Thursday, August 9, 2012

Neruda Nights by Helen Degen Cohen

I have been reading Helen Degen Cohen's poetry for so long that I can't remember when I started.  Her poems seem to have always been with me, pointing out the way the world is, offering me a friendly hand, and feeding my own writing.

So I'm always happy when I hear from her, especially when she tells me that she has a new book coming out.  

This one's called Neruda Nights, and it's scheduled to be published early in November and shipped by November 10.

You can order a copy now during the advance sale period (ends Sept 15) from Finishing Line Press.  Click here for the link.

Meanwhile, here's one of the poems from the book, "The Odor of Memory," a poem that I originally published in The Scream Online

The Odor of Memory
(a poem in 4 sections)

A boy, recalling:

We got there in a
state of awe
It was like having traveled
all those years
without knowing it
to arrive in this shaky wagon
full of straw—
the world smelled powerfully
good and there were girls
of every kind but all
the same, with skin.
And breath
they breathed like a disease
almost, some sort of
heavenly, holy disease. We grew red.
That rickety wagon.
How could you learn anything?
Yet everyone thought
we could learn.
The trees
dropped their faces over us. They were
Wheels, machinery, rolled over us,
motorcycles airplanes—wheels
we had to control, get on top of—ride.

A girl, recalling:

We got there in a state
of awe
without knowing it, without
having traveled. We were
trees that had never budded before,
our leaves greening, shedding, falling
like paper
you could draw on, like cloth
you could sew into anything,
we were
so pure were we, in and out of the
hopscotch squares
our hair a river of silver fish.
We floated
without moving, we arrived
in the rickety wagon and the world
smelled masculine—
we were tickled even by the word,
we were moist, we were
open words, we were m’s the s’s could
crawl into, we ached,
we were trees finally budding.

A boy, recalling:

They stood opposite
in the roomful of straw,
grounded like open flowers,
iris, camellias, wavering,
we thought they were only girls, across
the wagonload of straw, they sat
always opposite, across, as if
already filled up with country liquor, we
didn’t know it was sugar-water.
Still, we moved, we were used to
moving, never knowing
limbs, groins, what to do—in olden days
boys wrote poetry
something in us really wanted to write poetry
something we didn’t know
so we moved,
we coiled like rattlers in the straw
and they stood opposite, like calves, then cows.
They were the world. No longer trees.

A girl, recalling:

We came second. So it seemed. Their
moving, their motion, coming first,
because we stood so still, because
we sat still as the close-up
odor of grass,
of straw you could die in, widening
in slow motion, in iris and camellian
ways (so bad) because
we could barely hold our breath
for the budding, while they
across the roomful of straw
moved, snaked, and we, waiting,
like flesh-eating plants,
opened, no, like open water
in our silver cups, opened and closed and
A stable thing is afraid of motion.
We were trunks moving, whirling, turning from
paper to leaves, to grass, to too many things solid
as silver cows,
we were no longer trees.


If you want to read some other writing by Helen, here are some links:

"I Remember Coming into Warsaw, a Child." from her book Habry

"Return to Warsaw," Helen's personal essay about trying to find the Polish woman who saved her from the Nazis. 

A gathering of 5 poems from The Scream Online