Joshua Robbins has new work recently published or forthcoming in Third Coast, Hayden's Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Fourteen Hills, New South, Copper Nickel, Southern Poetry Review, 32 Poems, and elsewhere. He has been awarded the James Wright Poetry Award and selected for inclusion in Best New Poets 2009. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he is a PhD student in English at the University of Tennessee, teaches poetry writing, and serves as Poetry Editor for the literary journal Grist.


Less Than Ash

Mid-summer’s sky peels back
    above the turnpike. Another
August late-afternoon boiling

    over.  I remember our
Hard Sunday pew, voices
    singing Soon we’ll reach

The shining river, soon our pilgrimage
    will cease. Even then, what
Was it I wanted? Not the river,

    its murmuring choir. But
Something, yes. Something pure
    as this asphalt steam’s resurrection

Of all I’ve forgotten or have
    tried to forget. Behind
The sanctuary as a boy, I listed

    and diagramed my sins. Striking
A match, I held the paper’s
    flame and believed I needed

Nothing more, nothing less than
    ash, the water to put it out.




I’m beginning now
    to hear the voice that sings

Just beyond memory: heaven-flung
    and not quite an afterthought,

Something settling on what
    shifts in the heart. But

Here is no ghost, no
    elegy, no wavering Amen

To be found in a hymn’s last line
     like the one I sang off key

To no one in particular, pulling
    the soiled mattress out of

The bedroom where my father
    died, tipping it  over

The balcony railing onto the grass
    below. No one else

To do it. Whatever my lot,
    Thou has taught me to say....




Swing Low

This morning, more news of the same:
    planes. Body counts.

Incendiary clouds. A city burned alive as it slept.
    So how can one not envy the juncos’

easy devotion to sky? Their frivolous praise
    indifferent to rush hour’s stop-and-go,

though surely nothing’s coming for to carry
    us home now. But what can I say

of war? The Southern clouds
    roll in with their sweaty air, the sun

rises rust-tinged, and I go on watching
    a few drab birds flit for seed

in the spray of sprinklers switching on,
    while somewhere the dead gather

like cloud shadows over a streets’
    parked cars and shop awnings before

moving on, dragging behind them
    the pale flags of their wings.