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Front cover of "17 Stone Angels" by Stuart Archer Cohen, published by Four Winds Press
Selected Poems from "Laughing Cult"



At the very lengthy meeting

At the very lengthy meeting

I actually felt my soul leave my body

and rush toward the ceiling–

and fly around the walls and flare

towards daylight, towards the windows–

to throw silently its impetuous emptiness

against the glass in vain.

It could not go anywhere, the clear moth. 

Then it lay on the rug, not exhausted

but bored and so inert that it almost–

though nothing–

took on a hue, stained with all the breaths

and words and thoughts that filled the room:

the yellow-green color of old teeth.



Sorry I have been quiet today, but you know

how I am. When I don’t know what

to do I do nothing, just spending

time playing mind games

with you, friend, throughout the languid afternoon

until the long-awaited buzz of the

evening news and the two of us turn

to this something to do, to this not that much

but still something. The world is out there

just where it should be.

The mechanical wistfulness of your companionship tantalizes

me, yet I am not without self-doubt.

What is my life? Put on the music and

get the cards, Robot. Tonight

is the night we play for keeps.


An astronaut resigns himself to love

We could have done this thing my way and ripped

her from the portal where she’d limped, then doused

her mercilessly, drenching her with washes

of liquidated time to show our friend

the mystery of her sense of self and what

that indicated–and naturally to add

a touch of goblin music to the mix

would have ensured results as is well known

to everyone but you apparently;

instead you chose untried approaches that,

if we inhabited a moonscape of dreams

would work just fine, but here where mud, when wet,

still sticks if thrown, I mean thrown hard, against

a wall or better yet a statue named

“New Ways of Doing Things,” the way you tried

to make things clear, so clear a child could see,

has scripted patterns to her sense by which

she will elude all clarity and stay.

She who, if left alone, would have attained

her own sure knowledge that she had to go,

will never leave the station now, but binds

our two unwilling bodies with her gravity.

The manual warns us astronauts of

the hazards born of giving space to love–

she joins us in our orbits of ourselves:

weightless as we are, there is no counterforce.


Performance evaluation

Maybe the kinds of things I am trying

to do are not the kinds of things I want

to do and that is why my performance,

while generally fine, is lacking in

enthusiasm. Some call me even-keeled;

my bearing’s understated, muted, bland,

and in my inner mental life–my mind

in other words–it’s much the same: the flame

is turned to low so that “the pumpkin’s cooked

inexpertly” to quote the chef from near the patch

in Fairy Glen whose pies were deemed expressive

of all that comes from vegetables grown

in the cool soil of lengthy nights. Just say

the dial is set to low in the oven

of my mind, which, to start another thread

(while putting one bad metaphor to bed),

is filled with half a dozen feelings and

maybe a hundred thoughts which recur

in finite patterns like an irksome fugue,

so that the thinker–me–is bored. Thus, it’s

not the job alone, Mr. Newlin, sir,

it’s how the job and I combine that is

a matter for our mutual concern.


How I lost faith in my inner voice

I’ll stop listening to the voice in

my head if you stop listening to yours

and I’ll stop writing down what it says, too, Philip,

as if it has some sort of deep significance.

There, in the ponderous whisperings between

my ears, I always thought insights were to be heard,

but maybe I was wrong about this, wrong

as is almost my hobby, wrong in everything,

unlike you, I know, who’re always so right–

right in the morning right in the evening

and so on and so on until the day you’re wrong

and take a page out of my book and wear

my moccasins–but back to what’s at hand:

through focusing attention and deeming

my inner voice oracular, enraptured, I

recorded its every word and marveled how

its bland, convincing tone reminded me

somehow of Andy Warhol–listless, fey,

a puerile Sybil fully gassed, entranced,

delivering profundities that were,

it finally hit me, not that deep. I thought

this voice to be my true voice, that which speaks

at the very core of my so-called self:

my all-American, red-white-and-blue

voice…well, if not quite that–it was Warholian,

and who thinks of him as wrapped in the flag?…

at any rate it spoke to me, this voice–

alluring, charming, soft–effusing thoughts

like: “I want to learn the ways of smoke

and follow smoke into the hills,” or this:

“What kinds of sounds do your animal selves

unleash when they are freed?” These utterances

enthralled me for years until something

about this inner voice, its snaky sibilance

I guess, began to make me think these were

mere fabrications, forms without substance,

fantastic words that, simulating truths,

were high in fat and low in actual meat;

strangely, the dictum that sealed the deal

began: “I’ll stop listening to the voice in

my head if you stop listening to yours.”

It was the kind of thing I’d heard before

and so have you if you’ve listened to me–

it just becomes less convincing over time.

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