Garden in a Bottle, New Orleans
My terrarium of ferns, of moss and ivy, my terrarium filled with ground glass,
spread with charcoal, as my science teacher directed.
Against instruction, I added my pet rocks like blue ice cubes,
then stole gravel from the levee behind our house.
With a kitchen knife, I cut my hair, arranged long strands
on the bottom of my bowl, set a dinner plate on top to seal it.
Hair to incubate, hair I remember
when I see the picture on-line of my first love and his sister,
silver razor in her hand, sliding it over his scalp, collecting his hair
to send to the Spill, hair to make a boom, hair to tie in orange mesh
to soak the oil from the surface of the Gulf. When I read how to collect
hair: Line a box with a plastic garbage bag. Ideally donate shampooed hair. Straight,
curly, all colors, dyed, permed but only HEAD hair from humans, please!
Tie the top of the bag and tape the box shut. I picture his hair
floating on water, boy on a skateboard, in a jean jacket damp
with heat and smoke. Boy I could fold myself into.
Spill is not the right word for what happened at the mouth
of that river, in the city where we both lived, in the trench along
the coast, in the middle of the Gulf. When I was thirteen, we were told
to first stir the dirt with a spoon, tip sand in like sugar,
blow three times into the globe of glass.
The goal was to make the small world verdant.
How I love that word. How I loved that boy. How my fingers once
tangled in his hair. In the photo, there he is, contained.
Made larger by memory or not? Sealed in the small
space of heat and smoke and water?
What is the right word? The task to reach a state
of equilibrium in a world under glass?
My Pillow From High School in New Orleans
Why do you want it, old souvenir,
spiky with feathers?
I imagine our dust dissolving together,
skin mingling without us.
Ring from the Cambodian Night Market
pearl the color of milk
pearl from a missing necklace
tiny diamonds circling silver
retelling of another women’s story
A Fax Machine
silent under our bed
when you were gone it whirred your voice back to me
when I missed you most I took the pages to bed
Place Setting, Arkansas, With Painted Chickens
Basement box of dishes no one but us wanted
Each saucer into which your grandmother
smashed her cigarette ash
in her life as a new widow
This first body caught in my body made by our two bodies
body printed on slippery paper keepsake body
I lose as soon as we get home
A Copy of Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Another gift to you —
Now I’d say:
Let’s play plastic let’s play striptease let’s play toys
or wrestling or soap powder
Let’s play wine and milk
Let’s throw a clear light on each other.
1950s Salad in My Garage Sale Cookbook
Here is a radish slice curled in an ice tray like a fetus.
The thoughtful wife has a simple beverage (cold in summer hot in winter) ready
for her weary husband when he comes home at night.
Here is a shot glass of Tomato Sauerkraut Juice.
I stir each glass with what is called a muddler: carrot stick piercing a pitted olive.
I show you my favorite page: how to set an attractive marriage table: damask linen,
napkins to harmonize.
How to place each water glass directly above the point of each knife.
In the slur of January light, mid-winter, or on the kitchen floor
scoured to raw yet still unswept, you show me
your dictionary app on your phone and I say—
—take me –
while outside, the sky soap white, moon snapped shut
Mini Bean Baby, Arcadia, Florida
Made in Hong Kong, mini bean babies live in decorated matchboxes, only the top of their
cloth-covered, baby-sleepered, bodies visible. Baby bodies stuffed inside the matchbox
they are always half-emerged, tucked in tightly. Always baby, never walking, forever
looking as if he would like to escape. The mini bean baby I gave you wears a peaked hat
like an elf and sleeps happily in his matchbox. He wears a red baby sleeper, but he most
resembles a man.
Dining Table Where We Sat at the Earthquake Simulation at the Fire Station, Tokyo
None of this occurred in our own language—
not watching our daughters escape a smoke-filled room
not the kitchen pot that catches fire while a microwave glows blood red
not the table legs we held while the floor
broke open beneath us.
After Reading About Transitional Objects: Vintage Linen Napkins, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
In the aisle with sheets and tablecloths, I explain how I worship the handmade, the
painstaking, the deep focus that aches a wife’s neck, needle ripping ring finger skin. I
show you bobbin lace, backstitch ecru stained with tea. We buy a set of four napkins and
take them home to bed with us.
When I take it from the girls’ craft basket, the tube looks like a lipstick and reads purple
yet spreads clear on paper. Open, shut. Satisfying snap of completion. Though none of
this will ever be finished—and one of my tasks now is to trick our life into unfinishing
again and again.
Nicole Cooley is the author of six books of poems, including the forthcoming Girl after Girl after Girl (LSU Press) and Of Marriage (Alice James Books). She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-City University of New York.