You can HEAR Mitchel Cohen reciting this poem HERE:


1. Eight Years before 9-11
Corner of Broadway and Canal:
traffic light stuck red
horns blare every direction
pedestrian locusts
hot jewelry stands
“chochka” shops
gold chinese letters jangling dungeon keys
on dragon red aluminum
vegetable bins spilling
green and furious shoppers
filling bags stuffing leaves
radios oranges slippers
paint brush bargains
fishmongers slap thick-blade knives
against chop blocks
plastic turtles and GI Joes
helter skelter

A Desire named Streetcar.
Metaphors repeat themselves from poem to poem
worm tragically out into motionless traffic
not an inch in an hour
auto-immune, returning as farce
functioning lights a frayed and honking hope
by which this thread of western civilization hangs

In the back seat of Naomi’s Honda
my four-year old suburban daughter Malika
eyes glued to chaos
the permanent carnival
horns, the swarm of lights
the twin towers
belly-laughs, traces
the face of Ozymandias, king of kings,
onto the window.
“Daddy,” Malika says,
“Is this New York City?
I like New York City.”
The lone and level sands
stretch far away.

2. They are scraping Chris’ body
off the third rail
at the Grand Street L station
in Williamsburg. Even Third World countries
know about “the third rail.”
The U.S. is a Third Rail country.
Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

they are still playing the Woody/Mia
soap spectacular.
I am in bed with someone I don’t love
I’ve never loved
can’t imagine what she is doing here
why I am in bed with her
that too-good-for-Brooklyn-
let’s-go-to-the-mall-for-a-good-time smell,
the smell of a functioning traffic light.
The one I love is in Mexico making Aztec masques
her face being pulped by a lover
The one I love!

She asks me to eat her
tongue her electric rail
juices all over my beard
Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get it up.

3. The night Chris died
Malika dreamed me dead, woke up,
saw my ghost sitting in a chair, watching.
Two days before, saw her first dead deer.
I’d forgotten how kids register death.
1953: Four years old, chicken pox quarantine
in the “sick bed” living room in Brighton Beach,
“Try not to scratch, dear.” Mom is singing Tura-Lura-Lura
clasping wood-knobbed clothespins onto the line
that boldly swoops across the alley
where no line has gone before
to Rosie Bender’s window.
She draws the top rope around the pulley,
loops the wet clothes over the line,
pins them, and sends them
out into the coal-soot alley to dry.
Rosie calls across,
“Hiya, toots.” Always “toots,” like tootsie roll
Sticks in the teeth.
Mom comes in: “Well, it’s all over.”
“It’s all over? My chicken pox? What’s all over?”
“Rosie just passed away. Cancer.”
“Can I see her?” My teeth suddenly ache.
“No, no one can ever see her again.”
“Not even Fred?” That was her husband.
“Stanley?” — her 14 year old genius son.
“No, no one.”

That was that, how it worked.
I thought Malika would cry
when she saw the dead deer.
No. Just, “Oh.”
But then her dream!
“So I was sitting like a ghost in the chair?”
“Watching me sleep,” she said matter of factly,
“Don’t die, daddy.”
Naomi looked at the clock.
“Isn’t it time for you to go?
What time’s your train?”

4. When I was a kid every Sunday
dad would make the long drive from Brooklyn
to play softball on Long Island.
Sometimes he’d be catcher “hey bata, bata bata
swing batta swing batta here it comes swing SWING!”
After, we’d stop at Wetson’s for the original petrol shake.
Years later, maybe I was 14, I’d go
by Prospect Park and always stop
at the only Wetson’s on Empire Boulevard.
“Why d’ya always wanna go there?” my best friend Lloyd
demands every time. “It sucks. Let’s get pizza.”
“No,” I say, “Wetson’s is great.
I love Wetson’s.”
Memory has long fingers,
squirming its difficult route
through ancient dust.

5. Malika likes Manhattan! “Shit,”
Naomi says. “She already has
your sense of humor.”
I teaspoon my triumphs, hope
anti-oxidants will protect
from suburban nuclear family nightmare.
That first year
carrying her around
with me everywhere, demonstrations,
toilets, cooking, classes,
libraries, talking to her
could be my therapist —
I would say anything, sing anything,
cuddle her, change her diaper, cook, sleep
and she’d watch me
from the moment she was born
those beautiful brown lanterns
staring for hours into my hazel eyes
didn’t clean off the vernix
cradled her in my thighs
rocking and staring
touching and staring
blood and shit
and sweat and water and spilled instruments
that manger in Patchogue

Sari, Javier, Jackie, Crystal, Petra
swept up the darkness.
I sang to Malika — at that time without a name
just “The Pea” — Tura Lura Lura
and stared, those eyes,
those beaming brown wondrous eyes.

Chris and Shoshanna come
Late at night. Too late. I’d say
“Have you seen the placenta yet?”
slide it out of the refrigerator
in its steel stainless bowl
organelles purpling and green
blood veins & tubes
twisting out in queasy chaos.
What if this is the real stuff,
and the baby is the by-product?
All these years, and we (that imperial “we”
meaning all of humanity)
have been throwing out the wrong thing!
Sari, our midwife, zaps me
pathos drooping
soft face folded into remonstrative smile.
Shoshanna pales, Chris sniffles:
“Hey-hey-hey, Placenta! Time to leave.”

6. Malika’s vision
A fever spread. It flinched her bones
Spasms, gasps, ghosts and groans
Glaze her eyes, seize her sleep
And shake her till the shadows creep
Out of their shapes and patterned zones.

Then the dark amorphous mass
Of Nothing gathers new form, class
And category, shape and hue,
Reaching, almost seeping, through
The carnival of etchèd glass

Its fingers printed on the sill —
Mournful, fluted notes that spill
Past every boundary crystallized
Inside the fires of her eyes,
Inside her fever’s quaking chill.

What order shapes awake from dream?
What tumultuous clang, what scream
Of familiarity shivers
The edges with doubt, delivers
New spirit from patternless steam?

Come unto us, O Shadow! O Shapeless! Disorder!
Come unto us, you miracle, Malika, my Daughter!

7. Malika learned to walk in the halls at Stony Brook.
She’d chase Jane Ely’s oafish dog Hooter
who’d eye her sleepily and sometimes nuzzle.
Shoshanna’d give her silver bracelets.
She’d roll them down the hall and clap with glee.
One disappears. We scour every doorway,
find it after many hours in Malika’s diaper caked with shit.
Malika smiles.

The things she knows. Trying to remember
how to see like a 4-year-old. How much we have lost.
I remember waking my fifth birthday at sun-up
shadows leaping.
“Today I’m five! Today I’m five! I’m the king,”
tiny 2-room castle in Brighton Beach choked with dust.
Outside my window the only view
a bricked gray wall
flush on fire escape
no light ever enters.
Not so for Malika! At 9 months old in Patchogue
She’d pull herself up out of the communal futon
and edge her way to the low window, where
she’d hold the sill for half an hour watching
the sun come up — those wide, curious eyes.
I’d pretend to sleep but all the while I’d
watch her watching
buildings, trees,
grass, fences, cars lighting up, color leaking
out of the gray, tumult from silence,
chaos from the familiarity of darkness.
How long will it take TV to instill fear,
destroy curiosity?
“Fly me” she commands and I swoop her
like Peter Pan over the toy house in the yard
Landing her on the roof of Never-Neverland.

I remember this place,
my dad, his pompadour
rolling blue like a wave, an ocean of longing,
tosses me up in the air,
Catch me, Daddy! Daddy!
Those arms like oaks
never failed, never let me fall,
(Will I catch Malika?),
Catch me, Daddy! (Chris is dead! Catch me!)
swings me towards treetops
flies me like Peter Pan
I fling Malika
She flings me
into remembering
this world
is mine.

He locks himself
in the bathroom
gets away from mom.
“God, are you still in there?”
(God lives in the bathroom, we joke.)
She pounds on the door screaming:
“Abraham, come out now.
I know what you’re doing in there!”
What is he doing in there? my brothers
and I wonder.
How does she know?

8. Stuck at the light
corner Broadway and Canal.
Up Broadway, where it meets Houston,
(that’s “How-ston“ in New York)
a motorcycle jumped the light
dragged Kate Berrigan to an early grave.
David told me this almost by accident. They’d met
in my underground marxism for beginners class
that I taught for twenty years, they’d
fled Stony Brook and took the Lower East Side by storm.
I tore through my pile of papers and pulled out
the only photo of us. It was in the Daily News.
The cops were dragging us away
after taking over the Statue of Liberty
protesting the U.S. invasion of Grenada.
Kate, handcuffed, flung her chains to the wind
and stretched majestically towards Manhattan
a moment, a snapshot,
a ghost.

Almost by accident I told David about Patty —
fearless, brazen, bootstompin’ Patty.
Once, she danced with me,
corralled me in her arms
turned on the afterburners full blast.
Somehow made it back to Port Jefferson
tripping on acid, dangling participles
like fishing lines from her front window
hoping to snare dusk’s purpling hem.
“Ahem,” she said, reading my mind
& then my body like noone else
yet never stayed the night
then tried to run me down
in her blue Camaro
glanced off the old crab-apple tree
outside our collective shack
on the farm across Nicholls Road at Stony Brook.
So many little dyings, what matter
which of them is death?

One weekend at Bread & Puppet Vermont
against whitebread & velveeta
3-year-old Dante chased 5 year-old Malika,
“There is no reason, Malika!” in and out of the tents.
Old as T.S. Eliot, the bottoms of our trousers rolled,
Beth and Michael and Haideen and Judith and Naomi and Wendy and I stood there gaping.
What did he say? What just happened?
“There is no reason.”

At 27, Patty shot her last syringe.
Her world became cervical cancer,
hospital rooms, relatives,
and soon a coffin.

9. Patty was the founding saint
of my new religion, Frisbeeism
After you die, your soul’s stuck on the roof
and you can’t get it down.
“How could that bastard reject me for Kate?” Patty ranted.
“You don’t even want him anymore,” I said,
“just like you don’t want me.”
“Well, now I do.”

And so it goes.
What attracts lovers in the beginning
repels them later. Sometimes
they can attract again.
We spend our lives pulling poems, like straw,
from the mouths of broken bottles.

The time, at 21, I crawled
into bed with Joyce from SDS
after her “liberal” roommate
with the magic ears
engaged to someone else
fondled me, rolled me on her bed and then
screamed at me for coming in my pants
messing her designer sheets

or slept with Anny’s boyfriends
(at least the ones I liked)
before she could

or fucked in frenzy
behind the altar
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral;
or beneath the NY Philharmonic stage
in Central Park as Beethoven’s Ninth
ripped out over 100,000 people
staring at us but can’t see;
or in a bed of poison ivy;
or stung in the ass by 300 mosquitoes;

or tried to get hard
(it’s a hard, it’s a hard)
in Long Island beach house at Sunwood
shriveled by cold
surrounded by ocean
rains gonna fall
hammering the walls

or, at twenty, suggested to my early college buddy
ouch me, let me touch him
and he freaked, threw me out of his room
joined PL (its anti-gay line), got married next year
never spoke to me again

Try as I might, I can no longer feel
what it was like to be 4 like Malika, or 23 like Chris, or 27 like Patty.
Living emergency lives,
crushing whole lifetimes into a momentary diamond
Does any intensity drive us,
There is No Reason
wrapped in a thin political shell
sometimes to fool oneself:

or tied up
and tied down
and turned inside out
and cut loose to run
through the campus
naked and tripping
wearing only
a megaphone
and a red carnation

Lyn Marcus denounced me:
“Clean up your act. The working class
will think you’re not serious.”
The Socialist Workers Party agreed
banned marijuana and breastfeeding.
Half-a-dozen maoist groups
agreed and banned homosexuality
that “bourgeois deviation”.

10. Since Chris died
Two months have come and gone.
There is No Reason.
Commandante Seriousness
flashes bayonets
rips open the belly of humor
like the goose
searching for the golden sense in it.
Each day ripens
like berries tart in early bud
drooping the promise of lust
sweet tang
Memories of Chris hanging
from every branch —

the riots we passed through
like wisps of clouds
against Gulf War
and the murder of his friend Rosebud;

the bands he turned me onto:
Alice Donut, Chumbawamba, Butthole Surfers
and all I could offer: Phil Ochs
as we booted up for the Earth Day Wall Street Action;

the way he pretended to hate Jerry Garcia
but secretly went to Dead shows;

me, cheering wildly from the stage on Wall Street
(I was emcee) as Chris,
the prince of ad-liberation,
got out of jail and slashed his way
back through the gauntlet of brokers,
taunting them all the way;

the long daily letters he wrote
to Helen Woodson, Ray Levasseur, Larry Davis
and other political prisoners in the United States:
“They are me,” he said,
“I write to myself,”
followed always by that self-conscious laugh;

the poster he and the other Chris altered of Malcolm X
peering past curtained window
instead of rifle now clenching a can of Heinz:
“Buy Any Beans Necessary”;

tripping along the edges of Stony Brook
in the woods behind H Quad
torn down to build the NY State
Department of Environmental Conservation offices,
There is No Reason
plotting revolution, challenging everything,
wearing lightning in his hair.

From hell, I hear his snotty laugh:
“But comrade, you’re too serious.
What will the working class think?
Just kidding.” Ha ha ha.
What was it that made us dream so hard
and laugh so much?

I dry my eyes,
move my legs, one foot, next foot,
river of emptiness jags the kidneys,
river of refugees here to Salvador
fleeing Amerikan nightmare
chasing the ‘merikan dream …

I stand under a streetlamp in Cologne.
Somewhere nearby, the Rhine —
filthy and, for some, romantic —
sluices through this westest west of the west of Germany.
A train hurtles above me.
In the distance a siren wails. I am
Liza Minelli in Cabaret; I am Anne Frank
the phone is ringing
should they answer?, it’s a warning,
answer it! ring. ring. the siren comes closer,
steps in the hall, ring. ring.
answer it! more steps,
ring! answer it!!! ring! the gas, the camps,
once along the Rhine.

I walk the streets of German cities
wounded and alone. History
will dissolve me. At least
it keeps me from falling in love.
Coal smoke clogs the air.
“It’s this way,” writes Nazim Hikmet,
“being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.”

I walk, and walk, day after day,
week after week, barely saying a word,
just enough change for cheap beer,
cheaper here than coffee, cheaper
than bread.

Spotless face-level billboards
rise out of concrete nine feet across
urge people to eat meat drink beer buy cars smoke tobacco
never would last a night unblemished in New York
sudden pride in my ‘merikan arrogance —
Oh, for a can of spray paint!
“Remember the White Rose,” I’d write,
“Never Again! Act Up!” Instead,
I walk Anne Frank through camps of sorrow,
Winter’s gnarled and woolen hands
stroke his flat white whiskers.

On a wall someone has lettered:
“Smash the Nazis.” Same careful handwriting
as in Paris, in New York. ”He lives!”
No, say it aloud. “He lives!”
crashes against my teeth, fury
converted through some secret synthesis
to sarcasm. At least someone’s doing their job,
expect to see Chris pop out of the pläatz,
Whirl around, no one.

In Berlin I have a guide. Lars takes me
to the Canal at Landwehr where Rosa Luxemburg
and Karl Liebnecht were murdered by
so-called socialists in 1919. Lars and his friends
are building an archive on student movements.
Adorno and Marcuse are their idols.
I’d once heard Herbert Marcuse speak —
they are ecstatic. For three hours they grill me
about the movement in the U.S., the Situationists
and, of course, Marcuse. I tell them
it was long ago 1968 when I was 19
at the Fillmore East between sets
by the Jefferson Airplane and Phil Ochs.
Sorry, he was bor-i-i-i-i-ng.
Half the audience walked out.
He was very depressing. No matter,
they want every detail. I tell them how
we’d hitched from Stony Brook in blizzard
the last ride in a Lincoln Continental
dropped us right in front of the Fillmore.
Everyone stared, thought we were famous,
signed a few phony autographs.
“That’s it?,” they said.
“No, then there was the time we slept together.”
“Hey, dya think old Herbert was so one-dimensional?”
“Is that true?”
My New York sarcasm did not translate into German.

And now I continue to walk
just as I did in Berlin,
just as I walked in Herne and Bielefeld and Bochum,
walk, walk, walking, trying
not to surrender, to walk off
Chris’s dying,
I’ve already worn out my sneakers,
my hiking shoes. Sooner or later
I will find my way back
to the narrow couch in Cologne
kitchen sofa at 63 Wilhelmstrasse
home of Martina: sculptor of tactile contradictions.
Martina, of the ironic eye and husky voice.

Waiting for the light to change,
for the thread to break.

11. “Move that car, gotta
get to work!” Honk! Honk!
First mentioned in Bible these new dinosaurs
to the ages lost, this tarpit, Honk!
the Lord having driven Adam & Eve from the Garden
in his Fury — What perverse Queens humor crossed
Utopia Parkway with Union Turnpike? —
chrome from Zimbabwe, rubber from Malaysia,
copper wiring from Chile,
assembled in Mexico, stickered in “America,”
the point
of dissolution.
Western civilization —
never a good idea
Gandhi notwithstanding —
shaped in steam
regathers form.
For a moment
there was possibility.
Chris lived again,
veil had lifted
and beautiful Chaos ruled
crashing the gates of reason.
All in the space of a minute,
the accumulated silence
between heartbeats.

“Bad boy, bad boy, What you gonna do
when they come for you?
Bad boy. Bad boy,”
Malika bursts out singing
theme from TV cop show merrily
the dashboard drum.