Plant yourself outside the garden,
a distance from the delphiniums and the dahlias,
someplace beyond the dogwood’s shade,
and shine your yellow right back at the sun.
You don’t require cultivation
like those gently bedded dainties
whose flowering is a favor
they may mete out or withhold
depending upon how obsequiously they are pampered.
There they laze, the delphiniums and the dahlias,
their roots deep in fertilizer,
their faces washed by some pandering gardener’s spray.
You plant yourself as you please,
make do with dirt and rain.
And when the delphiniums and dahlias are drooping,
you will remain
triumphantly shining your dandelion yellow
right back at the sun.
(Mike Cohen – Jan. 2009)
It can happen to anyone a poet encounters.
One moment you are an ordinary person,
climbing a stairway,
idling in a doorway,
descending into the subway,
and the next moment
there you are –
symbol of ambition,
soul of indolence,
spirit of the passage to perdition.
Gratuitously and mercilessly
a poet wields the wand of metaphor
to impose import upon the mundane, and
fixing figurative focus on your finite flesh,
annexes from you some aura,
extracts from you some essence,
fashions from you
something that flutters colorfully away
after the metaphorosis.
(Mike Cohen – Oct. 2011)
BEWARE THE METAPHOR
Nothing is exactly anything else
(or even perfectly itself).
meeting at points and drifting apart.
Metaphor strikes chord and discord at once,
noting both astonishing similarities
between the fundamentally different
and fundamental differences
between the astonishingly similar.
So when she calls you “a tiger in bed,”
and you feel inclined to respond with a roar,
don’t be an ass (to use another metaphor)
but take a moment to reason
if what she said were so,
what a messy truth it would be;
then simply lay back
and, if you must do something bestial,
(Mike Cohen – June 2010)
Truly written’s true because
what was written truly was.
Fact, near-fact, or flagrant lie –
what’s writ is writ – none can deny.
’Twas truly written, every word,
although what actually occurred
may not have been so… so… so what?
A forthright writer’s honest, but
allowed to exercise exaggeration
and outright fabrication;
for without imagination
there would be
nor you nor me.
“Ridiculous!” you say, “Absurd!” –
but truly written – every word.
(Mike Cohen – c.1990)
CHARACTERS WILL BE CHARACTERS
No sooner do I write them into existence
than my characters proceed to teach me about free will
by not doing my will.
I have the power to make them,
but not to make them do as I please.
Though I define them,
they defy me.
And as I lose control of my composition, I lose my composure.
“Damn you!” I exclaim bitterly
and crumple my characters into balled litter
and throw them away.
Yet afterward, I hear them
whispering in the waste can
and tittering at some private joke.
They were not even supposed to be comic characters.
They were intended to convey certain serious ideas I had.
Now I get the idea that they
have something much more interesting to say,
but (damn them!) they
have apparently decided
(among themselves, of all things)
not to let me in on it.
(Mike Cohen – Dec 2006)
NOT ABOUT THE TRAIN
This is not about the train
that runs its rhythmic course
from town to town through fields and forests.
This is not about the train
that eases into waiting stations,
pausing politely to accommodate a diminishing public.
This is not about the train
you hear in the distance of your sleep,
feel rattling your bed
as if you are aboard,
being transported by rail from dream to dream to dream.
This is not about the train
suspended in a vision
as the world rushes past at so much faster than locomotive speed.
When the mournful whistle fades
and the woods overgrow the rails
and the town entombs the tracks in concrete
and, at the eatery that used to be a station,
the final dozen diners finish supper and depart,
leaving the walls to echo unto themselves
like the phantom ocean in an empty shell,
then you will know
this is not about the train.
(Mike Cohen – Nov 2003)
Transcontinental railroad completed, 1869 –
the Locomotive Age…
Manned moon landing, 1969
– the Space Age…
BACK IN THE SPACE AGE
A long time ago, back in the space age,
ours was the new generation.
The moon was the new America.
We were bound for the sky,
bound, with giant strides,
to appropriate Heaven for Mankind’s sake.
The flag was planted, the claim staked.
It was all ours for the taking
and taking was our specialty.
The red shift was on. The universe was expanding
and we were expanding with it.
Our potential knew no bounds.
We had put a man on the moon,
and having done the impossible
it was impossible to fathom
there might be things we couldn’t do.
The cosmos was open for business
and the business was ours.
Yes, we’d put a man on the moon
and were certain that soon
we would put billboards on Mars.
We’d accelerated past the sound barrier,
and expected that in no time at all
we’d be traveling through time
at the speed of light.
Since then we have travelled through time,
but not so fast.
And our time travel has landed us here,
in this strangely familiar place,
where we think nostalgically
of the infinite potential we seemed to have
back in the space age.
(Mike Cohen – Feb 2007)
PALMISTRY AND LUNACY
Seduced by the moon
whose strange and familiar face
looms so close, my eyes shimmer
in the coolness of her light….
A longing sends my right arm reaching for her,
offering a palm that yearns to caress
the glowing lunar complexion
yet manages only to place itself between us.
Amidst heart-line, head-line, and life-line,
moonshine plays, while I,
beneath an eclipse of my own device,
am left to gaze obliquely
at the dark side of my hand.
(Mike Cohen – 2010)
HE LEFT HIS SEARCH ENGINE RUNNING
He left his search engine running.
“The secret of life” is what he had keyed in.
After pressing enter, he waited
a long while.
He was still waiting when she called.
He left his search engine running and went to her.
He was gone a long while,
so long that by the time he finally returned,
the answer was there
behind his screen saver.
All he had to do was to press any key in order to see it.
But he just turned off the computer
and retired to his bed
and to his dreams of her.
He must have forgotten he had left his search engine running,
must have forgotten what he’d been searching for,
or maybe he thought he had found it.
(Mike Cohen – July 2008)
LOVE AND CHOCOLATE
What we both wanted was sex
What you said was,
“How about some chocolate.”
What I didn’t say but only thought was,
“You’ve got it backwards. Sex first.”
But what I said was,
“Okay, let’s have some chocolate.”
We shared the chocolate
and now, in the sweet afterglow of that confection
you mumble something about sex.
But somewhere in the delicious depths
of your brown eyes I see
how tough an act chocolate is to follow.
Melting, all that I can say is,
“How about another chocolate.”
(Mike Cohen – Jul. 2015)
HE RECITES HIS POEM AS IF…
He recites his poem as if he wrote it in one burst.
As if he had not stopped for a snack then returned
to replace wrong word by wrong word,
by near-right word,
by right word,
by just-right word.
He recites his poem as if he had not put it aside half finished
to make love to you,
and forgotten about it and all the rest while he
tried on your fingers and slipped into your skin…
…as if that hadn’t changed him forever, once more…
…as if nothing ever changed… as if nothing that is might not be.
He recites his poem as if wisdom and love were effortless and endless…
…as if all his words were just-right words…
…as if he had not discarded so many just-right words and started over…
…as if he were the lion never outrun by a gazelle…
…as if he were the gazelle never to be outrun by the lion…
…as if truth were eternal and eternity were true…
…as if the perfect fit of your fingers and your skin
were not an extraordinary thing….
He recites his poem as if he were capable of writing it again.
(Mike Cohen – May 2007)
MY ONLY HAIKU
I don’t do haiku.
It doesn’t give me room to…
I don’t do haiku.
(Mike Cohen – c. 1992)
ONE-HUNDRED-EIGHTY STRANGE DEGREES
I’ve lived to see the fires freeze.
I’ve learned that ice can burn.
One-hundred-eighty strange degrees
every one will turn.
I have seen the valiant cower,
the gentle act on spite.
I have watched the weak take power
and the brave take flight.
I’ve heard the greatest tales untold
by honest men who lie.
I have seen the young grow old
and the living die.
Sometimes a moment lasts an hour,
but light-years pass by night;
and sure as sweet cream will go sour,
the sun will lose its light.
I’ve heard the sparrow’s tune turn flat
and poems lose their rhyme.
One may hold long to this or that
but all escapes in time.
I’ve lived to find that ice can burn.
I’ve learned that fires freeze,
and that words and worlds will turn
one-hundred-eighty strange degrees.
(Mike Cohen – c.1994)
SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT THE THINKER
The Thinker is a great sculpture
but not a great thinker.
He’s a hard thinker – I’ll grant him that much –
a regular mass of fruitless concentration,
sitting naked on his rock
like a writer with a block.
Rodin concocted this icon of cognitive constipation,
begat this bronze blockhead,
produced this paragon of artificial stupidity –
not that we didn’t already have enough of the real thing.
Since 1919, The Thinker has been sitting on his ass
on that rock,
and his mind hasn’t formed a bit more insight than his ass
or the rock –
just like a man.
(Mike Cohen – 2015)
THE BODY THAT USED TO BE YOURS
There comes a time to stop speaking of your body as if it is your own.
You are still alive, and yet your body has become the body, and
the knees are creaky, the neck is stiff,
the back is sagging toward the front,
the skin is sagging all over,
the second toe on the right foot is trespassing on its neighbor,
and the old derriere is certainly not what it used to be.
You may as well refer to these parts as if they belong to no one.
You were accustomed to considering them your domain
and had no intention of relinquishing your sovereignty.
You did not liberate them.
You tried to hold the union together, but failed.
The stomach, the legs, the fingers are no longer at your disposal.
Even the brain has formed a mind of its own.
And the heart, well,
that was always the loosest part of the confederation anyhow.
But you should harbor no resentment for these renegade body parts.
After all, before the revolution,
they did give you the best years of their lives.
(Mike Cohen – Apr. 2008)
YOUTH REVIVAL MOVEMENT
Forty may be the new twenty, and fifty the new thirty.
It would seem that age reduction is the trend.
And if sixty’s the new forty, seventy is the new fifty;
you can keep up the reversion to the end.
It’s the youth-revival movement,
but to join you must survive.
A lesser age is no improvement
unless you are alive.
So seventy’s the new fifty, or so we’ve heard it said.
For each age we attain, we claim a younger age instead.
We may say eighty’s the new sixty and ninety’s the new seventy
and a hundred’s the new eighty, but dead’s the same old dead.
(Mike Cohen – 2009)
THE DEATH OF BORIS AND DORIS
As it goes with many couples, it was not clear whether
Boris and Doris were killing themselves
or each other;
but, as they lay together dying, it struck them –
the tragedy, the irony, the absurdity of their lives and deaths.
Simultaneously they awakened to broader perspectives
as they felt themselves passing the way of
Garbo and Gandhi, B.F. Goodrich and J.F.K.,
Doc and Billie Holliday,
the Wright brothers, the Marx brothers, Marx and Lenin and Lennon, and Lincoln, and Lyndon and Andrew Johnson…
passing into the past,
joining Nero and Nicholas and the Czars, the Kaisers, the Caesars, the Napoleons and the Neanderthals,
the dodo and the dinosaurs.
In a moment it was evident
how ludicrous had been their Lilliputian lives in the midst of history,
how humble was history itself in the shadows of eons,
how even eons diminish
as the earth shrinks before stars that blaze and die,
leaving minuscule motes to infuse the universe with remnants of their passing spirit.
It was all profoundly preposterous,
from the famous to the anonymous,
from stars to quarks, from ashes to dust…
Now, Boris and Doris knew
it was all one great extra-galactic joke.
Then they died together,
(Mike Cohen – c. 1993)
THE ETERNAL POKER GAME
There’s one famous game of five‑card‑draw
that everyone witnessed, but nobody saw…
Round the table five players sat hauntingly still ‑
Fate, Chance, and Justice, and Chaos, and Will.
Chance was the dealer. Justice went first.
They played their hands strangely, as if they’d rehearsed.
Justice took two cards, then Will took two more,
Chance shrugged and took three, Chaos took four,
and when his turn came, Fate impassively sat,
though he said determinedly, “I’ll stand pat.”
Will folded quickly. Then Chaos gave in.
Chance, Fate, and Justice all went for the win.
None of them would admit hope for victory was gone,
and so the three sat with their game‑faces on
until the time came, as the second hand swept,
to reveal the five cards those three players had kept.
Chance had three sevens; Justice, a straight.
All of the focus now fell upon Fate.
Over the game room there settled a hush
then Fate flashed a smile and his hand… royal flush.
They sit every day, and they play their old game.
Each time the contest’s results are the same.
Chance always deals. Justice always begins.
Will always folds first. And Fate always wins.
(Mike Cohen – c.1994)