Robert Archambeau

Two Poems

What Heart Heard Of, Ghost Guessed

You don’t quite notice till you do. Like lately,
how I just don’t hear my daughter say the things

she used to say. She’s five. And not too long ago,
when her tiny top-knot face would go bright red,

the frustrations of the twitchy little will all boiled up,
the cherry tomato of her head would howl

for me to stop. “Never!” she’d shriek, and “I command you!”
I’m sure she picked it up from some cartoon,

along with “to the car!” and “to the beach!”—
some superhero talk, some melodrama. And there I’d be,

charmed, and choking back a laugh. Of course she was wild
with anger (what decent parents call “upset”). Of course I’d want to help.

I mean, one cares. But I’d always also think how cute, how not-quite-right,
how much she meant that campy “I command you!”

and wanted it to work, how deep it rooted
in a buried, red-toothed rage, a kraken torn from all its sunken sleep.

And just because I’d combed her snaggled hair,
or taken her to swim or ride her bike: violations

of unmediated desire. She’s changed.
I feel the thing all fathers feel: we wouldn’t want to hold them back.

They’ll say new things. And mine? She’ll better know what works
when pairing words with what we feel. She’ll know too well,

and work me round, get what she wants. I know.
That’s as it should be, right? Okay. But

she doesn’t say the things she used to say. She’s changed—
and something red-faced and unreasonable, balking, some kraken shriek

inside me seeks its words, and wants to shout (to whom?)
“Stop!” and “I command you!” and “Stop!” and “Never! Stop!”


Sestina: What Chester Kallman Did to Poor Old Auden

Your note asked me to weed your savage garden,
To revise and edit, like the old man Auden,
Whose best, and lying, lines were cut—ejected
And chucked from “Spain.” Well, it’s your villa,
And weeding’s not high rent. The view’s seducing—
But chastely so. Not like your secretary

Who did the poster-pose from Secretary
When I came in, post-weeding of the garden.
Her backside did to me, in that seducing,
What Chester Kallman’s did to poor old Auden:
I gasped like Saint Teresa of Avilla
(Bernini’s, not de Beauvoir’s, who ejected

All men, all sex, all but herself—ejected
All but privacy, a secretary
To God, who rarely called). So, at your villa
My hand dropped down those weeds torn from your garden—
I reached, instead, for some bright words of Auden,
In hope, redundant hope, that some seducing

Line would match that pose, itself seducing.
But each was neck-scruff caught, rudely ejected—
My mind a discotheque, those lines of Auden
Bounced out by rough Lust. Your secretary
Glanced back, rose, and slithered to the garden,
That apple orchard there around your villa.

I should have mentioned that: your fine old villa
Being allegorical. Seducing
Is what happens in Edenic Gardens.
We’re here to kiss, and then (fate!) be ejected;
Why else would she be game, this secretary?
“Eve and Adam, till the Fall,” said Auden,

“Were illogical.” That line of Auden
Got through well enough. Logic, at your villa,
Suspends itself. Sleek secretaries,
Apple-derrièred, who go seducing
Portly, graying poets would be ejected
From reason’s trim and (say it) arid garden:

Auden knew it. About all that seducing:
It’s your villa—will I be ejected?
Your secretary fucked me in your garden.


ROBERT ARCHAMBEAU is a poet and critic whose books include the poetry collections Laureates and Heretics and The Kafka Sutra and the critical studies Laureates and Heretics and The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, among others.  He is professor of English at Lake Forest College.