Robin

A Sequence of Poems

Wendy Perriam

I first consulted Robin in the 1970s, for marriage-guidance counselling, with my husband. However, after two or three sessions, the latter opted out, so I began seeing Robin on my own. Soon, I became completely obsessed with him, veering between ecstatic love, lustful longing and murderous fury. This was a very difficult period in my life, when I was struggling with depression, insomnia and infertility, while also trying to renovate a large wreck of a house (dry rot and no floorboards!) and be a loving mother to two stepchildren, whose own mother had multiple sclerosis and was in the Hospital for Incurables at Roehampton.

Eventually, I landed in hospital myself, partly due to the whole rollercoaster of psychotherapy itself and to Robin’s disconcerting switches from intimacy to aggression. The only thing I salvaged from the experience was these, my “Robin” poems, written in a sort of creative madness.

To Robin D

marriage-guidance counsellor

You are the incarnation of kindness.
Softly, you blow blue smoke rings
across the charged room,
lassooing our anger.
With your cigarette scalpel
you gently probe wounds
too festering
for more sadistic surgery.

Quietly, you shake our life down,
like an overstuffed duvet.
Your slow smile
douses our snarl; your
lullaby fingers
straighten our bent lines
and, reluctantly, like tamed
but still predatory beasts,
we feed at your hand. 

As the butts topple the ashtray
(your lungs atoning for our lives),
you usher us tactfully away-
‘Same time?  Same day?’-
and I catch the pale, pained eye
of my enemy-husband.
Inexorably,
we are both re-sharpening
our knives.

Pebble

On a Cornish beach
you were one-in-a-million
sea’s minion,
stashed in a salt jungle
of shifting shingle,
seaweed-draped,
rubbish-dumped,
wind-stung stooge
of the tide. 

In Robin’s inland room,
where the sea roars only
in the Uxbridge Road,
you preen in paperweight pride,
your polished sheen
enshrined for its tiger-stripe
astonishment;
no more the common mottling
of trodden underling,
or scullion of sea-fling,
but unique art objet now.

In my dandling hand
you are Danegelt, heart’s root,
gull-swoop, high tide.
You blow me the down-wind
stink of Cornish mackerel;
you show me the shift
of Celtic compromise.
You are the fossilised,
Medusa-enchanted heartbeat
of the old West Wealas.
You make the mud-and-sand
magic of Robin’s
stone-warm eyes.    

The extermination of Mrs Robin D

I hate your horrible wife
with her low voice
and her limp hair
and her put-upon air
and her supercilious cat.
I loathe your enchanting children
with their grave eyes
and trusting fingers
and their educational toys
from Habitat
and their precocious interest in
nineteenth-century pumping engines.
Spoilt brats!
Shit, I can see you all
at breakfast,
poring over the Guardian,
with your Montessori-trained toddler
bashing his chair
and that she-wolf ruffling your hair,
and earnest letters from Save Our Seas
and Cancer Care.

Look here, Mrs D,
I’m asking you,
why is your guy so filament-thin?
If you loved him, like I do,
you’d put cream on his porridge
and feed him iron jelloids.
And, while you’re about it,
can’t you ration his smoking ?
His poor poisoned lungs
are choking,
and I cherish them.
Hell, it makes me sick,
your whole smug, exclusive,
complacent, united family,
playing Scrabble on Sundays,
and hating Amin
and never raising your voices,
and sending small but selfless
donations to Shelter,
and eking the meat
and endlessly knitting him jerseys.

So, Mrs D, I’ve decided you’re dead.
I’m sorry to do it, but you take up
too much room in his bed
and he needs a less innocuous wife
to fix him jump-leads,
put passion in his life,
douse beige with rapturous red.

It was a sweetly sudden end,
with his soft tears falling on
the egg-and-cucumber sandwiches
and the (bought) Madeira cake,
and all your awful
almost-middle-class friends
agreeing it was a lovely wake.

I gave him time to recover.
The children grew older
and stopped sitting on his knee-
one up to me-
and, with a sort of gentle savagery,
I tried to inveigle myself
into his bed.
Funny really,
you were cold and he available,
but when I reached across
and touched reality,
you were breathing still,
and he was dead. 

and he was dead.

Crime Passionnel

Amazing, really-some insignificant squirt
of a five-foot-nothing, past-his-prime
nanny goat of a bloke
can so take the skin off my life.

How many seas of scalding
salt tears have I seethed in
because he raised his voice a mite?
How many Lady Macbeth nights
have I worn the shine off the moonlight
because he didn’t write?
Too many furious fights
have I vowed thumbscrew-and-rapier
retribution, and throttled him
a thousand times over
and lopped his limbs off
and left them lying around,
or toppled him over the craggiest
cliff in Cornwall and then inveigled
the lifeguard to look inland,
or found him face downwards
floating and horribly bloated
in some secluded lake,
or flung him on a bonfire
and watched him broil
faster than the fillet steak.

Amazing, really-
what a grip he’s got on life.
After a million deaths, he’s still
unconcernedly sitting there
and he flings me
that stomach-lurching,
fetchingly flirtatious grin
and-damn the guy-I’m in a
sort of head-over-heels, seventh heaven
of a fool’s paradise
(I’m the fool, God knows)
and I drain the lake
and lynch the lifeguard
and that rapier in my hand
is suddenly a red
red rose.

Christmas in Acton

Five o’clock darkness
in a damp December,
red glare of a bonfire
tearing the shadows
from sick laburnums,
bare square of garden
and broken-down van.
God-bereft Acton
where Camelot
makes man.

Inside, cheap prints and
a frayed carpet,
and Borges by his bed.
And a skint hyacinth
toppling in a
tea-cup.
“Hold me,” I said.

I was almost sure
he wouldn’t.
Two words strung between us like a tightrope,
and he suddenly got up
and walked it,
precarious on his neat feet.

It was only seconds,
I suppose,
but centuries snapped like
matchwood
and whole dynasties collapsed
while he pressed me
against the musty ridges
of his home-knit sweater,
and I smelt pear-drops
on his breath.

Outside, the puny bonfire
had consumed all Acton-
the flames were candles
and the twigs were palms-
and suddenly a star was shining
over two-for-one Tesco’s,
and God was lying in a manger,
and I was crying in his crazy
blazing arms. 

A bad case of eroticising transference, says Robin

Hell’s teeth, Robin,
I’m head over heels in
desperate, delicious,
completely undignified
love with you.
You’re utterly not my type-
too small, too cool,
too bland, too kind,
too calm;
following rules, suffering fools,
and oozing your brand of
therapeutic balm.

Oh, you deliriously gentle,
unconventional creature,
sipping your Freud,
never annoyed,
declaiming all those preachy
ponderous things,
and almost sprouting wings
beneath that dreadful
(I adore it)
purple jersey.

No, please don’t hug me again
or I’ll split in half
with the sheer
miraculous pain of it.
Already you’re so
entangled in my nights,
playing the lead in all those flights
of fantasy; your rough lips nuzzling
my thighs, eclipsing my eyes
and your soft fingers
breaking and entering,
and I am opening like a rose
and liquefying,
and the whole ravished night
is crying Robin Robin Robin
Robin
Robin

You give me water
and it turns to wine
(Cana had nothing on you, love).
You make me coffee
and I’m on cloud nine
and the things I want to do, love.
Come a bit nearer,
dare to be dearer,
set me alight,
switch on the night;
I’m deplorably,
rip-roaringly,
in hopeless, hapless,
helpless, reckless
love with you. 

*

Christ! I’m a fool,
declaiming all this dross,
when you couldn’t give a toss,
but just stay infinitely cool
and keep dragging on that endless
cigarette.
I’m wasting my time, Robin,
you useless bloody swine, Robin,
I wish to God
we’d never even met.
While you send hefty bills,
I seek heinous thrills,
yet you’re so laid back
you barely even blink.
I hymn you as Adonis,
but you’re just the prince of phoneys-
a gelded, senile, clapped-out, 

crummy shrink.

Consummation

It was months before it happened.
There were stumbling dress rehearsals,
vague, uncharted fumblings
when his lips embarked on brief, unfinished business,
or drink diminished
his responsibility
and pricked faint animal stirrings
through his jeans.
Mostly, I made do
with second helpings of fantasy,
sprawled on my single bed
in sin and a skimpy nightie
and having him thrust and thrust
till I was too sore
for even a finger.
He was probably in Clapham
at the time,
haggling for saucepans
in Arding and Hobbs’ spring sale.
No matter,
Clapham to climax
is a brief journey
if you close your eyes,
and mine were permanently closed
(and everything else open)
for months after we met.

It was more months
before he noticed.
He was still rattling on
about Jungian realignment
and the Object Relations Theory of
Melanie Klein.

Jung was lying on his back
and Klein kyboshed,
when he first made a tentative move.
It was mid-March, I recall,
with strikes on the tube and riots
in Nepal, and a Brixton boy
had been mugged and left for dead.
“I want you,” I said.
I was so used
to his never replying
that I more or less
addressed my remarks
to the wallpaper,
but he suddenly got up
and grabbed my wrists
hard, and gave me a kiss
as calmly as if it were
a cup of tea,
and the cup scalded.
I almost choked,
trying to murmur
“Now, oh please now”
through the gag of his tongue,
and the world turned a slow
unbearable somersault
and he didn’t answer,
but his lips were touchwood
against my kindled breasts.
The ceiling had never looked
more beautiful.
I had always feared the reality,
after the thrusting lust of
over-inflated fantasising,
but his slow hands were mesmerising
and his fast tongue was a snake,
a cork,
a chameleon.

He hated interruptions.
“Go away!” he griped
when rain sniped at the window
or the voyeur moon stared in.
And his own sun came up
and scorched me,
and I lay like wax,
taking any impression
he cared to make       

Later, a thousand suns later,
with the gas-fire grinning
and the kettle out-singing the rain,
he pulled on his jumble-sale jersey
and buckled his belt again,
then calmly made tea, as if to pretend
that nothing had actually happened
and all we were doing
was this tiny, intimate business of
boiling and brewing.

“Thank you,” I mumbled,
draining my cup
and fumbling in my bag for
a goodbye.
Outside, only sky
and a non-existent rail-replacement bus.
I stood, sipping rain,
raw with guilt, and shame,
yet begging time to hasten, hurtle by,
till the day he might make tea
for us again. 

Riverside grovellings, for Robin

Rub me out, God,
like a misspelled letter,
wipe me out, God,
like solvent on a stain;
erase the whole confused
and wrongly totted
disarray of jottings
and make your notebook
pristine white
again.

The ears you gave me
begin to hear the lemmings,
the eyes you fashioned
watch the phoenix die,
the mind you wrought,
with all its convolutions,
is fading like a firework
in the sky.

From where I sit
I watch the passive river
hauling its heavy length
around a bend,
forced by caprice
to mindlessly meander
in dumb obedience
to some hidden end.
Why should it drag
through all those endless windings
which you so imperturbably decree,
and not implore you
for a straighter sounding
to ease its cruel exertion
to the sea ?

I do not have the patience
of the river,
I cannot bend
with dumb passivity,
when all the force and fury
of the torrent
shout that the way
should be direct and free.

Snuff me out, God,
like a used Swan Vesta;
stub me out, God,
and grant me the fag-end’s end;
leave the harsh world
to rivers and to Robin.
Robin can cope
and rivers will always bend. 

Shipwreck

Last night was
forty days,
not counting
counting.
The dark moved from dim to desolation
until I found
that small brown bottle
with the Seconal.

“Take two at night
with water,”
read the label.
I swallowed ten,
without.
The water gushed in
later,
turning God to Flood
and man to bait,
with no waking
except shipwreck.

At eight,
the alarm-clock siren
blared us from our bunks.
I closed my ears, but
morning was already
dressed and sitting down to breakfast
in full make-up.
Beneath the blankets
they were launching
lifeboats.
‘The sick and fragile first,’
the Captain barks.
I am neither.
I close my eyes
and jump
towards
the sharks.

Casualty 

‘Any pain?’ asked Nurse,
berthing by my bed.
I shook my head.
How could her pills
heal the raw rash of the stars
or still the laboured breathing
of the moon?

St Saviour’s ward-
unseasonal flowers
still coffined in their shroud
of cellophane
and, through the pane,
a poultice of white sky,
and showers.

That first day
they filched my clothes
and paid me with an enema
and tea.
‘Lucky thing,’ said Staff,
‘you’ve got a view.’
I sipped her pallid brew
and peered down.
A garden bench,
old, stained, but serviceable,
had fallen on its back,
slats broken,
legs sticking in the air.

It is still there.
No surgeon with green gown
and scarlet claws
has sutured it,
no Good Samaritan been down
with nurture
or remorse.
Only the cold rain
rotting its upturned, foolish legs,
its crippled frame.

‘No, Nurse,’ I said,
‘no pain.’

29 ways of spelling Robin

Robin is the cherry on a knickerbocker-glory.    
Robin is fossilised rainbow.
Robin is the velvet membrane of a mushroom.
Robin is the warm breath of a shaky calf.
Robin is the o in mother.
Robin is the why in tough guy.
Robin is the rough red hug of an ambulance blanket.
Robin is the vulnerable blue-veined inside of a wrist.
Robin is the wettest part of rain.
Robin is throwing a double six.
Robin is the furry belly of a bee.
Robin is the next thing after nuclear fission.
Robin is the hole in a doughnut.
Robin is finding two hours on a parking meter.
Robin is losing one’s stomach in a lift.
Robin is the purr in a leopard.
Robin is the hot green blood in a new leaf.
Robin is the spots on a ladybird.
Robin is a double-yolked egg.
Robin is sliding down the bannisters.
Robin is the growl in a grandfather clock.
Robin is the first furious yell of a new-born baby.
Robin is the last spoonful of crème brûlée.
Robin is the shine on a newly-hatched horse chestnut.
Robin is the filling in a whipped-cream-walnut.
Robin is the ache in a creaky gate.
Robin is the crest of a smile.
Robin is a feeling between happiness and terror.
Robin is the next best thing to God.  

Robin was the worst thing in my life.

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