EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

poems

  by
 

  SALLY COOK
 
  ____________

ENDANGERED

My heart’s a little tough these days
From being kicked down streets, byways
Like some discarded piece of steak.
All dried up, crisscrossed with a rake,
It rolls along, distressed, alone,
Without a trace of muscle tone
To make it race, or skip a beat—
Upon the sidelines takes a seat
To watch the heartless ones play games
Of wins and losses, and who blames
The other one for what and why.
No heartfelt tears to mourn the lie,
It hopes that someday soon you’ll come
To rescue this endangered one.

THE MAN WHO LOVED TREES

Looking for greatness everywhere, I did
Think trees remote, irrelevant in time.
My outlook stiffened as deep problems hid
Their faces; and each day stopped on a dime.
Severe intentions froze my narrow view.
I was a fool—and each tree thought so, too.

And so I laughed when you spoke well of trees;
Sneering at your daft simplicity
As you praised spread and species, and the ease
With which they stood. Then, in complicity,
The trees conspired to catch the passing breeze
That ruffled your scant hair illicitly,
Pulling your tie askew as if to tease.
Lifting your Panama, it laughed at me.
 


HER GRACE

The day arrived when Edna was too blind
To live alone. She gave her things away—
The china owl with one glass eye—her mind
Was on the bumps in sidewalk cracks that day.
A flowered pitcher, empty, save for tears—
She knew what faced her in that place where old
Folks had to go, so, facing her worst fears,
Packed canisters devoid of flour, cold
Old roasting pans, some ribbon, recipes,
Affections, memories, her younger face;
Mementoes of her eccentricities,
And all that passing time could not erase.
The absence of all laughter in the gloom
When all would end in one small, scoured room.

 

  ___________________

POETRY

A poem, subscribing to a plan,
Flies higher than the highest planes,
Seems safer than a rose-red tan,
Or traffic in the fastest lanes,
Where people die in random crashes.
And yet how dangerous are words?
Combined, their meaning soon surpasses
A single, random act. Like birds,
We let words fly. The way they fit
Reveals much more than we admit.

AFTER A FREEZE

After a freeze, the ground is hard and sere.
Hard ice piles up upon the crusted snow.
Dry plants shrink back. They seem to show their fear,
As I do when I think back on the flow
Of time and shrink a little in my shell,
And know I’ve learned my lesson very well—
That every crack in armor writes a line,
And in the end you use it as a rhyme.

  ___________________

 

ILLUSIONS

There is an awful leaden weight
Upon my heart. Inevitably
I cannot see, approve, relate
To what destroys my fantasy.
I see some whole, enjoying me
With open heart; but yet to date,
I do not meet one who feels free
Enough to love. At any rate,
I am that object on the shelf
Priced out of reach—star on the tree
Or in the sky. I find myself
Caught in a trap; see I must be
A pale illusive fantasy,
Who cannot please or pay the fee.
 

THE GARDEN IN THE BACK

There used to be a garden in the back—
Fine vegetables, some zinnias, a pack
Of Four O’Clocks around a step of wood—
It seemed as if thick clustered roses could
Climb higher than green even rows of corn
Above the highest peaks, just to adorn
The house, two chimneys and the slated roof.
My house. So if some others were aloof,
Disparaging my thoughts, my hopes, my dreams,
I had four walls, two floors, two silver streams,
A meadow and a pine tree and a hill.
A few bright thoughts, like zinnias; my will.

 

  ___________________

 

 

ALL AT SEA
          for Bob Fisk

One fat uncle had some money,
But he had no sense of fun.
Though he lived on milk and honey,
Told his nephew, just begun:

Listen, kid, go to the City—
Push a rack, or ride a bike!
Would it be an awful pity
If a job you didn’t like
Brought in something for your board?
Think of what you could afford!

But there was another uncle
Not so rich, somewhat in debt—
Thought that jazz and other junk’ll
Help create a string quartet.

He tried to teach him violin, though
He’d have been a better drummer.
But then, what do uncles know?
Winter, fall and spring through summer:

Don’t be stubborn or betray me—
I’ve been feeding you for years.
Think of how you could repay me!
Trash those silly baby fears!

Most advice from grey old uncles
(Who love to let off steam and prate)
Gives a kid with guts carbuncles—
Why sign up for what you hate?

Push a cart in old Manhattan,
Make you uncle’s fiddle sing—
Jump a ship, heave to and batten!

Uncles don’t know everything.
 

SHADOWS

There is a shadow drawn around the space
Which you once occupied within my mind.
A vacuum now exists there; yet a trace
Of words and gestures lingers, to remind
That shadows made by your dark, clouded past
Are more substantial than the ones you cast
Upon that path and open door, my face.
Now shows the negative; the empty rind
Of what had looked to be a full embrace
Has proved to be a tight and choking bind
Made up of smoke and mirrors, rope—a blast
Of rarest spice turned stale. We’re done at last.
 

MILLENNIAL GARDEN GOSSIP

Skewed beyond saving, I stand here. My phone
Records the gossip trees exchange all day
In leafy syllables. Some hours away,
I’ll forward it to others when alone.

I am the one, as silent as a stone,
Who wants to hear what trees might have to say—
Confiding in a hushed arboreal way
About an awkward branch where knots have grown,

Or how Magnolia stretched his limbs too wide,
Annoying pristine Bridal Wreath, and then
Gave fat Hydrangea quite a bumpy ride—
Exposed the Moss Rose for her thorny skin.

All in a passing interlude, which then
Admits the steady pecking of a wren.

  ___________________

 

THE LOST GYPSIES

Just where the air hung sharp as wine
Under the moon and star-lit shine,
Gypsies were singing, waked our cow.
Where are the sons of Egypt now?

Under a cloudless dome so stark,
Roaming the back streets in the dark;
Living in storefronts, trivialized,
Dull and diminished—civilized?

I like to think I still could lean
Out of the casement, dreaming, keen,
Longing to crawl through long, sweet hay,
Quick, jump the stream—then off, away.

Campfires are burning somewhere still
Midnights, near any rock and rill—
Shadows still journey to our old creek—
Ghosts, calling back that lost mystique

Beside bright painted wagons, where
Secrets are waiting for me there.
Dressed in my spangled skirt, I’ll learn
How to read fortunes as bonfires burn.
 


VAN GOGH AND I

Von Gogh had a bedroom (so did I)
With a slanted roof that leaned one way.
My roof had no slant; his bed was wood.
Mine was iron, brass; the spindles could
Draw thin curves there, upon the whitened wall;
All in a brilliant crimson; narrow, tall…
Van Gogh was forced to leave his yellow house.
We all are Gypsies, moving is our lot,
Forever trying for the very best,
And in between, just hoping for some rest.
 


THE BEACH AT EVENING

Some summer people, simple, shining
Tarnished with the grit of day,
On the dampening sand, entwining,
After all their talk and play.
Happy faces, some revising,
White marks where straps slipped away;
Hamstrung muscles, sore and straining,
Got from running every way.

Shadows, working into darkness,
Rich skies start to fade away—
They can see the sunset glowing,
Red and gold that fades to grey.

  ___________________

 

MONEY

I never thought that you could be
The slippery man of mystery
You liked to intimate that you
Were then. And so confusion grew,
And when you couldn’t pull it off
You gave a little awkward cough,
Retreated to your store of money
Which suited you to spread like honey.

Leaving faint trails of it about,
You couldn’t lose! That manic shout
I hear, whenever fools get stuck,
Was yours—you could afford a truck
To pull you out in any weather—
Regard for you flew like a feather.


WORDSWORTH WAS RIGHT

Lost in leaves, rain in the eaves
Can run away with memory.
Lucky the one who still believes
That life is full of symmetry.

Though pigeons claim authority,
Attempt to tell us otherwise,
A vast and dull sorority
Proclaims our freedom from surprise.

They fear the brunt of life, but when
Air cools, and floods of fluid rain
Drop on the places we have been,
The best of us begin again.

LANDSCAPE

Water, transparent, green as jade.
Sand, in a softened ochre mass.
Grey lumpy rocks, in lined parade,
Framed by pooled water, smooth as glass.

Plunging in waves, the skies invade—
Circuits of pastel; flaming brass.
Opaline rainbows fade to shade
Upon the clear green of the grass.

Never the same, the soft tones trade,
Out of this mix landscape is made.

 

  ___________________

WHAT HAVE WE COME TO

Now we will try to save the earth
By eating insects. What’s it worth
To serve ourselves such awful chow?
We’re cautioned that a gaseous cow
Can take away the oxygen,
To give up oil, and coal, and then
Hope that the sun will shine each day.
Just hope; for Heaven’s sake, don’t pray,
But watch the many windmills play
As ducks, unlucky, drop in thickets.
No matter, soon we’ll snack on crickets
Roasted, dipped in chocolate sauce.
They’re bugs, we’re human—and we’re boss!

 

THE STAR AND THE CRESCENT MOON*

One recent twilit evening a young Star
Ran into a slim crescent Moon, and sat
Down with him on the terrace of a bar.
They ordered drinks, and settled in to chat.

The Star said I’ll have fireflies in a jar,
The Moon requested double sunlight, neat.
He much preferred flirtation from afar,
But drama makes a starlet’s life complete.

They flirted; then Moon said he’d hoped they’d meet,
And where do Stars come from? Star simpered, sipped,
Then belched some red hot sparks—the intense heat
Made her loquacious; she asked Are you ripped?

On her third jar of fireflies, she tripped.
I think I saw you here last month, said Moon.
My orbit every now and then gets tipped;
You were that hot one, weren’t you, in Cancun?

You’d like a constellation, you buffoon!
Said Star, You’re young, too changeable, I’ve heard.
And, seeing your dark side this afternoon—
I have to twinkle; that’s my final word.

Star rose, and faded in a cloud of blue
As Moon sniffed; muttered It’s not me, it’s you.
 
                   *(First published in Trinacria)

 

AND WHAT OF ART?*

It used to be that there was a division
Between the arts, and each had segments, too.
A poem was just a poem after revision;
A painter mixed his colors—blue was blue,

And didn’t need some trash, or added gravel
To make it more exciting to the eye.
Once, dance depicted grace, and human travel
Through life was not a calisthenic lie.

And when did sculpture morph into some girders,
Well rusted, piled together in a heap?
A thousand of these small aesthetic murders,
And art began to take a frantic leap
Into the current chaos that we think of
As progress; and the little love we keep
For beauty is sunk deep below the stink of
The odor of a rotting garbage heap.

               *(First published in Chronicles)

 

 

    ____________________________


ON A PARK STREET DAY

Two kitchen windows. They look out
Upon a narrow strip of lawn,
And bittersweet. Just after dawn
The air is sweet. The morning gone,
The day’s in flower, sun is out.
Dishes are washed, and drawings done,
And all the bustle and the brawn
Of commerce now has been withdrawn
As afternoon lies, soaking sun.
Lazy, languorous, open to
A blaze of red, the deepening blue --
A window with a larger view.


A LESSON

I watched her fingers flashing in the sun
Over the paper, hovering just where
A letter to an old friend was begun,
Describing work she had before her, where

Some baby chicks behind the coal stove warmed,
And butter made from cream, just pasteurized,
Was setting in thick yellow skins. When formed,
I churned it up till butter turned; surprised

To see her pen still moving. Then, her ring --
One tiny brilliant diamond in green gold --
Reflecting on that pen. A magic thing,
These beams merged to create a compound mold

Of jewel and pen, intriguing me; a call,
Before I could articulate or scrawl.

 

THE GENTLE DENTIST

Pachelbel plays, as my good dentist drills
Decay away and fixes dental ills
That aggravate, but cannot heal the sum
Or even part of my pierced heart, struck dumb.

His soothing room holds light like pear liquor;
Pale amber, making everything a blur.
Each light ray shines; the art-filled walls grow dull
And dim the confines of each cubicle,
To grey the waiting room, fine books, the couch,
Meld them in squares, where coffee tables crouch.

I wish that withered hearts were quickly patched
As teeth can be—as hardwood, badly scratched,
Can soak up soothing oils to heal each burn;
When pain waits for us, everywhere we turn.


 

LANDSCAPE

Water, transparent, green as jade,
Sand, which may someday turn to glass.
Grey lumpy rocks, in lined parade
Framed by some darkened damp sweet grass.

Plunging in waves, the skies invade—
Circuits of pastel; flaming brass.
Opaline rainbows fade to shade
Upon the water, green as glass.

 

 

An Idyll

I muse a lot on what has gone:
Sweet scents, croquet upon the lawn,
Poems read, just at bedtime,
Words forming pictures, gliding rhyme.

A rabbit’s shadow on the wall
Formed by small hands—a pine, so tall
It scratches sound upon the porch—
Moon moths, a citronella torch;
A stretch of time, a quarter chime,
The hope my musings might combine
With hope for that bright future time
When all these things may fuse, align.

  

 

 

Changes

Pianos left her many years ago—
She hasn’t sung in concert for a while,
Or cared to dress with any sense of style.
Her eyes are bad; she doesn’t read a lot.

This year, the snow took much too long to go,
And her heart pondered those in double files
Who, armed with wily smiles, like crocodiles,
Lashed out their words as if they were buckshot.

Of all the many things she tried to know,
A few stood out along life’s bumpy mile.
Like Caesar, as he traversed the great Nile
With Cleo, in a convoluted plot,
It was too much. She turned her eyes to truth
In beauty, which had solaced her from youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

What a Wit is Worth

  For John Whitworth*, poet

 

Oh,  Whitman was a rhymer who enjoyed to play the part
Of complicating everything. It’s something of an art
To ramble on for pages on the pinprick of a thought,
Which makes word choice irrelevant, and form seem overwrought,
And chokes the flow of meter like a clot within the heart,
And leaves the scansion bumpy as an overladen cart.
Oh, you may paint your wheelbarrows as red as Commie traitors,
Make sure your plums keep cool and bland in sleek refrigerators,
And hope to Heaven you will cause great earthquakes and unease
Disturbing all the critics huddling roosted in the trees,
But Whitworth’s worth more half again than all the free verse clamor
That issued from that country boy whose hyperbolic stammer
Has branded modern poetry these hundred years or so.
So, now along the bottom road, as in arrears we go,
Feel sorry for poor poets blaring pompously, full blast—
And wave the flag for wit and humor—these things truly last.

 

 

 

*English poet John Whitworth passed away in April of 2019.  Among his other accomplishments his last book was Joy in the Morning (Kelsay, 2016). He also wrote a book about writing poetryWriting Poetry (A&C Black, 2001)and was the editor of the anthology Making Love to Marilyn Monroe: The Faber Book of Blue Verse (Faber, 2006). Quoted on thehypertexts.com:  "I write in rhyme and metre because ... because that is what I do. That is the way poetry presents itself to me. I can't write it any other way. I'm not at all sure I would want to, but even if I did want to I couldn't."

  
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  To Bury A Poet

   Some poets write, then publish what is written—
  Victorian ladies comment, are half smitten,
  Close followed by those ones who count mistakes—
  And in the end, well… all it ever takes
  Is some old crank know-nothing with a grudge
  To space out paragraphs of narrow sludge;
  Bean-counting lists; more negative the better;
  Word after word, to make one bitter letter.

  Ad hominem, these words are measured by
  The blot upon the page, and all in sight
  Join in the ruckus looking for a fight.
  This fan club—harsh and brash—is on the rise,
  To praise each other’s efforts to the skies.
  The poet? Buried in subservient lies.

 

  Sea Change

  He’s on his speaker; she’s talking on her phone.
  He hears her clearly; she feels left alone
  Beneath the surface of the deepest waves,
  And strains to find the clarity she craves
.

   His sentences lack something at the end,
  Then tidal pull returns them, lest the bend
  Of that deep undertow of thought and sense
  Might rise up and demand some recompense.

  Those other people climbing in his car
  Push him across the waves to take him far
  Beyond the depths where she might care to go—
  She isn’t sure how far, and must go slow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

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