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Four Poems by Peter Cole

(Valent)Lines For A


What law and power has blessed me so that in this provocation of flesh I have been wedded to gentleness?

Delicacy of an intricate mesh of our thought and meals and talking has brought me to this exaltation

of syllables and a speechlessness- to December dusk, and desk, and skin in the amber of our listening.

Dawn again pink with munificence; heart again blurred by its ignorance: toward you in that equation I turn-

and you, in turn, involve our being spun like wool from which soul is weaving a use for that useless opulence.

Doing and making-the end served by what it is we make, and what we do, is what has made me: making and you.



Homage To Agnes

Now I am spinning and turn to her of the mild mind whose lines extend quietly out from God-knows-where and into the picture we see in color before us, however pale.
The lines continue from that square and into the world we sometimes notice when we’re there- the thinnest of reddish filaments like a band-aid’s string running through it, or calming strips of manila and beige.

Its grid, it seems to me, is true, and her straightest lines amaze.



The Rain


The rain coming down in winter when I was younger- say-by twenty years, hit the stones in what seemed then like a sexual manner, as though its cold ran through my bones.

Now, the room is warmer, and my bones, too, are no longer what they were-or even, in places, my own. The inner seems both less and more within, and the moments are hours in which what was and is is sewn.



Something More


I hadn’t noticed for a decade and then there it was, soaring- the date-palm like an asterisk high in the pale-blue powdery air over the walls of the centuries’ city,

implying a kind of (long-lost) commentary beneath the print of that day’s page or tucked at the back of a certain chapter, if one would ever get there. But what (in the world) was it trying to say,

I wondered. For it wouldn’t go away long after I’d left it behind, and wandered home. It floated still inside my thinking, as though that, too, were that thing bespeaking both itself and something more, to come, and which had just been before. Such was life with an asterisk, hovering over it like a palm.


The Ghazal of What Hurt


Pain froze you, for years-and fear-leaving scars. But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world’s good will- though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable an X-ray, you’re sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are-

with all that isn’t actually you having flowed through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased. It’s memory now-so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn’t always. Were you then? And where’s the fear? Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you’re driven away, or on-by forms and forces greater than you are.



Peter Cole is the author of three books of poems, recently reissued as What Is Doubled: Poems1981–1998; a new collection, Things on Which I’ve Stumbled, from which these poems are taken, was published in Fall 2008 by New Directions. His many volumes of translations from Hebrew and Arabic include The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950–1492 and So What: New & Selected Poems, by Taha Muhammad Ali. Cole, who lives in Jerusalem and co-edits Ibis Editions, has received numerous honors for his work, including the PEN Translation Prize, and fellowships from the NEA, the NEH, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. In 2007 he was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

All images by Dani Kantrowitz.

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