Robbie Gamble's poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Pacifica Literary
Review, Right Hand Pointing, Whale Road Review, and Rust + Moth. He was the
winner of the 2017 Carve Poetry prize. He worked for many years as a nurse
practitioner caring for homeless people, and now divides his time between Boston
and Vermont (USA).
To Breed or Not to Breed
Consider Tomcat Eliot, who arched
his tortoiseshell spine through eugenical
discourses in prim Edwardian drawing rooms
both sides of the North Atlantic— O how he
perseverated on the hernia that kept him out
of the war, not to mention Viv's hysteria,
and her tubercular, sinister hand. Tut, tut,
imagine how the twining of those suspect
genes might have contributed to the suicide
of a highbrow Anglo race! But really now,
one must admit that the horizontal tango
is far too tacky for civil chitchat, unless
strewn through a wasteland of verseful
musing, safe above the wafting pheromones
of his temptuous night ladies: Mrs. Porter,
Princess Volupine, yowling epileptical
in those ratty alleys where Jew and Mick
alike might compound exponentially.
Further Thoughts on Privilege
Such an enigmatic word: the pronoun-letter "I" makes two appearances, and at first glance the two "I" vowel-events display themselves as little twin egos; they would appear to merit equal value and purpose on the page. But listen! That explosive "P-R" opening announces First "I" in a fanfare of spittle, endowing it with the lofty honorific of "stressed syllable," and then the soft fricative "V" grants Second "I" nothing more than the disappointed grunt of an insipid schwa. Pri-vuh-lege. How did this come to pass? What gave First "I" the rights to their hallowed space at the head of the word, leaving Second "I" gasping to expel a tiny huff in their wake? The trailing letters shed no light on this travesty; they just go about their own sonic business in the final syllable, winding the word down as if this whole skewed enunciation thing was perfectly okay with them. Go back and look at the harsh visual stroke enacted by the "V"; a deep chasm between the two "I's" making it impossible for either to cross over and check out the view from the other's syllabic lookout. The "V" also echoes the oppositional headings we find emblazoned on landmark court cases, say "Dred Scott v. Sanford" or "Buck v. Bell," and we know how badly things turned out for the losing party in each of these. I find myself thinking about similarly-stressed "I-V-I" words, for example, "civil," an earnest, well-meaning ideal, but just beneath the surface that same old vowel-inequality persists. Or "livid," which is how I imagine Second "I" feels in their gut, a chronic ulcer burning to be validated.
"I" is for Insignificant
A word meaning too small or unimportant to be worthy of consideration, so why does "I" show up, right at the head of it, having elbowed their way to the front of this humble platform? It's not clear why "I" has such a stake in this particular word as it unfolds, but the vowel keeps bobbing up, a total of four times in fact, like a shrimpy clubgoer trying to show off on a crowded dance floor. Sadly, "I" is wearing their restrictive short-vowel form—what a diction faux-pas!—and their self-conscious "ih-ih-ih-ih" gesture pales in comparison to the extravagant energies of the consonants pressing in all around: the haughty sibilance of the "S"; the "G" grinding sensuously into its partner "N"; the fricative "F" and hard "C" effortlessly throwing down their signature sonic moves. Poor "I," what a lesson in humility. And what's up with that odd "cant" as a final syllable? Is it a nod to the apostrophized "can't" as in "I can't," an admission of helplessness? Or does "cant" refer to "tilt," the start of a falling off from the petty obsessions of the "I" alone, so I can lean out and away into the vibrant, astonishing vocabulary beyond this one sad word, where all the multicolored characters of the alphabet inspire one another to leap and whirl and bump and sashay?
Back to Front.