Sylvia Cohen

                                                                      “Tell them not to cry.
                                                                        Tell them in the storm
                                                                        A drop of blood is thinking…” 
                                                                                              -- Steve Becker
My mother is talking to the radio
My mother is talking to her plants
There is a talk show on the radio
My mother is talking to the talk show
She’s angry and the talk show isn’t listening
The radio is also angry at something
(I can’t tell what)
People are angry
The host of the talk show is cutting people off
Who want to say something
My mother is angry at that
She loves the talk shows
She talks to the radio
Gets angry at crazy callers and reactionary hosts
She tells me someone called up and said
“Joseph McCarthy was a great patriot, a great American”
My mother told me she once called up
And tried to say something about education in Cuba
“I saw it with my own eyes!” she told them
But the radio didn’t listen
The host said “Thank you for calling”
In a voice that said “I hate you”
And my mother is transplanting the plants
Which have grown too big for little pots
And now need big pots
The roots are all bunched up
Twisted around themselves a million times
My mother calls me in to help her
With a hammer she breaks the flowerpot I hold
“Look at these roots!” she cries
My mother with a hammer in her hand
My mother is talking to the radio
My mother is talking to the plants
I don’t want her to be cut off
I want my mother to be heard
I want my mother’s roots
-- twisted around themselves a million times
But still strong and surging with life –
To make their way
To make room
For her growth
My mother has had limbs chopped off
My mother has lived in a flowerpot way too small
This morning she described her life as a tiny circle
She traced the circle on the yellow blanket
She was sewing
Her eyes looked so sad
My mother is the sculpture of pain she made
My mother is beginning to sculpt her own life
Hammer in hand
At 61 my mother
Is talking to the world!

                                    -- New York, February 7, 1977 (from There is a Country)


I’m fairly certain this is beef I’m eating.
I’m not positive, though.
On the contrary, it might be some
Other type of meat lurking under the gravy.
No, it’s beef!

Maybe they just arrange for it to taste like beef, whereas it’s really
An impoverished variety that loves to pawn itself off as beef.
O beef, I treated you shabbily!

On what grounds are you beef, anyway?
When I come to think of it, as seen against the background of everyday life,
You’re probably not beef at all.

Ah, I must be mistaken – it’s beef all right;
Right here, this piece I’m chewing has (what can only be called) a distinctly beefy taste.

Stripped of larger considerations, this is beyond a doubt beef I’m eating.
Isolated from the general unhappiness – it’s beef!
O, beyond the relatively harmless sphere of beef lie issues that eat us!

The idea of beef existing as such is a myth.
And I’m riding the Gravy Train.
And I’m eating my heart out.
                              -- published in New American Review, January 1968

"Should I find it impossible..."

Should I find it impossible to love one who is ashamed,
Living in privacy, one who offers to acquire my love for what I have done,
Entirely herself, one who depends on the piling snow to combine,
Or the rain to break apart; I forgive her January, weeping in public,
Her body’s right to impulse, to retreat,
Knowing the loneliness of what I care about.
I myself, thinking of uselessness, happiness, spend a month
Betraying my friends with lies, distance.
It is easier to spend the last dignity at once, in my mind, by shining,
A slug, a pit, a moth, by shining in mistakes,
In this lonely month.
What is it like to anticipate change,
To turn the disparate, the hated
Aside, giving silence its turn?

                     -- published in Art and Literature, An International Quarterly, Summer 1966

Untitled poem

The lion faced the deep sea,
And the sun withdrew its tongue from the deep water.
The wind turned over a pale shell.

This was your first experience.
You made a gesture so sad, so lonely…
You slept, almost on top of your fire,
And there was a free concourse between the sea
And your dream.

The lion was awake all night.

These logs gave you no warmth:
The green log of China, nor
The bedouin log, nor
The log of Hawaii,
The island log.

And all the forces the sea awoke in you
Headed inland, and gathered about a woman
Who had been waiting that whole night for you.

The lion licked your face at dawn
And you went to her.
                                                -- published in Poetry magazine, August 1966

With a missing text

All night they washed their bodies in the cool, slow-moving
Water of the green river.  By moonlight we saw them washing each other,
Embracing.  A red star presided in the heavens. The pines were speaking
Among themselves.  When was I there?

Am I your spokesman?  How difficult!  These bathers fill
My heart.  These bathers in moonlight.  In water waist-high, laughter.  And
Then they are gone, great silence following them.  Listen, if you find those
Bathers give them one of these words: (here the text has been lost)

                                    -- published in Poetry magazine, August 1966

Two mountains

Staying alive

These next
Two moments

Two mountains
Made of cloud

Flying over them
In a balloon

Made of breath

And only the
Of everything
For company

                                      -- New York, December 8, 2009

In the big scheme of little things

Here you are
Sweet one
Accumulating again

Your days
In the big scheme of little things

Pulses of light
Assembling and dismantling your name

Pieces of you flying every which way

Puzzle pieces
Swirling in your brain’s tornado

And here
Here’s a trombone for your last breath

And if you still have hands
If you still have a hand tomorrow
Here’s a hammer of gold
And a house to be born in

                                        -- New York, June 8, 2008