A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

Michael Robins 


Part volcano, part from a hospital 
laden with postcards & duffle bags.

Photographs, declaration as much
capsulated among places you swear 

you never lived: Iowa, Clear Lake 
where engines stutter in meadows 

& lie along the fence. These homes 
cough like a record of yellow land. 

Your story acts upon intelligence, 
first person or third? You’ve come 

to steal a plant, pinned the apology 
& returned it strong, seasons later. 

You are alive where the snow melts
back. A kind story that isn’t yours,

winter arriving even here or even 
flowers at the end of a snaking road.


The Friendly Confines 

To say that glaciers recede & go
fast as the absent foam of a cup

won’t peal the tone of Thursday. 
A bison dog will try, cold beers 

when between the first baseman
& man on first rests a butterfly

substituting players long dead. 
Thursday’s falsetto from tenors,

boys revisited as men who plug
rivalries of scorecard numbers. 

Seventeenth of June, an anthem
& seagulls twist into Thursdays

revolving like a banner, circling 
since our latest doubt of radiance. 

One summer not so terribly long ago, I left Portland, Oregon, drove the length of California, and turned left toward New England, where I would begin the MFA Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. I plotted a number of  literary stops along the way, including the grave of Walt Whitman and, later that same day, the grave of William Carlos Williams. Mostly I took black and white photographs with a Pentax K1000 and, mostly, I left each setting as I’d found it. Near Williams’ stone, however, I noticed a broken, wooden handle that once completed a gardening trowel. For whatever reason—Heaney’s “Digging” comes to mind now (it didn’t then)—I returned to my overloaded Volvo and added that relic to what then constituted my life’s belongings.


Michael Robins is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Ladies & Gentlemen (Saturnalia Books, 2011) and In Memory of Brilliance & Value (Saturnalia Books, 2015). He teaches literature and creative writing at Columbia College Chicago. For more information, visit