Susan Cohen

Susan Cohen is the author of Throat Singing and recent poems and reviews in Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Sou’wester, and Tar River Poetry, among other publications. She lives in Berkeley and has an MFA from Pacific University.


We Bones That Are Here

Chapel of Bones. Evora, Portugal.16th c.

We bones that are here,
for your bones we wait.

We bones still walking
consult our tourist guides.
Monks unearthed your skeletons
to make room in the graveyard,

piled death upon death
into this brickwork meant
to trouble us with what comes
after the body’s shed,

what rises from each gurney
of bone. Nothing tells us who
you were. Did they murmur prayers
or their apologies as they worked

your femurs into walls? Would you
have forgiven this transgression?
Corpse, leathering in chains. Infant,
exposed for our illumination.

We stare into your black orbits,
as if they’re telescopes, to clarify
the universe once bright
within each startled skull.



Reading Fernando Pessoa in Portugal

And as they read my poems, I hope
They think I’m something natural –
That old tree, for instance

That flamboyant date palm
in the wind, perhaps,
fronds scratching
at the scorching air.
That hillside of dusty heather
sweating small shadows.
A squalling Golden Oriole,
its song suddenly sweetened
by a glut of green figs.
The Cork Oak teaching imagination
to a farmer who must wait
a quarter century to strip its bark
while he plans for his harvest
of grandchildren.

That courtyard tree, for instance,
whose thousand-year-old trunk
hollows and fades
gray as a corpse,
but whose twiggy branches
keep offering olives.
That granite: cobbling
precipitous village streets,
walling impossibly terraced plots,
holding up the futile towers.
That Cattle Egret on the plains
who travels in a bull’s footsteps,
parsing the up-stirred dust
to live on.

4 thoughts on “Susan Cohen”

  1. Susan, as a fellow writer in this issue thought I’d read others’ work. Your two poems are very beautiful. I am there with you in Portugal in every line, with the bones, with Pessoa. Unusually approachable as well as beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Marlena. I learned so much from your lovely essay. One of the best things about appearing in journals is being introduced to the work of other writers.

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