October 19, 2020

“Unendurably Gentle” – The Poems of Alan Cohen

“Unendurably Gentle” – The Poems of Alan Cohen
Unendurably Gentle 

From the upstairs 
Room, one could not tell 
Cloudy from clear 
Until the sun was 
Well up into the leafy 
Metacoloring limbs of resolute 
Trees; by that   
Time, a skein of noise had 
Cracked like a whip and lingered like 
Sustained applause, up 
Over the roof of the  
Room, quite invisible, in its 
Passage south--voices 
Of the atmosphere calling 
As, one suddenly 
Imagines, voices may  
Also call us from water or fire 
 
It is only later, while 
Digging shallow 
Trenches for spring 
Bulbs, that one looks   
Up over one's  
Shoulder to seek the butterfly casting 
That wavering 
Shadow and is surprised to see 
A single red leaf hovering 
On the wind 
Voiceless 
 
A handful of bulbs, 
Sunlight 
And the leaf-swept air 
 


Circadian Rhythm 
 
Receptive to a fault 
The mind composes an instantaneous response 
To the miscarriage of day in sunset 
Resolving in more sombre tones 
 
Even when full moonlight 
Casts trees' shadows on the grass 
In a graphic modulation of day 
The mind retains a tenacious night blindness 
Having wrung each key of light by day 
 
And only when, fumbling 
Sunrise measures its golden key against the mind's iron keyhole 
Is the miracle again transacted 
That renegotiates the channel to the possibility of delight

 
 
The Party 
 
I finally flowered last night 
And I was splendid 
Each goer, detached from habitual comfort 
Was suspended, a single petal 
Quivering in prevailing breezes he could not command 
 
For long, beneath the soil 
I ramified, seeking light 
But humans resist so what they most desire 
Bursting at last from the soil 
Jewel and ginger and cinnamon and wine 
Into warm sunlight and frosty air 
I caught everyone by surprise 
 
Already now they recall me 
Like a kiss or a victory 
And their lives are altering 
To the motive of my memory 
Seeking a glimpse of the light 
 
 

Our Tuesday Off 
 
Heroes braving the hot breath of a monstrous afternoon 
We hurried from bakery to bakery seeking challah 
The new year was upon us 
We could almost see its huge hand rising behind us at the street's end 
But, though we were able to capture a few fresh bagels 
We failed to achieve even a sighting of our true prize 
The movie would not begin for two more hours 
There was no cool and quiet place to conspire over The Bostonians 
So we made a dash for the Five and Dime 
Woolworth's!!  An old woman stood in the doorway looking out  
As if waiting for the afternoon to pounce 
The Lysol was an entire childhood in the air 
We were safely back in the Fifties 
Both of us reached up our hands to our parents, no longer above or behind us, instinctively 
We took to the energy hungry cold like icicles 
Emerging with large envelopes   
Sealing our secrets in them to mail to our friends, our contacts far off 
Now, even under the hot haunches of the day, we feel breezes 
Stop in for ice cream 
Forget the laws and businesses of the weekday world 
Our Tuesday off 
Like an envelope all to itself 
Filled with its tiny enchantments 
And labelled with our address 
 
 
 
Islands 
 
I have been sitting back in my comfortable chair 
Talking to you now for years 
Often pleasantly about my love of nature 
Trying to bring to life for you my experience 
Then sometimes I have sat forward and told you confidentially about a secret 
Or smiled widely and launched into a rendition of a new idea or discovery 
Finishing, hands in the air, at the edge of my seat
I have told you stories that have been told many times before
And stories of my own invention
I have taken you on my travels
And discussed with you my triumphs and anger 
My love and pain
You have sat in your chair and I have sat in mine
We have never coupled
Not even in my imagination (have we in yours?)
You have never spoken
If we are lovers, it is love platonic
If we are friends, we are pen pals
Or telepathic travelers in different solar systems
And I have been dominant or perhaps alone
My desire to speak having led me into such large silences
I can never know you
Can never participate in your dominance, in your secret certainties
I could not, even if I were to sit in the same room with you
Not only with your image as you have sat with mine
But with you bodily
With all the sensual complications that that entails
If I were to question you and question you
Far into many consecutive nights
Piecing together your memories and motivations
Your speculations and certainties
Were I not to interrupt
To interject my views or implicate or exonerate myself
And were I able to overcome your evasions and inflations
Still I could not ever know you
Without becoming you
Though I might write your biography
With great accuracy and sensitivity
I cannot love what you have loved
Or fear what you have feared   

I can never see that moonlit night on the terrace in Florence
As you did when it really happened
I didn't even know you then
O many and many a year ago, as you might say
I can only cherish my own approximation of your longing
Suspecting that your blood probably whispers in a different key in your vessels than mine in mine
That you may have held a starfish in your hand when you were three years old
That makes your washcloth so comfortable to hold now when you stand under the shower 
(but, of course, you may not have--even you cannot recall)
With every moment of your life contained in every otherLike a country I can never be born in
Or a death I cannot enter into unless I mean to become it
You sit before me 
Suddenly vivid and glowing
A living reminder
That you can never be me
That my words (and even I myself) have all along been artifacts
Something already fixed
Like a chair or a claypot
Or anything else that can be perverted or ennobled
By its uses
A commodity merely
No longer me
Or of me
But passed from me to you
Yours now really
Because we are so different, you and I 
Sitting in our separate chairs
Recognizing that nothing but our two individual annihilations can make us one 
 
 
 
Note to a Physical Therapist 
 
Your face showed no regret 
And so though you may pick berries or flowers or squash 
I can see now that you will never pick any weeds from my mind's garden 
Will never set eyes on it 
Not though you cultivate, spray, and caress every muscle in my body 
Not though you hold my head heavy with gratitude against you 
 
You left me, again, with the initiative 
A fine professional stance 
And I hold it like a watermelon (round shouldered) 
Silenced by its unwieldiness 
Pondering your recent enthusiasm for my comfort 
Was it to modalities, a new challenge, public relations that you sacrificed your leisure 
To science then and comfort 
Or was I right at first--shall we say art and kindness 
Perhaps no one will ever know 
 
You seem to be agreeable 
If I divert my life before you 
To observe it as it runs past 
And make desultory comment 
What I meant was 
You might find it, a three-day hike into the forest 
If you thought it worth such seeking 
Not pain but beauty 
At journey's end 
 
I should best have taken my cue from you 
Admitted nothing I thought I saw or felt 
Gone on in my own professional stance 
And let the moment slip 
Like an ambassador, shall we say, to Denmark 
"What matter if there are a few less invitations to dinner 
And we meet a refusal to vote with us on one or two insignificant issues  
This estrangement had to occur anyway sooner or later 
We are different peoples" 
 
And so, the moment has passed 
I thank you professionally 
For your great courtesy 
Yes, and kindness 
May you always know health, confidence, and joy 



Fly, Bee 
 
The fly 
On all fours 
Has a dog's thorax 
But such flexible wires for arms 
Wires she rubs together 
As if paring them 
For flight 
She moves with the clamor and decisiveness 
Of youth 
Barreling through summer 
Flailing demoniacally around everything that stirs 
 
The yellow jacket moves with the poise of a greater age 
Insinuating her deep amber into the very meshes of autumn 
Brushing aside the sand on the cement with her restrained flight 
Hanging about the aging blackberries and currants 
Walking upon those fine hairy legs 
The quiet confidence of slow flight 
And the low hum of contentment 
Resonate among the turning leaves 
As a cello among violins 
An other dangerous voice 
In a membrane no larger than a berry 
Perhaps the very seed of winter 
Striped and still and chanting  
 
 
 
The Reluctance of Roses 
 
There is no question  
And I answer it every day 
Wondering at my cleverness 
Or sometimes at my ineptitude 
As my own real roses 
The ones I planted late this spring 
Settle in me as in silt 
As I cut them on a bias 
Display them in vases 
Arrange them with wild flowering grasses 
With fern and chicory and black-eyed susan 
The old roses of my imagination 
Roses of ballad and argument 
Are softened, mollified 
I hold them, sobbing, to my chest  
Scratching with their thorns like frightened cats 
Until they are comforted 
They are again the answer 
To no question 
Just flowers growing on a little bush

***

Alan Cohen/Poet first/Then PCMD, teacher, manager/Living a full varied life 

To optimize time and influence/Deferred publication, wrote/Average 3 poems a month/For 60 years/Beginning now to share some of my discoveries/Poems Published:  Our Twentieth Century’s Greatest Poems, The Beast in a Cage of Words, “The New England Journal of Medicine,” “Praxis Magazine,” “Literary Yard,” “The Road Not Taken,” “The Wild Word,” “Cabildo Quarterly,” “In Parenthesis”/Poems Pending:   “Adelaide Literary Magazine,” “The Blue Nib,” “North Dakota Quarterly,” “Aberration Labyrinth,” “Front Porch Review,” “Monterey Poetry Review,” “Ephemeral Elegies,” “Anti-Heroin Chic,” “Spadina Literary Review,” “Ink Sweat and Tears,” “Down in the Dirt”/ Honorable Mention, Ninth Annual Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest/Letters to the Editor: Poetry Magazine/Married to Anita 40 years/in Eugene, OR these past 10.
This is his first feature on The Fictional Café.

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