The Writing Disorder



New Poetry


by Robert Hill Long

Boy on a steel-wheeled skateboard,
1964, driveway-testing a trend:
out it squirts, down goes
seersucker Robinson, left wrist cracked.
Skateboarding? Experiment concluded. Fast forward

a summer: boy flings skimboard
into inch-deep surfwash, gallops, mounts,
pitches off: left wrist rewreathed
in plaster. Robinson’s summer breaks,
reliable as a broken compass.

1966: on a borrowed longboard
he achieves a thirty-second ride
terminating in creosoted pier pilings.
Left elbow, snapped like chicken-wing.
Is he getting the message?

Not yet. The 1967 water-skiing
accident is already in rehearsal,
hosts of tanned boys demonstrating
slalom-ski ease on the waterway.
Crook-arm-plastered on the bridge, Robinson

studied their moves until autumn—,
then botched Memorial Day Weekend
when his left shoulder, tangled
in tow-rope, got definitively yanked
from socket. Healing by Christmas,

he received his first guitar,
at last discovering a plank
that didn’t break his neck,
that in fact carried him
at greater and greater speeds

motionless, out of harm’s way.
Left arm two inches longer,
Robinson adapted, proved adept. Surfers,
skaters, skimboarders, waterskiiers watched him
balancing on the skinniest fretboard

when his first band, Goodwood,
played the blacklight beach hangout.
Picture Pinocchio on Pleasure Island:
finally one of the boys,
invited to shoot nineball, huff

brain-wrecking inhalants in paper bags,
joyride the causeway, headlights snuffed,
crash slumber-parties, making asses
of themselves with malt liquor.
Robinson provided anthem and soundtrack

until two surfers died, rolling
their Dodge Charger at 150.
Onstage at the school memorial,
maxing out Jimi’s Star-Spangled Banner,
he trips over his patch-cord

ass-first to the gym floor:
broken back. The surfers cheer—
then fetch a nine-foot longboard
to portage Robinson (clutching broke-necked
guitar) to their surfer hearse,

lashing him on its roof,
fallen-hero doobie between his teeth
to stone away pain while
they race ER-ward, pounding hearse-doors,
shouting all the air-guitar noises

from Jimi’s goddam national anthem.


A wrought iron barrel chair
in the backyard of sandspur
and sea-rose affords the best
view of Robinson practicing rest—

meaning the Sunday afternoon pose
for no one he’d choose
to watch him cope with
each successive, tremendously humidified breath.

That’s why your chair remains
empty—whoever you are—stained
with rust: the oldest argument
against a bachelor’s second-chair intent.

You’re not here. Robinson is,
slumped against banks of sea-roses
that lend him no more
shade than each green spur

biting his heel. Your bank
extends maximum credit to thank
you for staying far away
from broody Robinson any Sunday.

Yesterday he traversed Coltrane’s Giant
in its dizzying descent
from cloudland toward the grass.
Imagine a blind boy atop

a stepped pyramid telling himself,
Just start walking backward, now,
while balancing a black coffin
a heavy god lies within.

He’s backing down with nothing
overhead but humid sky composting
clouds, and Coltrane’s coffined weight
pushing him to stay straight

until they reach the earth,
where the boy can breathe.
This approximates how Robinson replaced
churchgoing with guitar. He faced

heaven and kept backing down
until the thorny green crown
of sandspur reminded his heel
that being alive is bliss

enough to withstand returning Coltrane
to Carolina. Having been born
among such pricks, he’d understand
a son’s wanting to hand

him down, chord by chord,
minor third by minor third,
back where he too began
toddling toward being a musician.

So: you’ve tasted Robinson’s Sabbath.
Sunday’s a footnote, bare aftermath.
He’s breathing, scratching his hair.
And that empty second chair?

If you were a player
you’d behold Coltrane reposing there,
a lost boy come home
where Robinson, paternal, lullabies him

with, yes, a love supreme.


Ghost along, bird boy, navigate
these windowless student-tunnels, bath-tiled
for ease of sponging stain—
spit, snot, or blood. Bent

you are, backpack book-ballasted, peroxide
hair your only sail against
the red tide of girls
redolent of menarche and estrogenius.

For they are why you
acquire blister and callus, those
gauche and sinister frethand markings,
fingerprints blackened smooth as Cain’s,

why your candy-apple metal-flake first
electric guitar gets slung low
across your crotch, to hide
the bony sproing of want

that hunches you over this
extension of sex, night after
night, scale upon scale, hardening
skill with a guitar-god’s will

to make a school-auditorium’s worth
of girls redfaced with mania
at the spring talent show
so that one, maybe, might

lift her skirt and ride
what drives the guitar’s desire.
Poor pockface Robinson Crusoe Junior,
marooned solo on Sexless Island,

that girl-Friday will never come
to you or with you.
Why? (Grizzled Robinson, fifty, knows
too well, ghosting behind your

peroxide-pennant in those hormonal halls.)
Not because you can’t ape
Jimi or Clapton, no, your
sustain plus feedback is tremendous;

not because you can’t summon
a soul-kiss to her nether
pleasures: but because that night
your amplifier and the school-PA

are wired to conflicting outlets,
so when—after your opening
This-Is-the-End apocalypse power-chord—
you stride to the mike

to launch the achy lyrics
of the soul-seeking love-song gestated
and perfected over nine school-months,
your kiss-lips graze ungrounded metal

in a 120-volt skeletal orgasm,
knocking you flat, blowing fuses.
The auditorium swells with screams,
yes, they’re your mother’s, witnessing

her only child’s electrocution. Poor
Robinson, ruiner of talent shows,
whose singed lips alone become
famous throughout Roland-Grise Junior High,

lips bandaged with a rig
like a facial sanitary napkin
for all to laugh at—
bird-boy whose eyes burn

behind this clown-mask, whose one
hope, now, is a girl
grown addicted to General Hospital
while recovering from mono, who

missed your apocalipped meltdown and
knows from experience the sickeningly
unforeseen result of a kiss.
Bird-boy, you kept her waiting

too long: didn’t locate her
in cafeteria, gym-dance or yearbook.
She married a lout accountant
who naturally loved golf more

and she died last year,
ovarian cancer, never having known
what you longed for via
her body, her soul’s guitar.


The moon’s whole note descends
bar by bar, through wire
staves of power and cable:
G, F sharp, F, E….

Night sky: longest loveliest song
for every lounge jazzer off
the clock. Robinson sight-reads west:
his melodic line lunar, silent

as common fate, pacified soon
or late in Pacific indigo.
D sharp, D, C sharp
C: the centering, core key,

home of the blues grown
restless, chromatic: diminished changes, B,
B flat, above the waves
reposing briefly in A minor—

his favorite, whether the ninth
is flatted or natural. Robinson’s
annual West Coast vacation tour
is closing soon: a crabwise

Rent-a-Wreck mosey up Highway One,
Long Beach, Monterey (workshopping jazz-kids
at the festival), Sausalito, Mendocino,
the odd Napa winery stage,

Portland’s Jazz & Blues weekend; now,
a week, nearly over, amidst
lawyers, bankers and their trophies
sucking down Cannon Beach oysters.

All around him, honeymoons renewed,
vows revowed with crystal clinks:
though his guitar’s womanly hips
lay athwart his lap, expressive,

she’s a dummy whose voice
he fingers. No waitress, lonesome,
winsome, came knocking after hours.
Robinson solo worships Sappho’s goddess—

scarred crone whose cheeks gleam,
barren egg slipping month after month
childless into the Pacific. A
flat, G, gone: an octave

eroding the hours between three
and four. Three against four—
waltz laid over a samba—
begins having its corrosive say

within Robinson’s oyster-cracker heart:
that lunar, whole-note, plainchant descent,
an octave of erotic grieving
cushioned by hip-bumping Brazilian joy.

And now the chord-changes appear—
Eb maj7, Eb m9, Dm7-b5—like women
with subtly varied facial structure,
muses easing his crabby plummet.

We all take that dive,
he murmurs into his reposado.
But some have children waving
when their breath’s low G

bottoms out. Sunday he’ll drive
north, Vancouver gig. The rains,
they say, are coming. No,
they’re here: in Robinson’s eyes.

These poems by Robert Hill Long are from a MS titled The Republic of Robinson, a verse-biography of a 50-something jazz guitarist. The formal logic of the MS is a five-word line (any length); each poem, like Robinson, is over 50 (lines). A MS of 3 long sonnet-stanza narratives + 1 anarcho-comic sentence (The Kilim Dreaming) won the 2010 Dorothy Brunsman Prize and will appear this September from Bear Star Press in California. Other poems are current/recent/ forthcoming in 2River View, Poetry East, Green Mountains Review, Glossolalia, Diagram, Ribbons and 4and20.

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