Friday, November 21, 2008

Helen Degen Cohen: On a Good Day One Discovers a Poet

I have been reading Helen Degen Cohen's poems and personal essays for 15 or 16 years, maybe longer. A friend of mine, Dean Shavitt, first introduced me to her. He said, "You have to read her." He was right.

The poems and essays he gave me were dark and troubling and beautiful, and they were about Helen's life in Poland during the war and after the war. She and her poems and fiction and essays have never left me. When people ask me about what it was like in Poland during the war, I tell them what I learned from my parents and what I have learned from Helen's poems about her childhood and her essay "Return to Warsaw."

Helen's new collection of poems On a Good Day One Discovers a Poet is being published by Finishing Line Press this coming January; and from what I've seen of this book so far, I think it will stay with me the way all her writing has stayed with me.

Here's a poem from it called "Ponette":


A small, reasonable child in France
has no right to lose her mother:
mother the sun is gone but still
the child must play, the children
kiss and are kind to the child and still
she has too many questions – the sky
has its rules and everyone mentions God
and Jesus and the heaven where mothers
go and are happy, and still when
the light is behind the earth – the child
Speak to me, mother.
I have prayed, as I was instructed,
I have gone through four trials, I have
followed others, leapt fearfully, climbed into the dark
and slept, but – woke up listening when
sometimes you came to me
though not everyone believed it – and then
your voice rolled out of reach. I am not
cold though they say it’s cold
today, I am here.

Speak to me, vanished mother.

Mother, you must speak to me!

The schoolyard opens, releasing children.
They perch and fly by like the birds.
A child is more powerful than a mother,
mother, come to me, mother!

What can a mother do but promise?

And on the appointed day, she came, for a picnic, a long
long walk through mild meadows and woods, to just
have a good time, laugh, and, promise
that she never went away
and never will.
And so good-byes are

The father, just arrived in town, listens, as if to a long
lost letter in his hand.


Helen's new book On a Good Day One Discovers a Poet is available for pre-publication sales at Finishing Line Press.

You can also read an except from her autobiographical novel The Edge of the Field at Scream On Line.

1 comment:

Danusha Goska said...

Beautiful poem, John. Thank you for sharing and thank you to Helen Degen Cohen for writing.