“The First Casualty of the Summer” and other poems by Emily S. Cooper


The First Casualty of the Summer

Can a dropped ice cream be a joyful sight?
A slight of thought, akin to road kill: a dead badger
is still a badger that was once alive.

Can a spark of juvenile pride (the curl tightly
looped to touch the forehead of the whipped pile)
be saved from extinction

once it lies, semi-freddo on the pavement?
Losing shape and form and purpose –
a small death or not one at all.

(Published by Banshee)


Notions of Sex

I have conversations in my head with my ex about how I don’t even want sex anymore that I could have it if I wanted it/ that men still look at me/ I see them looking at me it’s not a competition/ I say/ but if it was I would be winning/ I feel my body born anew without touch/ I can’t even imagine being touched/ my skin is ashy with resistance/ my hair is falling out/ I’m hungry all the time but I have no appetite/ I think about the trees I’m planting/ even though I am leaving soon/ will anyone water them?/ I admire the dirt under my fingernails/the rose thorn scratches up my knees even my sweat smells different/ ferrous/ as if I am rusting/ I find old nails in the soil unbent/ I hammer them into the dry stone wall / and tie the pear tree to the wallit/ it needs support though it is too young for fruit/ I leave orange peels on the window sill and / feel embarrassed by my nipples as I drink my coffee/ I think at this point I should talk about masturbation/ but I don’t feel like it/ there is a rotten mattress abandoned on my street/ I look to see if anything is hidden in the springs/ there is nothing/ across the wall is the river/ a shag swims past/ later it will dry its wings on a rock/ the tide comes in and goes out faster than I can look out the window/ I miss the turn/ in the woods I feel the trees around me like bodies/ I have read that there is a chemical peace from trees/ I imagine we are sardines together/ me and the firs/ upright/ refusing to lie down on the needly soft ground/ there is a greenhouse on the path/ the glass is all broken/ the pleasure of smashing windows comes back to me/ on building sites as a child/ one after another/ the softness/ the trajectory followed through/ we hold up a hose to a pile of sand/ pretend it’s a penis and piss holes like in snow/ a man in shorts waves to me from his bike/ compliments my dog/ no one catcalls anymore/ I was followed once/ in a small town/ I was about twelve/ it got dark but I got away/ you don’t forget the feeling of someone watching you round a corner/ is it better not to be watched at all?/ there are new blinds on the windows/ now the locals know whether I’m in or not/ I’m told you’re not a local until you get a set of binoculars/my eyesight has returned/ I forgot my glasses one day and never used them again/ I rub myself with oils/ take tablets to reduce my heat/ my face burns with irritation/ people think I’m angry/ they’re only half wrong/ but I’ve learned to smile in a better way/ let it rise to my eyes/ bare my teeth/ I reel away from hugs/ I don’t want to hold hands/ I sit on the steps in the garden/ sunny stones warm me/ I lie down. 
(Published by Hotel)

Old Lives

Perhaps if things hadn’t turned out
The way they did, and I hadn’t left
Eight years before, jumping in beside
Daddy in the car, placing the flower
My boyfriend had given me on the dashboard
Perhaps if the waves had been more violent on
The Irish Sea that crossing, if perhaps
I had taken that as a sign and turned back
Commandeering the wheel
Pushing the captain aside Get out
Of my way and sailed back to Scotland
Taken up a job in an allotment
Worked things out with the Greek
Then ditched him later for a tall Scottish
Fella called something like Reuben or
Robin who played in a folk band
Perhaps I would have been happier

Perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten that stomach ulcer
And Daddy wouldn’t have confused
His cancer for a matching ulcer
They’d just cut it out in time and
We could have gone to the Venice Biennale
That year, like we talked about
Me laughing at his conservative tastes
How he figured craft was of utmost importance
Not this conceptual drivel
Cast a cold eye
On life, On Death
Horsemen pass by!
He’d chant as we walked along canals
Missing the dog at home
That would not jump in a river
And stove its head in the next summer
Perhaps we would all finally learn
How to get along at Christmas
To sit down and eat in peace without
Someone breaking a glass or shouting
About the unfairness of it all
And I’d go back to Glasgow to my empty flat
Get my cat back from the catsitter
Open the window and
Drink a glass of cheap French brandy
To bring in the New Year.
(Published by Hotel)

Incredible Things Do Happen

A tiny person at Edith Piaf’s grave
turned to my parents
and told them
I am her sister.
Her bones were birdy,
twisted and brittle,
like those left on the number 171,
stripped of flesh, in a small cardboard box.
Her body doubled in on itself
forehead reaching closer
to the concrete of the tomb,
her stick the only thing contriving
to separate the two.
Perhaps it was a lie.
Whoever this woman was,
she’s in the Repertoire now,
joining the Kennedys playing baseball
in their garden in Cape Cod,
an immigration inspector who flipped
my mother’s passport photo off
with her long acrylic nails
and the young man who presented my aunt
with a huge bunch of flowers in Neary’s,
apropos of nothing.
(Published by Butcher’s Dog)

The First Casualty of the Summer and other poems © Emily S. Cooper

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