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The Poems of Nicole Cooley

ae_nicole_cooleyEditor’s note: In this week’s Poetry Corner, we feature the work of Nicole Cooley, who grew up in New Orleans. “Milk Dress,” published by Alice James Books (alicejamesbooks.org), which these poems were selected from, is her fourth book of poems. Cooley directs the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College—City University Of New York. She lives outside New York City with her husband and two young daughters.

Green Sandbox, Winter Sky
In the middle of the yard, my daughter fills her dress
with sand as if she can ground herself in the earth
I watch her from the cracked back step while the baby
waits in me undone   unfinished   unready
I want to believe in language fastening each moment to
the present
ae_nicole_cooley_milkdressHer turtle sandbox I anchored with stones
her gingham dress
She sifts dead grass through her fingers under the sky
white as paper where nothing is written
The driveway’s black macadam   lawn filmed with milk
Here is a scene in which I can’t plot myself
as the heroine
while the iris bulbs I planted for her knit and twist
under the dirt
The one unborn and the one who already belongs
to the world    not to me

Firstborn
Who makes two into three. Who the dark unfastened
and let go. Who joins me again to my own mother. In
her glass bassinet, the baby is an exhibit of one, the baby
is lit from within, the baby has no language, so I lift
her up. I give her to my mother. Who am I speaking
to? You, dragged from me into life. You, whose body
opened to release mine. Who taught me the lesson: a
woman becomes her mother. Who taught me how each
body can reveal another. In the stories you read me, a
daughter stays a daughter. Lost in a forest, floor of dirt
dark velvet, inside a tower, encircled by rock walls. A
daughter is forever an empty corridor. Who taught the
magic: center stage, while the magician waits, the woman
flattens her body on a white bed. Trick accomplished.
The surgeon cuts the body in two, and a girl steps
out, curtsies to the crowd. The secret is the moment
when the daughter holds her own daughter, when the
mother stands beside the bed. The secret of this trick is
mirrors: mother reflecting daughter reflecting daughter
reflecting –

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