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spacer.gif   Helen Degen Cohen
Posted by : cj on Friday, December 03, 2004 - 03:37 PM
Poetry:  Click On The Author's Name
All my wild dreams are only

coming, coming,
they are not going. This room
is never alone. And
it's one hell of a Chicago
because here I am, not there,
and I've lost my carnal knowledge
of the City & live in the grass
with the worms and sleep occasionally
touched, discovered by Claudia's
baby hands. While a friend
is making the Art Institute
her private exercise club-
and traffic pours heavier than ever,
aortas back and forth, in & out
of the Loop. And at the Music Box
everything's revived, my heart's dear
movies & the Looking Glass ensemble
erupts like May wherever it can find
a home, so to speak,
& the lake holds us
like an ancient arm, on one side,
especially at night, when we can't
see her, or sleep,
O my next to best of possible worlds,
you let me visit so long, so long
now, that I sometimes forget my foreignness.
The walls are flimsy curtains
between us & your
decadent sprawl, forever opening your night-
studded self, your secret
animal life, your long and wide breath
in the dark, your death breath, against my chin
and I am ageless,
all my wild dreams are only
now. Are only now beginning.

The Red Wheelbarrow

I am spinning like a top--atop
the slick surface of the writing rink
O my teachers, my fair ones,
who supervised the canning of the bees
and yodeled to the tune of the bright-eyed William Carlos Williams
may he rest in peace--
I am spinning crazy on the iridescent
surface of the second plum, on the slippery road upon which the little yellow bus travelled so picturesquely. O my,
I admit I was dying
to sit squarely if uncomfortably in the red wheelbarrow upon which so much depends
but it is coming to a dead stop precisely at the edge of this cliff and I have
no choice but to sit squarely if uncomfortably in the red wheelbarrow upon which so much depends--
yet praise be to the
lords! for
the cool plums and the yellow bus and the red wheelbarrow, so help me, for if, indeed, I must go over into the abyss for even stirring in this red wheelbarrow upon which so--I will go in a sublime O primary red!, remembering eternally the yellow splash of the bus and the almost taste of blue plums in my almost vanished eyes--
But first
I will have written at least four stanzas without any additional object of any particular color in any scene and you will remember these words
O my teachers, for these are sweet
colorless words upon which nothing depends but ordinary breath, a tad of necessary singing and ever so often
repeating what strikes the heart--O
I hear you as I'm spinning out of your
good William Williams who never meant to send any wheeled vehicle reeling but only to heal your own eyes on a red wheelbarrow and a couple of cool plums, and
O I hear you my good teachers
who never meant to keep any wheelbarrow
red or other cemented to the pupils of
my eyes, sure I hear you groaning
my good teachers
but O I am spinning
once again on the slick surface of a fresh frozen literary pond, a pond the color of nothing
I am spinning--out of
your sight and listen listen before you say anything at all-- O I hear you, I hear you,
my good teachers!

Dalloway Day, Barring Eternity

Death in sunlight,
not Venice or London per se.
And if you run into its arms, bearing flowers, you can come to the party. Everyone's
invited, fools, exiles, husbands,
daughters, rotten old doctors, spinsters, wild women who shock you by
floating flowers in shallow bowls,
Italians, lovers, redundancies
travelling as old men, even the mad
on a park bench, in the sunlight.
And so you attempt to accept the invite. You'd like to start the dancing.
No-no. Not yet. You must
notice the airplane, the attention
it gets, the VIP in the car, the shops, the impression of voices - move around
in a half-a-dozen selves
observant as hell, or no fun
or laughter for you. Did you say you
wanted a party? a part in this--
acuteness? It comes
with redolence, the sheerest daylight.
To dash and splash in the past?
It comes with, while you wait for the party, the way the light plays with love.
And so many --
do you recognize all your friends? The day itself adores a party, for everyone who
ventures out--
the day cannot be faulted. If you
don't like it, step out
of the book, Ta-Ta,
Outside, death dances like a rocker with the bride of blue sky and flowering.

Here we are again,

another deadly election,
& all the gods from all
the religions in the world
sit at our table in the air
between the candidates,
dealing their cards.
They are playing their own games,
chipping in frosty cloud pieces
milligram nectars, words
stolen from favorite dead mortals
and all the while sitting among
our sweaty candidates who
strike out at each other with
shackled talk, crusted promises,
sentences clipped to their tongues,
cheeks rouged, teeth whitened-
the gods of course know who is right
& also who will win
& of course what will happen in general
their smiles a yawn.
For as long as my god can remember
there was only one Eve, one Adam
& one legendary reptile, the rest
were cloned, or partially cloned,
the toe of this, the eye of that,
cloned, echoed, & repeated just
as each card falls, century by century-
now handsome candidate A
has inadvertently bumped
one of the holies, who frowns,
his concentration immutable
till now, & he sneezes.
A god has sneezed.
Something is wrong in the air,
as though a thousand angels had
turned to dust, causing an allergic
reaction among both mortals & gods.
Handsome candidate B,
the one who'd like his white house
taller and wider and filled with
carrels & computer screens,
can swear he's had his ear tweaked.
He smirks, looking around.
Holiness keeps on falling through the air
like dust, although only human
dust will return to dust. The gods
want to start over, want the election
business to resume, & go on & on
while one or another holy pulls a trump.
The remarkable thing is, that
nothing can be described,
there's no slant of light, no odors
in the air, no hint of spring, no
onion in the pot, no child coming
or going, nothing in the windows-
we have only men running for their lives
& only gods playing their games.

Ordinary Pictures

We wander and we wander
Baby plays in the sand
by the blue water as if God
had painted the place
We wander and we wander
Mother dies alone
in the white hospital
family burning away in her lungs
We wander and we wander
Off the magazine cover
naked smile and breasts
fall into a brown bag
We wander and we wander
Tulips' yellow petals
cover the table, the floor,
shreds of a yellow angel
We wander and we wander
into the ink on the paper
to rest, a house is somewhere
between the sky and the sea.

Bad Money
After seeing L'Argent-

In parts of the Metropolis
they lock up their bad shadow not
in slums but in prisons.
Where they torture it until
it is criminal, an organism
chewing on its own brain.
Later, in some human shape,
released from solitary
it murders a whole family of them, which
is what it takes; then
turns himself in, saying,
as the others sigh with relief,
I killed for money, I killed in vain.

But only a few are here watching
in the dark theater,
the rest are on film, passing
the rest of the bad money.
The shopkeeper paid off, the student
assured by his mother
that his little crimes will
be covered, if he keeps them from
his father, in whose preoccupied office
the story began, when the boy
had tried for another loan to
keep whistling on his motorbike across
the city. Because
there is no whisper of a voice
to lift his shame and
its noise. What we hear is traffic. The lens
focuses on floors, cars, corridors,
hands exchanging money,
to stop, finally, at the terrifying
sounds behind a closed door.

These bills are all over the city,
says the well-dressed woman
to her nameless husband
as they lock up the day's
register, cameras, frames,
the honking street in the window,
the dusty light of one thing polishing
the other's silence.

While the murderer, escaped, is
hidden by a well-to-do angel. And then?
Who can vouch for the flesh of angels----
Nothing is graphic,
nothing is explicit,

what we see is objective... an axe
in the shadow, then
traces of red, in a white sink.

(Previously published as part of SRQ Illinois Poet feature in Spoon River Quarterly, now Spoon River Poetry Review.)

Mishima, the Movie
(The famous writer plots his ritual suicide
Directed by Schrader.)

Mishima has cut himself in half.
His right side bleeds
Brilliantly colored stories,
His black-and-white side
Plans his demise.
Blue sky, chartreuse fields, red
And orange pavilions--
There can't be any peace
In such vibrant colors.
A man who is cut in half and
Can't bleed should be carried
To a pleasant afternoon in the West
To await his burial
In a French or English garden.
A mix of light. A soft Monet.
Mishima is too crimson for that.
Too black-and-white.
Too double-edged.
Who would have him?
He least of all. And Schrader
Has trouble arranging gray
Restful days, despite the
Old brush paintings.... Even Kurosawa
Deals in porcelain blues and yellows.
Perhaps times have changed.
At any rate Mishima
Has downright cut himself in half
And there is no blood on the scene.
Though one can imagine paint.
Fresh lights upon ying and yang:
To murder and to mourn the victim at once,
To love and to feel nothing at once,
Leaves the world as it was,
Prehistoric, clean.
A uniform helps.
His suicide had the authority
Of style, crisp and sure.
He did it on the balcony,
For an audience deftly trapped outside.
Immediately, the sky was blue as ice.

(Previously published in Another Chicago Magazine.)

The Chorus...Variations on a Theme

A survivor walks among the war hungry
It smelled so good to him, he came closer,
asked questions, licked at the images,
felt his blood, went hunting in my neighborhood for more----
I live among those deprived of war,
the blunted workaday ones
who would never think of planting a garden.

Once I met someone so jealous that he went there.
Only no one knew him, it wasn't the same.
He had gotten so dressed up for the occasion,
wearing his best coffins, so to speak
and no one knew his name, poor man.
No one even knew he was there.

He wants my ghost to introduce him.
While we who were there dance and dance
and plant roses and petunias.
He looks on, silent and dim.
And we feel so sorry for his peaceful kingdom
but then this chorus begins, all of itself....

(Previously published in Rhino.)

Double Vision

It seems urgent now
to record these things,
now that chandeliers
double with light
and the sidewalk splits
into a V, mocking
old forks in the road.
The only sure place is here
under my nose, though
two yards off, the garden multiplies
yellow orange red purple and green.
Yet even when I bring
these words to my eyes,
I can't trust their size:
grotesquely, they enlarge
as in a make-up mirror.
I started small,
the page just about right
for not knowing, blissfully,
where I was going.
The lamps. The blinds.
I wonder what the war
would have looked like, doubled.
Mother, doubled. Father, doubled.

No, it's only what remains,
after everything,
that is doubly illumined, a sunburst
of forks, windows, plans:

Be careful.
Be careful not to be careful.
Cover one eye and walk the walk:
ah... the world is shallow but real.
Or throw the patch to the dogs,
fuse real with surreal. FOCUS.

To say that seeing straight is a chore
would surely overrun the page.
There are clearer, sharper words:
We are confined, finally
What goes wild in the eye are the limits.

And yet and yet. And yet and yet
pink pink impatiens impatiens
majenta majenta verbena verbena
regina mapatiens rink dink

(Previously published in Natural Bridge.)

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