An Open Letter to the Better Robin Becker
Nonfiction by Robin Becker
Bind me to these friends and to this child
that I may learn my true relation to the people of this story
Robin Becker, “In the Days of Awe”
There are many Robin Beckers: a dancer, an attorney, a German footballer, an artist, a tele-psychiatrist, a massage therapist. But only two of us are writers. You and me.
You are the better of the writing Beckers, the author of seven acclaimed books of poetry. I am the author of one zombie novel.
You are not on social media. I am. In fact, I spend too much time there, time I should spend writing so I can catch up to you, the more productive Robin Becker. The one who comes up first on google searches.
When I receive friend requests from people on Facebook who clearly think I’m you, I accept them. When critics and publishers message me asking if I would like to be included in their anthology or for permission to translate my poems into Arabic, Greek, and French, I ignore them.
Last month, you were the keynote speaker on a panel called “The Lyric Narrative, Telling Stories in Poems” and my Twitter handle was tagged. My phone dinged while I was trying on dresses a few blocks from the event. I didn’t correct the mistake. I rarely correct the mistake.
Recently, a colleague at my university congratulated me on my New Yorker poem.
“Wasn’t me,” I said. “It was the other Robin Becker.”
But I am the other Robin Becker. You are the original.
Nevertheless, when I google our name, a picture of me pops up alongside pictures of you, and on your Wikipedia page, my zombie novel is listed among your books.
We are the same height, the same build, although you are sixty-seven and I am fifty. You are beautiful, Robin Becker, with short punky hair and a smile like an imp. You look like you’re thinking about the perfect poem, about Giacometti and his skinny sculptures of people and dogs.
I look like I’m thinking about lunch. And shoes. Maybe sex.
We are different in a lot of ways—You’re gay; I’m straight. You’re Jewish; I’m an atheist. You’re famous; I’m not.
But there is something in a name. Nominative determinism. In Latin, nomen est omen. There are dentists called Root and Brush. A carpenter named Nail. A married realtor couple called Greathouse. The race car driver Scott Speed. The lawyer Sue Yoo.
Becker is a German name and it has nothing to do with writing, although it is derived from an occupation: baker.
You are baking poems, and I am stealing them, hot from the oven.
Years ago, in graduate school, I published a poem in a literary journal. I am certain the editors thought it was written by you, judging by the enthusiasm of their acceptance letter. I didn’t disabuse them of the notion.
You teach at Penn State and I notice you’ve added your middle name to your online university bio. Does that mean you think about me? Want to distinguish yourself from me, the other Robin Becker?
I hope you do. I must pop up in your searches. You must get emails asking about zombies. Surely you dream of me as I do of you.
We met in 2010. You might not remember. This was before my zombie novel was published. Before I became a professor. Before my life wound up shadowing yours, but in a smaller way. A lesser form. The fledgling Robin Becker, whose wings didn’t quite work yet.
We were both at the gigantic book fair of a gigantic writer’s conference. I was working the table for a literary journal, trying to convince hopeful and desperate writers to fork over ten dollars, when a voice behind me said, “Yes, I’m Robin Becker.”
I stood up, pivoted, and there you were, wearing a black vest with a white button-down shirt and blue jeans. You looked southwestern and sexy, like a cowboy. Or cowgirl. Outdoorsy and tough, with a leather wrist cuff and reading glasses hanging from your vest pocket. I rushed over and introduced myself and we laughed, held each other by the elbows in an awkward half-hug, both of us admitting we loved being Robin Becker.
When my novel came out the following year, I sent you a copy, from one Robin Becker to the other. From the genre writer to the poet. The baby to the mother. There was no response.
© Robin Becker
[This piece was selected by Jacky Taylor. Read Robin’s interview]