archives spring 2008




The cell is black and cold, like a shoe box exiled to Siberia. To survive, he learns to tear the button from his shirt, to toss it in the air and seek it out on hands and knees. He fastens it inside his palms. Long ago he thought of escape. But the button is old and cannot swim.


At the Zoo

The giraffe loved popcorn.
She loved the thuds of kernels bursting,
loved them nibbled warm
from her handler’s hand—a good
thing he figured, when the real artillery
began and her response wasn’t fear,
but hunger, though seeing
the zebra and his stripes succumb
to tear gas stunned her appetite.

She herself collapsed in fright
at the next report at the zoo
in Qalqiliya, which can’t afford more animals
dead or living, so the ex-vet
turned taxidermist stuffs the creatures
and exhibits them in the snake pit
to anyone who’ll visit.
Nearby the handler stands, palm
outstretched, unflinching, as he did in life.


Civil Unrest

Father, forgive me
for wishing since
there must be children
without them
(wishes I mean)
I wish the war
finished and then
lots of peace and fish
a sturdy house
with table and chairs
at least one chair
where you
and mother could take
turns sitting since
being dead must be
very tiring
your spirits journeying
without your bodies
resting properly
all this time
like legless birds
who can’t land
anywhere father
forgive me
for not crying
out when I saw
the hand
with the machete
you taught us hands
are not intended
for such things and so
my voice hid
behind my tongue
I hid behind the tree
we all loved
from which the handle
of the blade was cut
which like me
should have cried out father


Detective X on Retreat

Four hundred acres in the woods—
nightmare and dream: this is a good
place to scatter bones,
including those still wreathed
with flesh that breathes
(like yours or mine).
They said I needed time
(who doesn’t) from my life
of reconstruction: years spent
meaning to connect the fragments
of a skull that’s fractured, to re-enact
a girl’s last day, to say, in fact
she isn’t dead but goes on
going to the pawn shop
with her box of gold encasements,
to a film noir, still spectating.

But I am meant not to fret
(that’s it, isn’t it?) to forget,
to let pure nature infiltrate me.
I see the deer mouse cross the field
and know she’s running from something
or toward another, I can’t but cling
to who I am. The robins
pulling worms up past the fence
are swallowing the evidence.
But one must look both ways
upon a path: through the haze
and back again, then at the self.
In my hobby room I have a shelf
of broken parts: the wedding ring
without the finger, photograph
that’s torn in half,
the unsipped glass, unfinished task,
the long glance on a mountain pass,
before the summer light retreats.

When did I forget? Life is still sweet
or else I’d let it go on
disappearing. In the clearing
I watch a Fibonacci series
repeating, life is sweet, in the pine
tree’s cone, it its tar and in its resin,
in the winged seeds conceived in air
and steadfast hurled into the care
of earth and all it tenders.
I may leave now. I remember.


Detective X Captures Pygmalion

There are facts you do not need to know,
details we keep out of the press, because
once you are acquainted with a horror,
it has a knack of dwelling in you. Beauty
is different, flying into the fringes
when you’re introduced, say,
at a bal masquée, with you
always running after what you think
is there. Pygmalion was a good
example. One accepts eccentricities
of artists; in him there was
 a festering after the incident in Amathus
in which the guests were butchered, the guilty
men transformed to braying bulls, the women
stripped of undergarments, hardened into wolves.
People like to look for reasons.
Perhaps this is the core of why
Pygmalion shunned women, why he
retreated to his stone and tools and pulled
the perfect lover from his studio.
He knew she wasn’t real,
and loved her in spite, or else
because of it. He brought her offerings
of colored glass washed by the sea,
sweet peas, and beads and speckled eggs.
He brought her figs, a fens, scented geraniums,
blueprints for the thousand villas he would build her.
He was in a bad way until
he asked and Venus listened, until she made
the ivory go soft, to breathe, and to respond
beneath the klieg lights of his gaze.
Opening her eyes the first time
to Pygmalion and to the world,
it’s easy to see how she confused
the two, how willingly she made
her fleshly way up to the altar,
opened her alabaster brain
to the notion of him and to progeny.

What did Pygmalion expect?
She grew tired and less sumptuous.
She saw beyond, into his self-regard, into
how he bullied her toward being.
In the storybooks you read
the happy ending. An object has to stop
somewhere, and yet the story keeps on going.
You can imagine for yourself
the crop of terrors she inherited,
invented by so selfish a desire.
You can imagine Pygmalion’s wrath
when finally she said, I wish
you’d never made me, when she turned
from him and when again
he raised his battered mallet.
This is the part you never read,
how she bled and how her blood
stained a whole sea red,
though this is all in my report, and how
Pygmalion on that same sea fled,
which is where I tracked him down,
in a dark, unseemly galley, where he’d chained
himself onto the oars, disguised his mean genius
in the tattered garments of a slave
while not far off his son
and an island grew synonymous. 


Andrea Cohen is the author of the poetry collections The Cartographer's Vacation and Long Division (forthcoming from Salmon Poetry). Her poems and stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Memorious, Glimmertrain, Fulcrum, and Salmagundi. She directs the Blacksmith House Reading Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and writes about marine research at MIT.