Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley creative writing at Tulane University and have published seven books of poetry, the latest of which is A Place Made Of Starlight. He is currently finishing a new book, Museums Of The Moment. His poems have appeared in over five hundred magazines and ninety-some anthologies. Lowland Review Press published his chapbook The Solitudes this year.
Happy Poem

A poem is just a tiny worry room.
Worry with me awhile and we’ll be free.
This hand extended to you as I speak
like Keats famous one, writing in water--
I worried on this hand, my hand said yes,
I’ll take your pain and it began to ache.
Yesterday it throbbed, pulsing, red, self-willed.
it could have been, if I had need of two,
another penis, but who needs more than one,
especially if the second is all fear?

I took that worry, sent it to a cloud
always above me mornings as I walk,
cloud I have carried darkling since a child,
cloud I’ve now found dissolving all my pain
into the blue interstices of heaven.
Sky, are you listening, I am here again?
How beautiful to watch your blues reform,
my little anguishes become your face,
radiance every minute always changing.

Every Line A Kind Of Prayer

My clouds continue, mid-summer, their meanderings
over the Florida gulf. And the waves, too,
go on threshing purple, black, the multifoliate greens,
the multitudinous blues, the sometimes reds,
and sometimes flecks of gold, orange and silver.
Tomorrow they will repeat this as today
repeats yesterday and yesterday its yesterday.
Meanwhile, writing here, I am waiting for my parents’ doctor
to return my call.  He is very, very busy in the suburbs of  Detroit.
Last night, phoning my mother, my father and this doctor,
every second I heard them shrinking while we spoke.
The doctor must be asked (let me stop here to pray:
Lord, help me overcome my fear)
for a truth. What will I do, reader?
Whatever he tells me, if anything. That will demand more prayer.

Tonight I know I will march beside the gulf,
resolving its steady rhythm in my step.
Whoever you are, if you have read this far
stay with me, repeat my words from this line on.
Now, raise your eyes from the page, don’t blink.
Look, these are the clouds I pray to for some direction
only they may know, having seen so many of us,
high tide, low tide, going and coming.

Love Song

My sister bought her love at L.L. Bean,
Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue.
American women, you know what I mean.

Cashmere gloves, scarves for the skiing scene
she watched from her TV: a superior view.
My sister bought her love at L.L. Bean.

She never could buy husbands to keep her clean
from addictions to craving the costly and the new.
American women, you know what I mean.

She clung to Mother’s bank account; she couldn’t wean
herself from sucking; her drying out times were few.
My sister bought her love from L.L. Bean.

She gorged on Dad’s reserves; she threw them up, still lean
so she could gobble more; she consumed my trust fund, too.
American women, you know what I mean.

She couldn’t buy me, sell me, shake me out, wash me clean.
She failed and failed to kill me; she fucked that up anew.
My sister bought her love at L.L. Bean.
American Woman, you know what I mean.

Phoning My Sister At The Nursing Home

“Welcome to Diane’s Consolidated Miseries.
Diane is unavailable to take your call
but if you would like to leave a message just recall
the pitch and timbre and volume of her hostility.
Your call is important to us. If you want a tirade
against her father and mother, ninety-one and ninety-three,
press one; against her brother and his family,
press two; against the ‘entire goddamn world,’
press three; against the men who left her,
press four; against her body she’s shrunk to eighty-six
pounds, press five. The other five numbers
are screams, execrations, a witch’s Sabbath hex
against you. Remember, phoning her, you asked for it.    
The machine took down your number. She’ll call you back.”

Aubade With Dachshund

Obesity is its own kind of dying.
Years later, I can look back to see the dog,
myself, caught up in the same gorging,
both of us force-fed by my parents to be quieted.

I had the secret of my sister’s visits to my bed.
No, it was only choking, never sexual violation
exactly, just my throat, not my privates.
But the throat is private, isn’t it? Or is it?
Let me tell you about the dog, then you’ll know me.
Of course, the throat is the locus of food and utterance.
I say that old-fashioned word because it hurts.
You must use the whole mouth to get the round sound out.
The dog was round, no, he was oblong, a hot dog
but thinner than I was, fat boy in class,
laughed at in baseball, football, basketball and track,
laughed at by the moon at night, crying in my bed,
barking to the moon like Miro’s “Dog Barking at the Moon.”
My sister, the dog, myself: it’s hard to get this out.
Let me speak clearly about the dog at least. He came
pedigreed, named Hans, a puppy for me, a six-year-old.
That lasted a week. Then my sister, ten years older,
hungered to be his favorite, vied with my mother,
both force-feeding him at the dining table, snapping
not just scraps but Veal Scaloppini, filet mignon,
roast duck in slabs, vichyssoise in Wedgwood dishes,
Bavarian chocolate cake. Hans ate. I ate, in competition.
We grew fat. Fat, fatter, fattest. I began to study Latin.
Fatter, I studied French, the dog swelled through conjugations.
Fatter, father. I needed help, I asked my father,
I saw a shrink, the dog got fatter.
Shrink, link, sink. I didn’t, I could swim
above the crazies in my family, I got thinner.
College: I escaped, I got much thinner.
Europe, grad school, thinner. Hans, my sister wrote,
was dead of a slipped disc. Fat, scraps, snap.
Reader, eat for me. My sister lives on,
eighty-six pounds, fasting in a nursing home.
Step on the scale. Whale, male, nail
in her coffin. Reader, there’s a coffin nail
in your eclair, your bouillabaisse.

Good morning, little dog, gone round, gone oblong, long gone:
you’re the color of the sun, sick to its stomach.
Today’s the 4th of July, the last one of the millennium.
I’ll roast you when I cook, the backyard grill
will be ablaze with you, sizzling
you’ll have your utterance, that bark hushed
through the years with stuffing. Let’s hear your manic yapping.
Yap, yack, snap, snack, I’ll have my poem with ketchup,
no mustard, just relish, no oblong bun. Yum-yum,
a dachshund is a cucumber, come closer, look:
he’s a pickle. Reader, pick him up, bite.

My Crow, Your Crow

Crow light: I call it that at dawn
when one wing, then this other, bursts in flame,
catching the sun’s rising. The stupid bird,
dipping his hunk of bread into the water,
doesn’t know the Mississippi is my friend:
it disgorges in the gulf the frozen states I came from.
Mississippi! She was a grade school spelling word
in Detroit for me. I spelled well. Now, forty years later
I jog beside her interchange of gold and silver lustres,
always too much in love with any surface of the world.
But the crow: I know it’s not the same bird
morning after morning .Still, the dipping of his beak
into this water, softening a breakfast for his gullet
demanding, like mine, daily satisfactions
lets me pretend every day’s the same.
On one chunk of that bread some day up ahead
my last day is written, clear as the printing
on my birth certificate on file in Michigan.
Crows dip their bread. Daily, I run for breath,
hoping to extend my distance, even a little.
The Mississippi muddies, clears, according to the factories
up North, the local, snarled measures against its dying.
Slowly, even the river is passing from us while I run.


Reincarnation As Studebaker

Little crow, fly up out of the darkness
nestled at dawn in the willows’ weeping boughs
below the levee where you hide
as I hid in my parents’ house below the basement stairs.
A nook took me in after first grade. At eighteen I fled.
Nooked, I was safe from my sister’s fists,
our dachshund’s fangs, my grandmother’s mad cast
of the infamous we were blood kin to:
Jonathan Edwards, Jefferson Davis, the Vanderbilts,
the noble Mayflower crew I learned in graduate school
were prostitutes, murderers, thieves.

Crow, sing. Bloody, bloody, my sister’s grip,
the nook’s precious comic books and Hardy Boys
and then Emily Dickinson and lyric masturbations....
Crow, wing it: this is a discourse on a car,
not stuff in handkerchiefs. She was a dream,
designed by Raymond Lowry, a 1953 coupe, red, white top,
whitewalls, a sixteen-year-old’s fantasy
were he not manic, terrified to speak
unless in a notebook chockfull of poems and stories,
his mother’s pronouncements when he first learned to read.
(He remembers the moment: it was “Jack the Giant Killer.”):
If you hadn’t been born, your sister would be fine.
Days at sixteen, I drove backcountry roads,
that Studebaker my only friend, Emily beside me on the seat.
My father said a boy who talked to poetry needed help.
After help, I flew away. Crow,
I could have been you and far happier, the Mississippi under me
on a morning as splendiferous as this September mist:
today, now, here, I almost walk the air. We are together.
Reader, fly my Studebaker out of this line.
There is a junkyard in the great poem in the sky
where the rusted parts can twist to russet, oxidize,
then the rust assume some wind depressions can turn to
becoming tropical, blowing up a hurricane
to a man like me taking wing over his past.