Joe Robitaille

Introduced by
Vincent Zompa

Joe Robitaille is a collector. To journey with him in his gathering is to experience the odd intricacies of his landscapes and feel at home in them, as if they are our own. In reading these poems I often feel like I am behind his eyes, taking in the important but often overlooked minutiae that accumulates to make memory. The Robitaille Layer—it lies directly beneath the everyday surface of things. Its fresh way of knowing appears in island chains of text that make us pay attention to how we process our own experience. Thankfully, his poems make us both remember and question what we attend to. [VZ]



There's not enough knowing in my knowing
I tell the brakeman in the lounge car on our
way alongside I-95 to Charleston, his wife's
in their sleeping car, I tell him George Pullman

was first inspired to make a better passenger
car on an overnight from Buffalo to Westfield.
I don't know what year that was when he asks.
This is the first thing he's said since Trenton. 

I look out the window and it is not dark yet.
The blur of a blue hour gone to the backyards
west of the tracks to find the prickerbush and
skimmers propped on the fences bent full of

holes and rusted, to find that bit of a place
that lets things alone for two minutes.   The
brakeman buys me a can of beer  and pushes
his newspaper

across the table.  He tells me about a dream
his wife has been having, but he is mumbling
and I catch only something about pruning
and growth.  When he says roots it

sounds like roofs



Some dry green leaves trace pleasantly small tornadoes,
the skittering leaves, brittle & tasteless.

There is somewhere to go, or not.  To stay,
tag along, where is there one breath,
a hapless wisdom in forgetting?  Gestures.  Puddles and
puddles of spit, for wheels, pigeons, termites,
an oak paddle.

Where does everything return to? 
The sky leans on any wind.

Isabela comes nearer. 
Isabela, tall & sad, undressing the coast.
From here, two wooden nickels
have built a wall, the land leans to the sea.
Terns and seagulls and pigeons gather beside me
for the view, then a sudden danger, the birds fan-out
with the wind, her cobalt skirmish catches a cloud,
a pleated skirt, dismal bliss.

The gift of the dead is cursed and reticent;
It is not ours to give.

Not in a place where angels loom wildly
and denim petals learn nothing from the ground.

Waiting and waiting, until my eyes churn butter
from this wall, patches of gauze & tweed & tin. 
The mousiest nose, and the twitch of it, remembered;
the most of us forgotten.








Went to the last performance
of the circus today +
then had dinner on
the open terrace— at
this place— saw the sun
set over the
water— all gorgeous
1st Mishap- Lost my
driver's license— 2nd
burnt my finger— bad
3rd— Have a back sun
burn – otherwise every
thing O.K. except the dog died
Love Yours









a red baseball hat brim bent like a scowl down almost over your eyes' green we

the red second hand of the clock on the wall a cloak a sixtieth of my person in

the last car of Hoboken. In the second dream I wore a boutonnière and gloves


to public school; we met in the glen. Bad sunshine fell. The circularity of

morning a yellowing without in the borderlands of the third and fourth dream,

the back garden bricks past the fence divots and the dents in two acres of


kindling. In the fifth dream we are scrolls one another cannot scour, the lot of

us inextricably tilted. I begin to see you through holes in wiffle balls. You

are across the table from a pair of cufflinks.  I am a napkin in your lap in a


Waffle House in South Georgia. I muddle austerity with plankton. To begin to

lug the pidgin from the hammock in my plain brown rucksack. In the seventh

dream you wore the dream I dreamt the first day. You are a modified basketball


roster posted after the third tryout in the eighth grade, catapult and howitzer of

snowmen in the suburban terracotta the sky is a vat of blue under stars

over our heads that are under our brims sitting on the mats at the twenty four


hour relay. Of the ninth dream I willfully dreamt that night I forget I am crying

the manila rivers and paper tigers all collarbones and trivia, last wash in the

back of a Charleston laundromat, a domestic acceptance not found in box-


scores of the sixth dream, not the tenth dream, but the eleventh like b-flat minor

chord's natural extension, a half-hitch red knotted handkerchief and hickory

stick bobbing three belongings on the fulcrum of a shoulder. I remember the


smell of your house rounded through the symptom I am. I am a pellet of

hailstone slingshot through the coke machine glow of dog run apartment

housing a red feeling of mostly everywhere. You are the dog with one black


foot left of me is a part of you grafted to rootstock; my head an aquatic

basilica. A dozen do no good. The hotel floor-plan misses a floor. A bend in a

rope is called a bight if the rope does not cross over itself, names for the heart


foreign words for water. I like any place that is nearly liked. When I was

fourteen and good at lay-ups and my hair smelled like Clairol. Wales a place of

heredity. Saint Anthony of Padua, me a Susquehanna. The fifteenth dream like


a ghost in the spokes of pleasant setting divvied Ithaca strip mall music store

parking lots with pop bottles and legroom, call it a welt in telepathy. I try to see

you again but the open windows and the garbage men. A tennis ball of me


lodged in the backstops of infields. On the blue mats the stars are not on fire

but cold as stethoscopes and going in for the night with the rain rains in the hills

fills in the banks below drums gutters the lull the backyards past the abbot have.