3 Poems of Adolescent Love & Hazing by Robert Lowell
The labor to breathe that younger, rawer air:
St. Mark’s last football game with Groton lost on the ice-crust,
the sunlight gilding the golden polo coats
of boys with country seats on the Upper Hudson.
Why does that stale light stay? First Form hazing,
first day being sent on errands by an oldboy,
Bobby Delano, cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt –
deported soused off the Presidential yacht
baritoning You’re the cream in my coffee…
his football, hockey, baseball letter at 15;
at 15, expelled. He dug my ass with a compass,
forced me to say “My mother is a whore.
My freshman year, he shot himself in Rio,
odious, unknowable, inspired as Ajax.
The stones of the well were sullenly unhewn,
none could deny their leechlike will to stay –
no dwelling near and our square miles of waste,
pale grass diversified by wounds of sand,
weeds as hard as rock and squeezed by winter,
each well-stone an illrounded ostrich egg,
amateurish for nature’s artless hand…
a kind of dead chimney. Any furtive boy
was free to pitch the bucket, drinking glass
and funnel down the well … thin black hoops
of standing water. That well is bottomless;
plenty of elbowroom for the scuttled gear,
room at bottom for us to lie, undented….
It’s not the crowds, but crowding kills the soul.
I look back to you, and cherish what I wanted:
your flashing superiority to failure,
hair of yellow oak leaves, the arrogant
tanned brunt in the snow-starch of a loosened shirt –
your bullying half-erotic rollicking….
The white bluffs rise above the old rock piers,
wrecked past insuring by two hurricanes.
As a boy I climbed those scattered blocks and left
the sultry Sunday seaside crowd behind,
seeking landsend, with my bending fishing rod
a small thread slighter than the dark arc of your eyebrow….
Back at school, alone and wanting you,
I scratched my four initials, R.T.S.L.
like a dirty word across my bare, blond desk.