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Poetry Offerings by Peter Cooley

Poetry Offerings by Peter Cooley past Poet Laureate of Louisiana


Heaven enough, I said, but the door wouldn’t close.
The light kept coming, impenetrable light,
the light from just before paradise,
the light certain mornings choose to gift us
when we are walking, fractured, incomplete,
the light, the hues church windows grant their saints,
or, in the street, rainbows smear after storms.

If this were music, it would break the ears.
If this were touch, it would macerate the flesh.
If this were habit, it would crave a fix.
If sex, my body would disappear in ash.

But it is only the unasked for come again,
the door a prayer will open now and then
and as I sing this–are you still here?–
begins to close. Closing, it’s closed. I know.

And my own darkness illuminates its memory.



I’ve seen the face of God too many times
in such gold as morning carves in trees
or Montezuma’s noon piles at my feet
or evenings, moonless nights the brightest,
the stars enough to canopy the sky.
And then, of course, in the faces of strangers
I find my wife, my daughters and my son.
The recognitions that put out my eyes.
What do I make of this unaskforness,
the wordlessness I make into one word
then the next trying to light a world
on earth approximating what I see,
the indescribability of being seen?



You are my mapless journey on these tides
each morning expectation lifts, shoreless.

Your waves crash through each other, colorless.
You shape the tints of too much longing, stalled,

hues calling through each other to become
each other’s rainbows, arcing, vanishing.

Little boat, my hopes are always in the wings
greeting us, trawling dawnward as they swoop,

these gulls, the turns, the pelicans on fire,
every morning a different conflagration,

Years back I threw away my compass, broke the wheel,
Disremembered longitude and latitude.

On my best mornings midnight falls on noon,
the black streaks releasing constellations.

My luck? Little boat, it knows where we’re going
and gods, my dark stars, I try to count and can’t.



When I sleep I become another man.
I have to tell myself: You’re going to sea.
Then I let go, swimming beside you, woman.

I love the turn and counterturn, unplanned
our bodies undergo, floating, released.
When I sleep I become another man.

It means my body faces you or lands
in turning on an island, chin to knees.
Then I let go, swimming beside you, woman.

Or, walking in the dark, I touch your hand.
No, I won’t drown. Your fingers hold me, steady.
When I sleep I become another man.

We master this by not trying, we can
together keep perfecting it, can’t we?
Now I let go, swimming beside you, woman.

Each night we lie down in transformation.
Where will the hours take us wordlessly?
When I sleep I become another man.
Then I let go, swimming beside you, woman.



Summer, remember me now I am dead.
I was the eye to wonder at the sheen
you set on all things, tree and grass and cloud,

all blossomings. I took you in.
I was a child again each time you came.
And each time you had to leave, I was the wait

hurrying the autumn, the winter and the spring
to turn toward you once more, my eye on fire.
I saw your ghost crackle the fall leaves,

October, I watched your frost cross the windows,
December, I began countdown toward June.
How many mornings, January, February,

until I saw the sky in its full bloom,
the cloudlessness where I could throw seeds–
how many nights starving to imagine,

how many moons didn’t I try to count my flowers
never before pretended, to rival yours?



Peter Cooley past Poet Laureate of Louisiana is a Professor in the Department of English at Tulane University. He is the author of numerous poetry collections and his work has been widely anthologized.


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Published inPoetry

One Comment

  1. Russell MacClaren Russell MacClaren

    I’m pleased to have read his book WORLD WITHOUT FINISHING from which these poems came. The man is a tribute to poetry and poets. His work is iconic.

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