David Miller, poet and astute critic of Robert Lax’s work, first suggested I get in touch with him in one of his letters from England—it must have been in the early 1980s but Eleni and I never got around to visiting Bob until the summer of ’94. We spent about a week on Patmos, staying in a hotel near the port that Bob had graciously booked in advance.
Before that visit, my longtime friend and poet, John Levy (together with his fiancée and now wife, Leslie Buchanan) had already met Bob twice—first in Athens in the fall of 1984 and later on in Patmos the following summer; the two meetings are described in John’s wonderful book, We Don’t Kill Snakes Where We Come From: Two Years in a Greek Village. Here are the excerpts:
September 23, 
Drove to Athens to meet the poet Robert Lax, who lives on Patmos but was in Athens for a few days. We met in our hotel lobby. About 70, Bob ia a tall, thin man with a big, wonderfully long face, deep-set blue eyes, and greyish-white, short hair. His full, rounded goatee gives even more length to his face. It is difficult to think of him without thinking of him smiling. He said he knew a good cheap place for lunch, if we didn’t mind a walk. It was about 40 blocks away, and Bob seemed like he could walk all day with the same lively step. He came to Greece in 1963. He said when he got here he wrote pieces he’d always wanted to write while living in New York. But then he looked around, saw how the Greeks were living, and began writing about them. He said Patmos is like Delphi: “At both places, the tourists move through like smoke.”
During lunch we talked about Thomas Merton (whom Bob had known since college), painters, religion, Lao Tzu, Greece, Paris, Bob’s favorite writers (Rabalais, Joyce, and Beckett), and jazz. He told of being introduced to a jazz musician by a friend who said, “This is Bob. He lives on an island.” “I carry my island with me,” the musician replied. Bob said he loves that idea. “Bob is a poet,” Bob’s friend added. “Oh, that’s a great line,” the musician said. “I use it sometimes too. People want me to do something, and I tell them Don’t bother me, I’m a poet.”
Bob walked back with us to our hotel, and we arranged to meet at his hotel later. Outside his small hotel that evening, we saw him sitting inside on the narrow, white marble lobby steps, knees together, head bowed, looking like a shy boy. The evening darkened as we walked to another restaurant which, like the place where we’d eaten lunch, was cheap, distant, and had no tourists besides us in it. As we walked we talked about traveling. He asked if we’d been to Zagreb. I wasn’t even sure where it was. He said it’s the darkest place he has ever been. “At night, it’s like night coming to night.”
Visit with Robert Lax on Patmos
In the morning Bob, Leslie and I walked to a small beach to go swimming. Damianos, a fisherman, joined us, a solidly built, handsome man, about 55, with graying hair and a weathered face, he (like Bob) is gentle and modest. He doesn’t talk much and smiles easily, warmly.
Two young couples sat near us, and Damianos knew from their accents they were from Athens. Damianos remarked to Bob he dislikes Athenians who visit Patmos and prefers foreigners. Bob explained Athenians treat Patmians in the hotels and restaurants like servants and regard all Patmians as yokels.
Bob told a story about traveling with a friend. They would bark at each other and have long conversations of barks. Bob barked a few times for me, happy, energetic, friendly barks. On train rides, when the trains passed through tunnels, Bob and his friend would bark loudly to each other. Once they were in a compartment with only one other person, a Japanese man, and when they went through the tunnel, Bob and his friend barked. As they left the tunnel, the Japanese man said, “You know very well how to bark.”
Later, when he and his friend were back in the U.S. and living in different cities, his friend would call Bob long distance and they’d bark for a few minutes and then hang up.
One morning Leslie, Bob, and I walked to the little pier where Damianos keeps his small fishing boat. Damianos had invited us on a day trip to an isolated beach.
We passed an island, a jutting, rocky hill with a small chapel. Bob said Damianos visits the little chapels on barren islands and cleans them once a year. Everyone else has forgotten about them.
On one stretch of beach on Patmos, Bob pointed to a house and said it had belonged to “Captain Tromeros” (Captain Terrible”), a notorious German officer who lived there during the German occupation.
Bob told us Captain Tromeros had come to Patmos with a 19-year-old Greek boy from another island who was his lover and who also spied for him. The captain shot and killed people in the street, sometimes because he didn’t like the way they looked and sometimes because he had been told they were working against the Germans. He had many informers reporting to him.
One day some islanders went to his house. He knew they had come to murder him but had no opportunity to get help. The islanders, the captain, and the boy drank all afternoon. In the evening, when the captain was drunk, the islanders tied up both him and the boy and put them on a boat. Then an islander shot them. Some of the islanders were upset because the boy had pleaded for his life, saying he had been taken by force from his island and had then been forced to act as an informer. Bob says the islanders still argue whether the boy should have been shot.
Once Bob had taken a boat to another island. He had a snack near the pier. He looked up and saw the boat about to leave. He began to walk towards it. He said he felt like running, but it was as if a hand on his forehead restrained him.
When he got there, some sailors reached out and helped him aboard. The passengers and crew cheered and gathered around him. He felt happy and everyone was congratulating him, saying they’d seen a lot of people run and miss the boat, but he’d walked and made it!
He realized later that if the captain saw someone run towards the boat as it began to leave, he would take it as a challenge and pull away fast.
NB: For those who might be wondering why I have nothing to say about our visit to Lax, the notepads I took with me and in which I wrote down my impressions have unfortunately long since been mislaid and my failing memories of the visit make for an unreliable guide; besides, I think John’s entries are far more informative than anything I could have written about that singular poet and generous human being; however, Eleni and I do have one memento of our visit with Bob—his wonderful little book, Rooster—inscribed by him and including one of his drawings as part of the dedication; I don’t think this gift will ever be mislaid.
I have also written a few poems about this remarkable man, one of which is at the end of this post.
At his leisure going nowhere fast, Strung-out grasshopper Trips along hot flagstone path Out of grass, cool headed Glass lizard sees future reality Sandwich fleeing jumps at chance Crunch! Non-glass mandible closes fast, Hauls dumbass hophead munchies Back to grass.