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Skunk Hour

Robert Lowell 1917 (Boston) – 1977 (New York City)



For Elizabeth Bishop

Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill,
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town....
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love....' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat....
I myself am hell,
nobody's here,

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air,
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the
garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

1:26 min read
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Robert Lowell

Robert Traill Spence "Cal" Lowell IV was an American poet. He was born into a Boston Brahmin family that could trace its origins back to the Mayflower. His family, past and present, were important subjects in his poetry. Growing up in Boston also informed his poems, which were frequently set in Boston and the New England region. Lowell stated, "The poets who most directly influenced me ... were Allen Tate, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams. An unlikely combination!..... but you can see that Bishop is a sort of bridge between Tate's formalism and Williams's informal art." Lowell was capable of writing both formal, metered verse as well as free verse; some of his verse, in some poems from Life Studies and Notebook, fell somewhere in between metered and free verse. After the publication of his 1959 book Life Studies, which won the 1960 National Book Award and "featured a new emphasis on intense, uninhibited discussion of personal, family, and psychological struggles," he was considered an important part of the confessional poetry movement. more…

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