ASPECTS OF ROBINSON
~ by Weldon Kees
Robinson at cards at the Algonquin; a thin
Blue light comes down once more outside the blinds.
Gray men in overcoats are ghosts
blown past the door.
The taxis streak the avenues with yellow,
orange, and red:
This is Grand Central, Mr. Robinson.
Robinson on a roof above the Heights. The boats
Mourn like the lost. Water is slate, far down.
Through sounds of ice cubes dropped
in glass, an osteopath,
Dressed for the links, describes an old Intourist tour.
— Here’s where old Gibbons jumped from, Robinson.
Robinson walking in the park,
admiring the elephant.
Robinson buying the Tribune, Robinson
buying the Times, Robinson
Saying, “Yes. Hello, this is Robinson. Sunday
At five? I’d love to. Pretty well. And you?”
Robinson alone at Longchamps, staring at the wall.
Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with Mrs. Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynbee or luminal? Where
The sun shines, Robinson
in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends, Robinson
in East Side bars.
Robinson in Glen-plaid jacket, Scotch-grain shoes,
Black four-in-hand and Oxford button-down,
The jeweled and silent watch that winds itself,
The briefcase, covert topcoat,
clothes for spring, all covering
His sad and usual heart, dry as a winter leaf.
The Algonquin Hotel’s Rose Room on West 44th in Times Square, was a popular dining spot and watering hole, frequented at lunch by a who’s who of Broadway notables — writers, columnists, critics, all of them wits — known as the Algonquin Round Table. (They privately referred to themselves as The Vicious Circle.) Grand Central Terminal was the hub of New York at 42nd and Park, in the days before air travel, where everyone came and went, where everyone was greeted by loved ones, friends.
Intourist Tours were once-fashionable tours of Russia. The Heights refer to Washington Heights, overlooking the Hudson, in Northern Manhattan. The elephant seen in the park would be an allusion to the Central Park Zoo. Luminal, a barbituate with powerful sedative and hypnagogic effects, was an early prescription sleeping pill. Arnold J. Toynbee was bringing out the first eight volumes of his Study Of History during the 1930s and 40s, and it was about (yawn) the decline and fall of practically everyone due to their lack of Christian piety and kindness. (Thus the Russian Marxists of some future volume were doomed ahead of time!) This “scholarship” was possibly equally sleep-inducing as the heavy-duty barbituate.
Longchamps was a prominent chain of full-service restaurants — twelve of them in Manhattan — where almost all middle-class New Yorkers had dined. The one at 59th and Madison could seat nine hundred fifty patrons, and its huge cocktail bar had fifty bartenders. A four-in-hand is an elegant skinny tie-knot. A covert coat is a short tailored outer coat of very sturdy cloth, fashioned in an outdoorsy equestrian style originating with the hunting set.
Robinson was very much Weldon Kees’ own version of Crusoe in Manhattan, a man who was lost, at loose ends, quite at the end of his rope, while attempting to cope in all his usual ways, dressing nicely, being polite, engaging in superficial socializing, drinking. Kees published a number of Robinson poems. As despairing himself as Robinson, Kees is assumed to have died in middle age via a suicide leap off the Golden Gate Bridge (where his empty car was found), though no body was recovered. He simply disappeared and was never heard from, whether he faked his death and left for Mexico or, more likely, simply vanished in the abyss and then bio-degraded.