150.1: Elizabeth Robinson:: On Rage & On the Difference between Animal and Creature & On Bathing 150

"Rage is always past tense" begins Elizabeth Robinson's first of three odes below. The ode itself is rooted in the past tense (like all poems are). The subject is considered at a time in the past and the writing occurs at another time in the past. The magic of the ode, like when we talk about someone's rage, is to at least momentarily create a new present-ness for the subject: "Cheerful music plays in the background. / As though it were playing right now." Think of the power of the philosophical questions raised in Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Robinson's odes are aware of and play with this parallel timeline. She confronts the poet's position and knowledge of that position in writing the ode: "They understood that the very act of bathing was a distance / and the body / moved to it, / was doubled." What comes out of these meta-odes is an exploration of the subject, asking us to examine what it means to consider a subject and how the act of choosing to consider it affects it, changes it, overdetermines our thoughts of it. The ode as an act of looking at an electron, causing it to change from wave to particle. As we read Robinson's odes to rage, animality, and bathing, we realize along with her that the more we look at a subject, the less certain we can be of what it really is: "Familiar, recall the odor of the other." Andrew Wessels

On Rage

Rage is always past tense.

Wasn’t that ridiculous.

Wasn’t that inexplicable.

Cheerful music plays in the background.

As though it were playing right now.

As though you had gone into the yard in broad daylight and picked flowers that

don’t belong to you.

What it means to say, the rage, is

what possession is. Possessed.

And after the fact, after the one moment, the lucid storm of divine logic.

After the past tense.

The flowers are tucked into a vase and sit on the table. They

are yours.

On the Difference between Animal and Creature


isn’t it

all in the smell, the humors of

scent, the feral, moral, rural, minimal

animal is echolalic.

The creature is able to smile, to fill

countenance with perception, mill

its arms around, its legs, loll or hunt

its field, its plural.

Animal in fur, interior overheard

call, mineral tang of voice, voice stalled. Its

odor transferred, diurnal.

They had no smell in the name or

stink, only paw and pall, little

hell of beingness, crawl to haven.

What little

happens in the removal, each

distinction creature fills

with theme, a face that knows

itself in reflection,

reflection stolen, gelled, steeled

against the stink that glass

won’t mirror.

Likeness, liken, small

abyss-smell, hollow

animal covers creature’s feet.

All who call and wallow, call

and borrow, knowing list

and leaning, aroma

the feral, moral, rural, minimal, howling and

uncreased forehead of creature. Creature

who doesn’t hold but knows.

Its. It’s.

Animal, inimical, mimic, ape, sniff, spray

of its, it’s, indivisible in air. Separation is

aftereffect. Durable, invisible, choral, trial

and trail interchangeable. Smell

meant to commingle where it marks smell.

Ricochets. A call that the air inhales, no

clear conception.


recall the odor of the other. A new humor

lofts, calls leg and paw, summoning in an order

whose nose pierces the natural. Whiff of

babble, still stillness resting where the

stink is full. Odor’s filial impasse.

On Bathing

They understood that the very act of bathing was a distance

and the body

moved to it,

was doubled.

The water then removes

them, both,

as though

they had words that said farther, said no

distance in water.

What if a hand

came from behind,

if it wetted the hair. It neither did

nor did not understand that

far, that away, what the hand could measure,

when the sound was not water, was the fall of

the nakedness from the body to its distance.