September 1, 2016

Three poems by Lucia Walton Robinson: “A Ghazal for Indiana’s Bicentennial,” “Gable in Naptown,” and “Staffordshire Maiden”

Lucia Walton Robinson is both a Hoosier and a Southern poet, holding degrees from Butler and Duke. Having edited books in Manhattan and taughtliterature and writing in a Florida college, she’s now ensconced near the Carolina coast and her daughter, also an editor and poet. Her work has appeared in Kakalak 2015, The Penwood Review, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, The Southern Poetry Anthology, vol. VII, Indiana Voice Journal, and other publications.

Photo Courtesy of Lucia Robinson

A  Ghazal for Indiana’s Bicentennial

Nearly everyone knows the amazing square sculpture LOVE,
but not everyone knows the sculptor was Robert Indiana.

Though he carved his career northeast from his native state,
he painted the square and named himself for love of Indiana.

Ecru fringe of Lake Michigan dunes forms her soft collar;
broad Ohio dampens the skirts of southern Indiana.

Her plains nurture corn and soy and hogs and cattle.
Tall spruce, oaks, maples, and sycamores shelter Indiana.

Artists paint in her hills where law and music thrive–
Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Joshua Bell grew in Indiana.

Ore boats feed her northern mills, where hellish fires
smelt steel and a child sings the muscle of “Gary, Indiana.”

Redenbacher popped, Studebakers hummed, Colonel Sanders fried,
Eli Lilly cured and John Mellencamp rocked in Indiana.

We hailed Wilbur Wright, Twyla Tharp, Virgil Grissom,
the Jackson Five, and Kurt Vonnegut flaring forth from Indiana.

Tom Harmon and Larry Bird played, Ernie Pyle learned his trade,
Norman Norell and Bill Blass sketched chic gowns first in Indiana.

Ben Hur, Alice Adams, A Girl of the Limberlost,
“Orphan Annie,” Raintree County sprang from pens of Indiana.

We remember Red Skelton, smoldering James Dean, piquante
Carole Lombard, Florence Henderson, and Steve McQueen from Indiana.

Magnificent Dan Patch made Grand Circuit legend, and we cheered
Standardbreds striding to thrill State Fair crowds in Indiana.

Still, basketball reigns as tall Hoosiers and Pacers score,
though one daring hero embodies her grit as Jones, Indiana.

May flaunts “the greatest spectacle in racing,” Luke Walton’s
phrase, who raised two versifying girls in Indiana.

Moonlight on any river sings Wabash to us, and wherever
we roam we’ll miss true friends we loved in Indiana.

(Missing Charlotte Walton Sargeant, 1932-2002)

Photo Courtesy of Lucia Robinson

Gable in Naptown

After college I occasionally enjoyed
dining with a favorite professor, fetching
her from the flat on Meridian Street

not far from her family’s old home
across from the elegant facade
of the fashionable Marott Hotel.

(For these occasions I borrowed the maternal
Olds, as my new Corvair but sparsely
enclosed the scholar’s Junoesque form.)

On one such Friday my mentor had
removed to the Marott while her flat
was renovating. I found her near

the entrance to the marble-columned
dining-cum-ballroom where I’d whirled
at many a ball and tea dance, newly

wondering if she had done the same.
But she had greater excitements and
glamor to relate–first, how she’d bribed

a bellman not to reveal that the odd-shaped,
discreetly brocaded bundle accompanying
her luggage in the service elevator

concealed an actual parakeet, bright in every
sense bur rather testy, called Sam Johnson.
Then she disclosed that in earlier days

the hotel was partly residential, housing
a few old couples and a covey of well-off
widows and spinsters with attendants.

In 1949 or ‘50 the reigning movie “King”
arrived to film a scene at the world-famous
brickyard, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,

then unique as he was. Surrounded by an
obsequious retinue, Gable dashed in and out
as the hotel’s neighbors (my dignified mentor

once among them) gathered on verandas
for fleeting glimpses. On about the third
evening of his stay the debonair screen star

bounded from a gleaming white Cadillac,
bustled around the revolving door,
bolted a few yards through the lounge

and suddenly halted, aware of honor
being paid. Resplendent in silks and jewels,
nurses and companions blushing behind

velvet or mobile chairs, the circled ladies
of the Marott offered audience. Suavely
Rhett Butler bent to each, gently held each

sparkling tremored hand and murmured
compliments–well rehearsed, of course,
in flattering Scarlett’s fluttery Aunt Pittypat.

He even winked at some of the nurses.

(racetrack scene in To Please a Lady, 1950)

"Papa's lady" (before 1873) Courtesy of Lucia Robinson

Staffordshire Maiden

First I have to wonder if you’re really English
with your striped skirt hiked up over your pantalets–
no proper English girl would ride out so untidy
except for hurry, and no hurry worries you,
chin on dainty hand, ruffled elbow on mare’s
neck, one small bare foot dangling down her flank.

The gray-tailed white mare doesn’t seem to mind
your leaning on her mane, lazing sidesaddle
like no proper English girl; her placid countenance
contrasts the pursed red lips beneath your turban.
Do headdress and black ringlets hint you’re not English?
But ladies did wear turbans in Jane Austen’s time.

Looking closely, I see your white left hand holds
a chalk-white bowl; that and your daring low-necked
scarlet blouse and skirt with raised blue stripes
belong to no proper English girl. Pose, dress,
gay quizzing eyes, bowl may connote instead
a milkmaid, pausing in an errand for sweet dalliance.

The bowl is empty now; this improper English
girl now proper milkmaid rode perhaps from barn
to house with milk to soothe a motherless tow-headed
babe: my grandfather, whose oldest brother brought
the maid from a faraway fair to join the four-year-old’s
few toys. Small Charlie’s love for her speaks to me

through her cool firmness in my palm; her flawless
survival from her mission to cheer that motherless boy
cheers his descendants now. After fourteen decades
she sits her gray-tailed mare on a rose-pink blanket,
leans chin on hand like no proper English girl,
and rests from her errand of mercy to Indiana.  

Lucia Walton Robinson

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