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String Theory

It’s not that
complicated: string

exists. It bundles
beets or quartets

together. Why
should this

be controversial?
Because strings

fray, they tangle.
Because, without

thinking, I’m twisting
my one string into

a noose-shaped heart.


Foot in the door or door
in the face. I learned

too late the sales techniques
employed by door-to-door

salesmen. Instead, I stood
by the window, where you

could see me. I sharpened
my knives and showed how

easily they could slice through
me. I saw your lips moving,

as if commanding a dagger
remotely. I forgot what I

was selling. You were selling
doors beyond my price range:

bullet-proof doors, doors
that opened solely for the past.

Why did I think I was selling
knives? I was selling tears,

and a thousand salesmen
had knocked before me.

Picasso’s Aubade, 1942
          for Bruce McLeod

The musician is a flock
of triangles in which one

bird nests. The nude’s a theory
of flesh: she can’t possibly be

comfortable reclining like that,
but that’s an abstraction I

can handle. It’s the geometry
of the instrument that inflicts

pain, that brings the occupation
in. The text beside the painting

says: The musician’s posture suggests
his song of dawn has ended. But look

again at the instrument—absent
of strings—dawn never begins.


At the Wicked Oyster, I
sit between Lou, who
builds seawalls, and Hugh,
who used to. Between
them is an encyclopedia
of hard engineering, of rubble
mounds and concrete armor.
We’re sitting at the bar,
which is what people
without other people
do. Hugh drinks Coke,
Lou cozies his beer in foam.
They agree that static
features conflict with nature.
Once your neighbor builds,
you’ve got to build too,
because waves insist
on taking: it’s a system
of accretion and loss.
They know that, their backs
and backhoes having
shifted mountains.
A finger in the dike,
Hugh says. Lou nods.
I’m trying to read
an article on grief. My
whiskey leaks into trigger,
into time. Today, cliffside,
I realized what fundamental
trade death makes: in lieu
of you, the memory of you.
Not fair, I’d say. Life
isn’t, you said, or rather,
the memory of you
spoke, and wave upon
wave keeps repeating.

In Response To

I called in sick.
This made me feel ill.

I sipped crushed ice.
The ice came from an ice sculpture.

In the shape of my mother.
She sculpted it before she left.

The resemblance is uncanny.
Maybe everything that melts resembles itself.

I’m feeling a little better.
Well enough to look myself in the mirror.

To start carving.


Or Pinocchio (When Inside the Whale)
          after Justice Stephen Breyer

So much floats—wash tubs, cakes
          of soap, corks, ice, the life
                   jacket empty or full, not to mention

                   fishing nets, the door unhinged, the trunk
          of a tree that was—but to say
that what floats is a vessel would be a mistake.

Density’s the key here, and anecdotally,
          one shoe floats more readily than two,
                   as do oil, torpedoed fish, and tin

                   cans glinting. But none of these possess
          rudder or sextant, sail, engine, slave
or captain’s quarters, nor ship’s log,

nor the fear of running aground—all
          aspects typical of vessels. Even
                   Saturn, lighter than water, is no vessel,

                   or Pinocchio (when inside the whale).
          Outside the whale, Pinocchio paddling madly
with Gepetto toward shore, having endured

hunger, torture, prison, betrayal, not to mention
          waking as a donkey, praying to be made
                   a real boy, is of course a vessel.



To board the propeller plane, you
get to walk across the tarmac
like Cary Grant did or like you
did in your own innocent past. By
you, of course, I mean me, meaning
to imply a kind of universal you-
ness and me-ness, a linkage suggesting
we’re together on this tarmac, eyeing
the propeller suspiciously because
the thing that can take you
into the future can take
your head off too. In this
instance it doesn’t, and I take
my seat in 7D, beside a man
named Bob who can taste my
faithlessness, explaining how
he racks up frequent flyer miles
for Jesus and how some of his best
friends are Jewish accordion players.
I tell him that some of my best
pick-up lines for women come
from the Bible.  I wonder, he asks:
New or old testament?
I show him scribbling that may
fester into admissions
of love or smaller manifestos. Some
are in French: Je t’aime quand même.
He asks me to translate. I love you
anyway, I say. He blushes because
no one, except Jesus, has ever
said that to him. I think I’d like to be
one of his sheep, to be sheared
and grass-fed, to lose my way
so he can find me. Up in the air, where
we’re from is stripped from us.
I tell him another Bob—a minor
god, but major Bob—Bob Hicok—
is coming to fetch me in Roanoke.
That Bob likes his autumn
shaken and stirred, he likes it
with a side of blizzard, with dollops
of dirt and confetti. He eats it
with a pitch fork and a tuning fork,
wearing SuperBob boots and cape,
telling the vultures that get
too close to the joy mobile he
is to take a hike. Like non-
Bobs, he’s aged: time’s devoured
the chocolate pudding that was
his pompadour, leaving an unguarded
pate a sea bird strayed far inland
mistakes for a place to break the mussel
hauled all this way—which is  
to say I’m aware of feasting
and famine, of the breakage
both entail. I believe that faith
may be a question of giving 
oneself to a series of men
named Bob, men who look
upon turbulence as a kind
of amusement ride, men who
don’t want to convert me so
much as share the beauty
that spills out from them, including
the secret handshake the Bobs
of the world mean to make 
unsecret, as Bob the pastor hands me over 
to Bob the poet, as the vultures  back off
across the Clinch River, momentarily,
and the green of western Virginia,
like an endless landing strip, unspools.  


Andrea Cohen’s fourth book, Furs Not Mine, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic MonthlyPoetryThe Threepenny Review,  The New Republic, The Hudson Review, and elsewhere; other collections include The Cartographer’s Vacation, Long Division, and Kentucky Derby. She directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Writers House at Merrimack College.