Five poems by Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley

Peter Cooley has published eight books of poetry, seven of them with Carnegie Mellon, the most recent being Divine Margins, in 2009. That press has just accepted his ninth, Night Bus To The Afterlife. He has had poems in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Commonwealth, Crazyhorse, Ploughshares, Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, Paris Review, Subtropics and The Hudson Review.

For the Reader Seeking Amusement in Poetry

Calm that distinguishes the face of Christ
when Rembrandt sets his brush to light that flame—
today I'll try to find you in strangers,
no easy task unless you're in myself.

Calm—I turn the word around in my palm.
I stretch the letters out to reach like sand,
a beach where I will try to tan my body gold.

I see I'm making Peter into light,
the old transfiguration of my life
an alchemy I'm still practicing daily.

I really don't care what you think of Christ,
You who pick up this poem to be amused.
Maybe you think he's Tutankhamen.
You think I've made him the sun god—I can.
but I won't. He's light behind the light.

I've written this poem while I've shaved and showered.
Now I'm dressing myself in Rembrandt's lines,
lies which I couldn't jamb into the frame.

They're ordinary, brown and gray. They'll do—




A Cafe in Amsterdam

After the Rembrandt light in everything
you come back to the world's simple, plain sense.
Every moment is not epiphany.
For me, it's just the vast minority
making life worth living: illuminations.

I've had to let the Rembrandt light wear off
to "things as they are," as Stevens called this—
ironically—the blue guitar man's song.

I'm not sure where the unimagined starts—

It's a dull, cold, gray day in Amsterdam.
The passersby along the street are gold—
stop it! But they are. I see little glints
of gold dust on their sleeves. It's just their souls
come out to remind me the visible—
if we wait—may reveal invisibles.




Always the Last Color Print in the Rembrandt Books

"Salt for the flavor, light to guide the way."
Christ said it all, but I am sick of Him,
tied of my riffs off His melodies.
I don't dispute His authenticity,
His presence here this morning as I write
but I have to find my own light and salt.
They stare out from Rembrandt's "Last Self-Portrait."

His children, wife, both mistresses, have died
by the moment these eyes fix on our own.
And that light will not go away, will it?
I close the book, I turn my head. Light's here.
Could this be Christ? Maybe. Maybe not.

Still, this is the way the dead enter us—




Rembrandt, "The Last Self- Portrait"

And Time, which I had thought to hold within my hand,
this portrait shows, always was holding me.
When did Time start to extend such fierce grip?
Or is it tightening skin around my eyes
I can't see unless I look past this mirror,
a web each side, a web to catch me soon
when I begin to fall... when I lose count,
the pieces of a net washed out to sea,
one with the waves when finally I go down.
I know they follow; I wake to their light.
Rembrandt, I'm aging fast. I am past your age
you live through eternally, sixty-three.

You died. I'll die. I have an immortality
right now through years you're bringing me. And you?
What kind of immortality can I offer?




Rembrandt, "The Adoration of the Shepherds"

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I am the one son of the family Rembrandt sees
come to name the light, call it miracle.
All I know is, we rushed out of the house,
Mother and Father pointing to some stars
after the shepherds raced across our farm
shouting savior! All six sisters: savior!
Yes, all the stars were bright. One flares, blinding.
Now it has come to watch above the crèche.

Light shines, brightening, from inside this baby.
Me, I don't like little ones much, myself,
always stinking, wanting feeding, bawling.

We're seven. I'm the youngest; that's the best.
Mother says, "You're my baby." I love that.
I push her away, squinch like I hate it.

Look, I've brought my dog. He's called Heinricke
after Rembrandt's wife. Bark, Heinricke, growl,
jump for the crowd, here in the museum.
Bark! don't you know we're with the immortals!