In the Dark Heaven of an Hour

Poetry / Joshua Robbins


:: In the Dark Heaven of an Hour ::

What if we can do no better
                                                   than this: on our own
	      and the only witnesses to the gravel
and weeds we are meant to become,
                                                                  but, for now,

                            listening instead	
for the world to play the infinite
	       song of its last breath
                                                      as space

gathers like the crowd
	       at the edge
                                of police strobes
and caution tape

	       where the mini-mart sign’s buzz-glow
casts the assemblers’ shifting shadows
	       onto hot asphalt

and moon-washed oil slicks
	       uniform in their stillness
after the first good rain in months has receded

	       just as soon as it fell,
                                                       just as the body
of the late-shift cashier inside the store
	       fell out of dream

hearing the entrance bell’s
	       like the declamatory end rhyme
of an unfinished poem

	      penned in his notebook’s margins
before dozing off,
	      as if he knew the night

could not do
                       without us
	      reflected hours later
in the doors’ glass we stared through

	      as though through
                                                  our own sleep
broken by gunshots at the end of our street
lined with oblivious crepe myrtles devoted, in a way I cannot understand, to this world, which no pale god watches tumble through the universe as he rocks on his heels somewhere in the dark heaven of an hour before bed and too late to do anything to stop the thief in the night who pulls his trigger twice and puts one in the gut and one in the chest of the man on the other side of the counter, who might have told us how we are more than fragmented ruins or shards of the ordinary things one gives one’s life to and which were already gone for him that moment he looked up and out and past this world that kills as calmly and deliberately as a perfect final couplet might if we could read it now or after we’ve all had a drink or a smoke on the porch to calm the nerves, we’d say, before morning yields to the traffic’s groans, as we shield our eyes and drive off toward nowhere.

From the writer


:: Account ::

This poem is an ele­gy for a young man work­ing the late-night cashier shift at a neigh­bor­hood con­ve­nience store near our house. He was shot and killed in a rob­bery. Even as I call this poem an ele­gy, I do won­der if I throw the term around too loose­ly here. Per­haps I like to think the con­tem­po­rary ele­gy has tran­scend­ed the stan­dards of the Roman­tics and Vic­to­ri­ans and even the rebel­lious Mod­ernists? Or per­haps even today’s ele­gy can­not escape the trap­pings of the ele­giac tra­di­tion, Freudi­an sub­sti­tu­tion and com­pen­sato­ry return, a lay­ing on of flow­ers, etc. But how to write an ele­gy in this case, in this moment, that does not abstract the sub­ject of the poem for the sake of ampli­fy­ing or illu­mi­nat­ing some so-called “truth” only deliv­er­able by the speak­er or poet? I’ve tried to write an ele­gy that isn’t con­cerned with what’s true or com­fort­ing as much as it is with assim­i­lat­ing grief into the real­i­ty of the moment rather than into solace and under­stand­ing. Shades of Levis here, but the trag­i­cal­ly mur­dered kid, who I did not know, was not put on this earth to be an exam­ple of some­thing else in my ele­gy. And so I am try­ing to put the fact­ness of the kid behind the counter before you, so you won’t mis­take him for any­thing else, this kid need­less­ly dead, because it is only by mak­ing the poem assim­i­late into its real­i­ties of its moment—police tape, rain, pover­ty and vio­lence, sub­ur­bia, reli­gious doubt—that any space to imag­ine his death in the abstract is removed. And then, after­wards, per­haps, it is pos­si­ble to move from the poem to a con­sid­er­a­tion of the socio-polit­i­cal actu­al­i­ties we must resist.


Joshua Rob­bins is the author of Praise Noth­ing (Uni­ver­si­ty of Arkansas Press, 2013), part of the Miller Williams Series in Poet­ry, and Escha­tol­ogy in Cray­on Wax (Texas Review Press, 2024). His recog­ni­tions include, among oth­ers, the James Wright Poet­ry Award, the New South Prize, and a Wal­ter E. Dakin Fel­low­ship in poet­ry from the Sewa­nee Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence. He teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Incar­nate Word and lives in San Antonio.