Glenda Cooper: Five Poems
Arranging a Still Life | Shreveport, 1932 | The Mutabilis Rose | "God Bless the Child" | Diasporas
Arranging a Still Life
Home after weeks away, she moves
with old confidence, positions tubes
of watercolor, primary colors first,
orders the brushes by size, then places
three ruby-seeded pomegranates
in a celadon bowl two hundred years old.
She refuses to focus on doctors, the ones
who have proclaimed her bones as fragile
as porcelain. After all, this dish has passed
through the hands of warring dynasties,
has traversed ten thousand miles intact.
Still, when the painting is almost finished,
she will choose her finest sable brush
and, with one stroke, add a hairline fracture,
a delicate sepia line, which some will say
mars the bowl’s perfection.
A whistling girl and a crowing hen
Early evening, she sits on the porch and shells
always come to some bad end.
the last of the purple hulls, the peas pinging
into a blue-banded bowl. Just enough
yellow meal remains in the pantry for one
pan of cornbread. After that, she doesn’t know
what she will do to feed her four children.
She shakes her head, whistles a few bars
of Amazing Grace, consoles herself
with President Hoover’s promise.
She’s already killed all but one of her hens,
though in America, she believes, anything
is possible. It might be that in the morning
she will step into the coop behind the house,
and after the quick pricks of the banty’s beak,
will gather a baker’s dozen, more than enough
eggs for a birthday cake for her youngest,
if there were flour,
The Mutabilis Rose
After Louise Gluck
In the beginning, not one of us noticed
the seed of our downfall, birdsown
from the summer sky. All season
rootlets of the trumpet vine crept
through dark soil, gained ground
through the autumn and in winter,
as we slept.
Now, a new spring. The first true leaves
of the alien appear beside our green hems.
Heedless, we celebrate with bloom
the light of our god. But, more
and more, the wild ramble of the vine,
until the sun is dead to us. Finally,
the orange trumpets of triumph.
What are any of us but fertile loam,
a silent seed hidden within?
Then, the shimmer
of hummingbird wings.
"God Bless the Child"
I’m parking the car beside the pharmacy on Main Street,
while you push through Shanghai’s throngs,
headed for jazz at the Cotton Club on Huai Hai Road.
When you press through the door, you’re startled
by a Stevie Ray riff, and for a minute you’re back
in Texas, where I’m handing over my Visa
to pay for meds for Nana, who won’t stop
humming Giant Steps or swearing
she sang with Coltrane sixty years ago
on 42nd Street. Some days
she thinks she’s Lady Day.
Three generations of Southern women,
and all of us know there’s no pill
that will kill the blues. Later you’ll tell me
you sipped cranberry juice at the bar, listened
to the whish of Mandarin arrows aimed at you
monster, beautiful, evaluations, not in the eye
of the beholder, you say, but the heart. At home
with the blues, everyone a foreigner somewhere.
This morning I worried words for hours, composed
a plea for your return, and now, letter stamped
and tucked into my pocket, I choose the long way
through the fields to the mailbox. It’s been weeks
since the red-flagged house held an onionskin envelope
spangled with foreign stamps. Today, an overdue
notice from the library, sales circulars. Awhirl
on the wind, winged seeds of the big-toothed maple.
Glenda Cooper's most recent publications include The American Poetry Journal and The Eleventh Muse. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. With her husband and daughter, she lives in Dallas, Texas.