Poem of the Week | March 19, 2013

This week we’re featuring a poem from our current “Moonhead issue,” 35.5. Peter Cooley’s ninth book Night Bus to the Afterlife will be published in 2013 by Carnegie Mellon University Press, which has published seven of his previous volumes. The recent recipient of an Atlas Grant from the state of Louisiana, he is the winner of the Marble Faun Prize in Poetry from the Faulkner Society. He lives in New Orleans and teaches creative writing at Tulane University.

Author’s Note:

Looking at this group of poems, I can see how obsessed I am with fixity and flux. Why else would I choose, when writing an ekphrastic poem, one of Rembrandt’s paintings concerned with an obelisk and then use metaphors from music to describe it?

Why else title a poem “Monuments” when I am writing autobiographically about a book my father left me when he died?

I have in the last few years written scores of ekphratic poems for a three-part book I am assembling on Rembrandt, Rodin and Michelangelo. But I have never so blatantly admitted my desire to be a visual artist as I have in “Jouissance.” : “ I always wanted to be a painter./The painter can just render, the poet/ must, admit, try hard to say something.”

And then there are my “eschatological poems,” about death and paradise—both of them imagined constructions. The speaker in “From this Side” has “crossed over” into that alterity which is  beyond literature and music and art but some synthesis of all three. There is no language for what he wants to say. Oh, why not admit it: he’s not a speaker; he’s just Peter Cooley with his face up against the impossible.

But it’s not a bad place to be.

Portrait of Adam in Landscape with Swine


There is a name for Paradise I found
yesterday, back behind my childhood
in what some might consider pre-history,
others the dawn of creation. But I,
I knew it was just yesterday’s flimflam,
gone when I woke this morning, an infant
learning to speak. When was it otherwise?


Although it’s still dark out, the alphabet
assembles on the horizon, letters
I’ve never seen before, some new language.


What a surprise, demons, this day will be!
I have necessity of language, you
a certain death, driven in the river.


I always start with this old miracle
to assure me I haven’t lost my way.
Then I move on, re-naming everything—