Robert's in Trouble
Robert's in Trouble is an unrealized children's book about a character named Green Robert who gets unwell and learns, with a little help from his friends, the value of self-compassion and care. I spun out the following poem out of drawings of characters that MJ Kim drew for an unrelated project when I had one day decided spontaneously to name MJ's characters; MJ was thrilled for them to have names.Click to Enlarge
In January 2022, a little while after discussing with MJ her idea of putting together a children's book, I wrote an outline and MJ and I workshopped the characters and plot. I then wrote nine sample stanzas; in the (un)finished version there are four stanza types (that, which I was thankful at first, generally employ a mostly harmless ABAB rhyme scheme). In wanting to surpass my previous matching of form to content, I gave each stanza type its own uniquely intricate prosody, the cycle of four recurring throughout the poem (indicated here by means of stanza grouping) until the end of the poem where only the first two stanza types appear, a sort of heroic couplet that brings the entire affair to a close.
Truth be told, I soon cursed myself for the nearly impossible difficulty I've created by insisting on this pattern (it turned out that the admixture of the ABAB rhyme scheme has made the composition of this poem a true exercise in literary Masochism), but Robert was already coming to life and it was too late to turn back. I now see that—the occasionally jarring, often rollicking cadences that keep catching the reader off guard—were exactly what the poem needed.
To this day, I'm not certain why our project stalled and then wilted. By March 2022, MJ drew a fantastic book cover and two illustrations; I completed the poem and began to mock up the book's layout spreads. Then—irony of ironies—I fell into a terrible depression that did not begin to resolve itself until I received my official ADHD diagnosis and began to take my medication in June. I know only my side of the story but, if I were to venture a guess, I would suppose that MJ and I both, separately, ran out of steam.
As this year comes to a close, I think it would be a walloping waste to let this heartwarming children's rhyme die a private death by—as the Russians say, writing in[to] the desk [drawer]—so I have decided to share it here. Those who know me know that the poetry I write is as far from writing for children as night is from day; still, I am tremendously proud of the work that MJ and I did. Even though, then, it felt like Robert didn't manage to teach us his lessons in time, I now know with a crystal-clear certainty that it's never too late to learn these lessons. I wish MJ the best as I release Robert and his friends to the world.Click to Enlarge
This is Green Robert; he wears a pink mask.
With his small sister Starface he lives in a vault.
They play games, and they jump, and do many a task,
Then, they go eat tasty chocolate malts.
On this day, in the morning, Rob doesn't feel good.
His dream of monsters was scary—and how!
In his diary Rob scribbles down his low mood.
Robert's in trouble! Who will help him now?
Robert touches his head, but it doesn't feel hot!
He puts his hand to his nose, but it's cold!
Then, in the mirror he looks for red spots.
Robert touches his heart—that's when he thinks, "Uh oh!"
"I feel quite empty, so I'll stay in bed.
I will not go to school and I won't see my friends.
I feel so sad that I'll sit here instead.
I will wait here until this bad feeling will end."
"Dear sister Starface," then Green Robert cries,
"What can I try to do when I don't feel at all?"
Yellow Starface then says, "Why don't you play outside?
Jump, run, and spin, and then go kick a ball."
Robert goes to his friend, squishy Blue Jelly Boi.
They play and play, but then Blue skins his knee!
He gets sullen, unhappy and—there!—flies his joy…
Jelly Boi sobs, "I will swim to the sea!"
Robert's sad, but he wishes to rescue the day:
They run to Lava Head then to have fun.
First, they munch pizza and then games they play,
And so finally nobody's sad—not a one!
Lava Head tells them about her own thing.
She can never sit still! Here she comes; there she goes.
She starts her playtime, then loses her steam.
To Mx. Cupcake they'll go and their questions they'll pose:
"Why does Green Robert feel sad, blue, and down?
Why is Lava's mind running and running along?
Why does Blue Jelly Boi want to swim out of town?
Why is there trouble if nothing seems wrong?!"
Glad Mx. Cupcake is singing a song in their room.
Then the three friends come and ask them about
All their troubles and doubts and their fears and their gloom.
This is what Cupcake now says to help out:
Every person is different in how they feel:
Some are quite joyful but others are not.
Some like to play and to shout and to squeal.
But some others might sit, in their belly a knot.
Some will think fast, like a train down a hill.
Others' thoughts might be slow, like a turtle in sand.
Some will do things that repeat and repeat.
Others will cartwheel or do a headstand!
But, Cupcake tells them, "No matter the thought,
Or the person, or place, or the time, or the day,
I will tell you six things you have all always got
To be your own friend...and you'll feel okay!
First things come first—it's that you always can
To yourself and to others be honest and say,
'I am not well and nothing is going to plan;
I don't feel good; I am just not okay!'
It will give you much strength to admit what is true.
Others will help when they hear what you need;
Then you will with your brain be best friends, through and through;
You'll be together when you play and read.
Now that you and yourself to each other are kind;
We have to prove that you'll treat yourself good.
Do something nice just for you! You must find
Something special to say, not just lighten the mood."
Robert says, "Ah! I will eat a fun dish."
His friend Lava Head says, "I will play all the games!"
Squishy Jelly Boi says, "I will catch a big fish!"
Mx. Cupcake says, "I will read books for days!"
Jelly kindness then shows, "I'm a swimmer, alright!"
Mx. Cupcake adds, "I write poems quite well!"
Lava pauses, then states, "I catch glowworms at night!"
Robert them tells, "I at football excel!"
Cupcake smiles and then tells them the third thing to know,
"No one can tell you that you are not good.
Even if you were to stumble and fall,
Every thing that you feel must be true—as it should.
'Sometimes I feel quite downcast.'—this is true!
'My poor brain often races too fast.'—this is true!
'I want to run far away.'—this is true!
'I can't focus today.'—you're not bad; you're just you!"
Thing number four Cupcake mentions then next,
(Keep in mind, this might not make much sense right away!)
Is that people don't all feel the same—go and check!
Sometimes, they don't feel the same day by day!
Robert says he is feeling quite yellow right now.
Jelly Boi says he feels nothing but green.
Anxious Cupcake is feeling quite pink or quite blue.
Lava admits that quite purple she's been.
Cupcake says, "So you see, we all feel something rare,
But, even so, all these feelings are true.
Somewhere out there, there is someone who cares,
Who is thinking and feeling and living like you!"
Lazer Eyes this overhears on her run.
She throws Robert a football and then she exclaims,
"Ah, number five! I remember this one.
May I please to the children explain what it says?"
Cupcake agrees; Lazer gives a high-five.
"After all which today you did say and did see,
Please remember these words for the rest of your lives,
I will forever be friendly to me."
Back inside of the bank, Robert's cooking a stew;
His sister Starface is cutting up beets.
They are talking about—"What was fun? What was new?"
Robert now tells all he learned while they eat:
"Number one: It is fine not to be quite okay,
But, you must tell when you're feeling unwell.
Two: When you're down, you must do and must say
Something nice that your feelings would calm and would quell.
Three: You will be very happy and glad
When you know you're not awful; you're simply just you.
Four: Many people are different a tad;
It's alright, though, because all their feelings are true!
Five: After everyone's feeling okay,
You must never forget to yourself be a friend"
"Number six?" Then his curious sister did say.
"Uh-oh! We didn't learn that near the end."
"Not to worry!" kind Starface to Robert then says.
They must have simply forgotten to add:
Number six is a great thing to do for upsets:
Find something new that feels better than bad!
You might fish for a fish in a lake with a friend,
Or in a rocket you'll fly to the moon.
Butterflies you can go chase without end,
Or just read lots of books on a calm afternoon.
Robert goes back to his room and lies down.
He is writing his journal and thinks, "This is great!
Now, if I feel in my thoughts I could drown,
I know just what to do and I'll set myself straight.
Thank you my teachers and thank you my friends!
I will try to remember the lessons I know.
Even if I forget, I'll with me make amends
And, on each day, I will learn; I will grow.
Robert's happy and safe; he pulls down at his quilt.
Down through the window the moon's shining bright.
He sleeps now with no sadness, or darkness, or guilt.
Sweet dreams, Green Robert! Sleep well and goodnight!