Third Poetry Portfolio

Three Poems

By Elizabeth Robinson

Mary Butts whispering into John Muir’s ear
from a long way away

You are
so quiet
and so brown.

You who could foresee a peak as a coast.

I dreamed
you climbed
and held to
a tree
in its tumult.

When I woke from the dream, you climbed calmly down.

The storm
is a cavity in
the tune,
the rotten
core and its
surround, a pelt-

The brown well from which the dreamer, reaching down, fishes
out a ladder.
Or better,
a crystal cabinet
awaiting release
from its holy

We call this the grail. We call this arms around the gale.


Dorothy Day muses over dinner with Anna May Wong

It’s strange that we should find ourselves together, except
that we are both devotees of beauty and able
to find it in places that many people disdain to look.
I found a painting once in a building destined for demolition,
and it was so ugly that it actually emitted a smell. But survival,
as you know, is against all odds a beautiful thing.

On gold mountain, many people shine with wealth. And
when I hung my painting at its base, they recoiled and
returned to its peak where they stayed. Far from me.
So be it. I like to think that a good cup of tea with one’s own
private ugliness is comfort not just to me, but to misbegotten
beauty of all stripes.

Your loveliness, I realize, is such that no one could mistake it.
And yet some do. It almost makes me wish that my abrasiveness
could be worked out as painting. That like the beetle accidentally
crushed underfoot, I could give off a smell so pungent
that its pigment stained what was beneath us
and we thought it gorgeous.


Anna May Wong tells Dorothy Day what
she has been longing to hear

Destitute people, farm workers, suffragettes, hobos, actresses may all
have an air of jolie-laide. But you have distilled
it like cologne.

When one day you create a receptacle for this elixir, this fume,
you will shape it out of a rare, dark wood. Carving. Refining.
The long loneliness of its beauty will embed itself like a splinter
under your skin, refusing removal.

Elizabeth Robinson‘s most recent poetry books are Three Novels (Omnidawn, 2011) and Also Known As (Apogee, 2009). In spring 2012, she will be the Hugo Fellow at the University of Montana.

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