Sam Barber, sitting in the redwood parlor playing Adagio
for Strings on the Steinway, and Una’s in the bathtub
running the cold tap with a pistol in her hand and a bullet
in her breast, her black broth bleeding out, making warm
curlicues all around her, an arm reaching out
for more sleeping pills.
Behind the piano, the door to the guest room is closed
for J.R. and his guest, romping on the deathbed
and I’m seasick on the heaving edge, looking out
the west window—the reaper in the surf.
Yeats, J.R.’s comrade is fog-white with age
and madness and running naked through the poppies
singing for the tatters in his coat and brandishing
Una’s best cleaver at the star-eyed tourists.
A recent preoccupation with Yeats and Sir Walter Raleigh reminded me of a couple of rascal poets I knew back in Columbia, South Carolina around 1989/90. This poem is a sort of mash-up of (1) Robin (J.R. for John Robinson) Jeffers and his wife Una, and (2) those two poets, one of whom is himself a J.R., and the other I sometimes conflate in memory with William Butler Yeats. It is thought that Samuel Barber may have played on Una’s Steinway, and it so happens that Barber often reminds me one of those rogues from Carolina. The poem alludes to Robin’s extramarital affair, Una’s attempted suicide, and the family deathbed described in Jeffers’s poem “the Bed by the Window.”