Clarifications for Robert Jacoby

by | Jun 18, 2014 | Poetry

A moment ago, Robert, I thought I was watching

a wren, the one which nests

By my window here, fly, dipping & rising,

across this field in Suffolk

So like the one we used to play in, in Ohio,

when we were boys. But it was

Really something that you, Dr Jacoby, would

be able to explain by pointing out

To me in some expensive, ophthalmological text

the proper Latin words.


It was no wren (still less the mythological bird

I might have tried to make it)—

But just some defective vision: one of those spots

or floating motes before the eyes

That send one finally to a specialist. Not

a feathered or a golden bird,

Nothing coming toward me in the early evening

mist, just a flaw, as they say,

In the eye of the beholder.


Like? in a way?

the flaw in the printer’s eye

(the typesetter’s, the proof-

reader’s) that produced and then

Let stand that famous line

in Thomas Nashe’s poem about the plague,

“Brightness falls from the air,”

when what he wrote was, thinking

Of old age and death, “Brightness

falls from the hair.”


I wonder if you remember all those games

we used to play: the costumes,

All the sticks & staves, the whole complicated

paraphernalia accumulated to suggest

Authentic weaponry and precise historical dates,

not to mention exact geographical places,

All through August and September—the months you

visited. You wanted then, you said,

To be an actor, and your father—a very practical

lawyer—said he found that funny, though

I think we both intuited

that he was secretly alarmed.


With little cause. You were destined—how obvious

it should have been!—to be professional,

Respectable, and eminent. Still, you put in time

and played your child’s part

With skill and grace.

There is a photograph of us taken, I believe, in 1950.

Your plumed hat (a little

Tight) sits sprightly on your head, your cape

(cut from someone’s bathrobe) hangs

Absurdly down your back, and in your hand you

brandish the sword of the patriarch

Himself, grandfather M., Commander in Chief

Of the United Spanish War Vets.


Plumed hat is slightly better fitting, if less

elegant, my sword a fencing foil with

A rubber tip, my cape the prize: something from

the almost legitimate theatre, from

My father’s role in a Masonic play where he spoke,

once each year before initiations

On some secret, adult stage, lines he practiced

in the kitchen all the week before:

Let the jewelled box of records be opened

and the plans for the wall by the

South west gate be examined!


The photographer, it seems, has irritated us.

We scowl. The poses are not natural.

Someone has said Simon says stand here, look

there, dress right, flank left;

Someone, for the record, intervenes. Or has

James arrived? Our cousin from the

East side of Columbus who, with bicycles

and paper routes and baseballs

Wanted you in time as badly then as I could

want you out of it. A miniature

Adult, he looked askance at our elaborate

rituals. He laughed outright,

Derisively. No mere chronicler, he was reality

itself. I hated him.


Of whom I would remind myself when asking you:

do you remember? a world of imagination,

Lovely and legitimate, uncovering, summer after

summer, a place that we no longer go,

A field we do not enter now, a world one tries

to speak of, one way or another,

In a poem. Robert! Had the jewelled box

of records been opened and the plans

For the wall by the south west gate been examined,

news: that he, not you and I, made

Without our knowledge, without our wigs and

epaulets, with bricks he had a right

To throw, binding rules for our splendid games.


How remote it all must seem to you who joined

him with such dispatch. One day, I

Suppose, I’ll come to you in California saying

to you frankly: cure me if you can.

Or to some other practicing your arts. Until then,

what is there to talk about except

This book of photographs? And what they might

have made of us, all those aunts,

Clucking at our heels, waddling onto Bosworth field

or Flodden with their cameras. And why

They should have come, so ordinary and so mortal,

to bring back images like this one

Turning yellow in a yellow book. Brightness fell

from the hair


Of whom I would be worthy now, of whom I think

about again as just outside my window

A child plays with a stick. And jumps on both feet

imitating, since she sees it in the field

(With a stick in its beak), a wren. She enters

the poem as she enters the field. I will

Not see her again. She goes to her world of stick

and field and wren; I go to my world

Of poem. She does not know it, and yet she is here:

here in the poem as surely as there

In the field, in the dull evening light, in the world

of her imagining, where, as the mist descends,

She is a wren.


As I write that down she is leaving the field.

She goes to her house where her

Father and mother argue incessantly, where

her brother is sick. In the house

They are phoning a doctor. In the poem—

because I say so,

because I say once more

That she enters the world of her imagining

where, as the mist descends, She is a wren—

She remains in the field.




Photo By: Kay Gaensler

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