Poetry of Robert Fisher
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Stepping Back
Robert L. Fisher



Like Antaeus our strength comes
From the Earth we stand on —
We are hōmō, creatures of the humus,
The soil, but through our soles
Into the rock drains our grief.
Our dead are interred and our tears
Charge the graveside with sorrow,
Sorrow seeping into veins of coal,
Pipes of diamond, seams of ore,
Tinging farmsteads until our food
Tastes of grief.

The Welsh miner in his galvanized tub
Sings over bluish water,
Sings of his blue scars on chest and back,
Tattooed blue like a naked Pict,
Painted as the Romans called them,
Naked and tethered to the soil.
Their grief, too, soaked Britain.
The Welsh choirs make the stones weep,
For they feel the grief in the seams of coal,
They drill into grief in the darkness,
And arise to the surface dusted with grief.

Even the molten rock,
Like a messenger from Hades,
Cools as the sea turns to steam,
Yet the grief is not burned away.
In the sunlight, I see in the lava
The fading glow of my son,
The solidifying grief for my son,
The ropey grief for the friends
Of my youth in a blackening river.

The young woman turns up the soil
With her hoe, singing
Of a beautiful boy she saw at the fair.


This is no land for pear trees,
But I planted it in my yard,
Taking pity as we do for a sheep born in winter.
A sapling, still flexible,
I bent it forward,
With its leafy crown upside down,
Like a woman with long hair
Bending at the waist
To comb out tangles.
I buried its head in a pit,
Covered it with earth,
The decaying leaves warming the branches,
The snow a blanket in winter.

I never heard a tree sing,
But I have heard them sigh,
As this one did as it straightened its back,
And its new leaves drank in the sun.

For decades it will give bushels of pears
And long outlast me.
It is too young to remember me.
But a grandson will tell it
The priest blest me
As they lowered me
In an orchard with a low stone wall
On my island of Kos.

October 3rd, 2016


Nasreddin Hoja

The Sultan, God’s shadow on Earth, asks
Nasreddin Hoja, Sufi mystic,
“What is of greatest importance to man?”
The Hoja, grey with wisdom, answers: “To fart.”
In prison Nasreddin Hoja calmly waits,
For he has cast a spell on the Sultan to prevent
The Shadow of God on Earth from farting.
After two days he is released and
The Sultan reluctantly agrees.

In the middle of this story Nasreddin is interrupted,
And his young audience never asks him to resume.
How old the Hoja felt: worse than useless,
He knew he was irrelevant.

When I was young, he thought, I was in an earthquake
In Sarajevo, in Bosnia.
Lying across the street a fallen minaret,
The exposed staircase on its side,
Where the muezzin climbed
To call the faithful to prayer.
I am that minaret, and no one will trouble
To rebuild it.

“I remember our janissaries in their thousands
With coiled horns blaring,
Elephants trumpeting,
The smell of powder,
The smell of fresh blood,
Men screaming,
Men in pieces shouting God is great,
At the gates of Vienna.

“I remember the yal? along the Bosporus,
The ships’ slow progress to the black Sea,
The labyrinth of alleys and lanes,
The Christian churches with their incense and song,
The Circassian women,
The caravans from Samarkand,
And tea in delicate cups from China.

Delicate cups from China
With their blue gardens and bridges,
Their beauty in their fragility,
Their only protection their owners’ care.

October 4th, 2016


Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko

What is light is unforgiving light,
And what is dark is blackest ink.
Where there is light — boiling jets of gas,
Where there is dark — ice and powdery snow.

Not Plato’s perfect sphere,
But a bizarre, random clump.
On this surface of crags, cliffs, craters
And flats,
Where is mercy, reason, design,
Where art, music, joy, love?

Huddle, oh humans, in communal warmth,
Smell sea and forest,
Busy yourselves with purpose,
Build order under everchanging cloud,
Jabber to hold back silence,
Dream up stories against emptiness,
For ever and ever is sterility,
Lanterns drifting eternally apart,
Cinders once stars
Mostly dark, absolute zero.

October 4th, 2016

The scattered stars give no warmth
And the lake is glacial and whipped with wind.
The bell sends deep notes over the water,
Speaking to the young in Old Slavonic
About the church on the tiny island,
That is a furnace of God’s love,
Ablaze with golden angels
And a hearth on whose stone
Wine becomes Christ’s blood,
Where we breathe incense,
Where floating above us is Mary,
All cloaks and crowns
And a sorrow to break our hearts.
The miniature church is my heart,
But the young do not open the door,
They are on shore and far away
In a bright city of horns and drums,
Perfume and candle light,
Enticing eyes beckoning
The children to take the stage.

October 16th, 2016

We set down our bundles
At the tavern where the road divides.
The leaves spin down from the trees
And the sun slips behind the hills.
Servants light the lanterns on the houseboats
And we try to read the characters on them
Reflected backwards in the water.

We think back on our travels,
Those for whom the road is their only home,
Or those on the way somewhere,
To a wedding or a funeral,
The pilgrims and merchants,
The children looking out from saddlebags,
The soldier returning uncertainly to his village.

I, down the hill to the little port,
And you, up to the mountain pass.
You will watch me board my ship,
And I will watch your silhouette on horseback
Climb the narrow road.

In the next days we will write poems
About what fools we are,
And they will be waiting for us
At our homes many rivers and mountains apart.

October 16th, 2016