”).  Thanks to Dru Wall for switching the second and third stanzas and for other revisions--she is my Ezra.



Todd Robinson
Omaha, NE
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Last Updated: Sun, August 6, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.