Five Poems by Dana Robbins

AFTER THE PARADE

After the parade passes by with oompah
bright horns gleaming in sun; blur
of twirling high-stepping majorettes;
police cars the color of cherry Life Savers;

me and my best friend, our hair tied
in red ribbons, wave miniature flags,
gaze down the empty street, once so full
of life now still as paradise after the fall.

In shadows of evening, her uncle’s fingers
come at me through the rhododendron,
squeezing, thrusting, between my legs,
my face burning red red.

Fireworks explode above us in the park,
I hold my friend, she hugs me back tight,
each boom answered by our pounding
hearts as colors bleed in the night sky.

 

LITANY FOR MY HUSBAND

                                    after Billy Collins

You are the cabernet sauvignon
The cassoulet and the candles.
You are the furnace that
warms me day and night.

You are the hammock that
rocks me in the summer heat;
you are the laughter that mocks
me in the morning,

I am the clouds that take on
strange shapes.
I do not think you are rain
and you are certainly not snow.
There is no way you are the silent
snow.

I am the lilac-scented breeze
and the lily of the valley,
with its subtle hidden bloom.
You are the bright burst of a peony.

Of course, you are the wine
and I am the Brie;
you are the chocolate mousse
and I am the crème brûlée
and yes, I am the gray Persian cat
and you are the Petit Basset
Griffon Vendéen.

You are the Cowardly Lion, the Wizard,
and the Yellow Brick Road.
Neither of us is the Scarecrow.
I am Dorothy and you are
my home.

 

HOURGLASS

Drinking coffee in Park Slope, I watch the young parents
in the café on the block where my first husband and I
raised our children, half expect him to walk in and sit across

from me, both of us young again, him with his hair and me
with my hourglass figure. If I were the oracle of my own life,
I would tell my younger self that she is not fat, not fat at all;

I would tell her that someday she will leave this marriage that binds
her tight as the control pantyhose she wears to hide her baby belly,
a prophecy that she, holding her children in her arms, could hardly bear.

After the divorce, I would find her, head bent into the wind,
beneath the yoke of mortgage, commute, broken toilets,
cranky washing machine, the resolute melancholy of snowy Saturdays,

alone and hollow Sundays, and tell her that someday, when she
has given up trying to compress herself, she will learn to love her
own body, and when her hair begins to turn gray, she will find new love

with a laughing man, and I would tell her to leave on the road
her bag of broken mirrors, her heart stones, her high collars
because the hourglass is running out and there just isn’t enough time.  

 

ON THE TIDE OF HER BREATHING

At the end of her long life, as I sit with her,
hand her water glass, spoon applesauce,
she protests, “You’re doing too much,”
so I say, “How many times did you do this

for me when I was sick?” Remind her how, when
I had a cold, she brought French toast on a tray.
Now, we speak of old boyfriends, hers and mine,
which one I should have married,

remember her two husbands she loved, 
the bright eyes of my newborn daughters 
when first she held them. Implicitly,
all is forgiven, 

old battles, mistakes are carried out to sea
on the tide of her shallow breathing,
and love comes back like glistening stones
washed up on the shore.

 

THE RED POCKETBOOK

I want to call my mother to tell her I am wearing
the red pocketbook that she bought when she
visited me in Maine, 

then I remember that she is gone; we are divvying up
her cashmere sweaters; most packed up for charity
because they are so small. 

I saved her father’s letters with their spidery script
and pedantic advice; my father’s love letters from
during the war, “How I miss you, my sweet angel.”

the vowels large and looped. We threw out
her newspaper clippings. We get our news from
the Internet and it’s always bad; 

memories are coming in waves now,
like the diarrhea that woke me up this morning;
how she said I had no personality; how she

let me be eaten by the neighborhood wolves.
I haven’t forgotten how her world was a dense
web of enemies, grudges, but, in her eulogy,

I will speak of how she took me to the library
every week, art classes, museums, not how she
forced me to give up my dreams 

for a soul-crushing path that nearly killed me,
because, in the end, there was so much love,
and now I want just one more phone call.


After a long career as a lawyer, Dana Robbins obtained an MFA from the Stonecoast Writers program. Her first book, The Left Side of My Life, was published by Moon Pie Press in 2015. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Fish Poetry Anthology, Drunken Boat, Paterson Literary Review, Calyx, Muddy River Poetry Review, Poetica Magazine, Moth Magazine, and The Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. My poem “To My Daughter Teaching Science” was featured by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac in November 2015.