Jonathan Cohen

Biology of Failure

Clenching shame is part of it, sure,
but so, unexpectedly, is bright freedom.
One draws the other, propelling toward
heightened awareness.
That is to say, self awakened, alert.
Beautifully exposed to the world
like an extending beach, soft sand,
pebbles, black and white,
sharp and smooth. Bright sun bleaching
washed-up kelp. Crabs, water striders,
in transitory tidal pools, this is their moment.
Purifying light warms and excites
before requiring breezes. Joy rides them
assuredly, vivifying redolent brine,
flecking sea-spray, miles of walking, no voice
or words, expanding hours.
Glistening riders bob the surf for waves,
daring fantastic triumph or spectacular fall.
A family wrestles happily with a kite.
Fragrant women align effortlessly
with the great curve of the earth.
A song everyone knows rides the air,
dies in the wind, revives,
fades before the evening star.


“Drive with Equanimity”
— Billboard, Route 23, Western Catskills

The radio picks up French from Woodstock.
talk from Binghamton. No road rage here. No one
driving their rims, middle finger thrust high.
No one blazing through blind spots.
Where are we? More cows than people
and not so many cows.
Fields untended. No farmers to feed the cities
when they fall from discomposure. A clapboard house,
weathered to the bone, tenants the local judge.
His authority temporal but lingering. In the book village
no coffee shops, no restaurants — just the Mirabito
on the business spur. The book merchants haunt
their storefront shops slung low on Main Street.
Come up from Queens and Brooklyn, from Nassau
County, their talk is open, quick, a little rasp and bite.
What promise called them here? Over hills, through
valleys, from weekend homes and ski resorts, farm-to-table
restaurants, far beyond the busy river. Here: among
obscure churches, fading historical markers, the raggle-taggle
farmer’s market behind the county building,
the mill pond, its muddy banks and wildflowers
framing the backs of shops. And the world’s missing
bees, watched over by a Napoleon twelve-pounder.
A young eagle swoops the pond, serenity’s fierce
sentry, sole guardian of this new civility.


The Shrine at Auriesville

Strange homage to Jesuit priests who endured
the hill of torture, were beaten by warriors, burned
and flayed by the women, and came back for more.

The empty chapels stand on emptied land,
waiting for worshipers (and warriors).
A statue of a lost child cries through
painted alabaster for holy intercession,
light wooden crosses for carrying, stacked
like hockey sticks in baskets behind the pews,
no pilgrims along the stations of the cross.

A stadium built for thousands, padlocked,
submerged in a sea of dust, its carved pulpit
peered through a wire-embedded window;
beyond the motes, native hunters and
richly pelted animals, alive.

Once filled on hot July weekends, the devout
in lemon summer dresses and seersucker suits,
seeking affirmation that despite the office
or the factory, the mortgage or the rent,
the disappointment of children and family,
grace is possible. No more, not ever.
Across the neighbor fence, the former seminary
ringed beneath its cupola by painted tiles,
flowing prayer flags staked throughout,
the Buddhist temple leers.


A native of Buffalo, New York, Jonathan Cohen lives on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound with his wife, daughters, and a hound dog. A graduate of Kenyon College, several of his poems are scheduled to appear this year in the journals I-70, Great Lakes Review, and Amethyst. He studies with Jon Davis.