THREE POEMS by Peter Cooley


Everything just in miracle as planned
so long as I keep focused on what’s here,
refusing to reach beyond this moment—
oh tell the truth, it’s trying to refuse
the tide of the white page, running in, out,
whose whitecaps could be future or the past.

But what I mean by miracle is just
the chance to be—now—for a little time,
to know, unlike the animals, how brief—

when I count, I could multiply the hours
I’ve spent on earth, how few can still remain.

This pelican lifting above the tides,
perilous beauty of his sun-struck flight
beyond my wings’ sudden imaginings–
he’s beauty without past or future tense.
I’ll never want that. Counting puts me here—



Back behind tomorrow, where we will end,
hundreds of pelicans are pulled from oil,
slickered with the black skin they’ve just put on.
Hosed, preened, they may even survive a time.

Years I have watched the pelicans descend
over the gulf I’ve come to call my home.
When they’re gone, can I name the light alone?

That arc they make when they dive for a fish–
how will I remember their bodies’ descent
across the air? The arc of a rainbow,
then the ascent, bill full, then the sunset.

When I imagine, I see them all black.
Then I see black glide though the black water.



I won’t try here to allegorize
out of the present pool of thick, black oil
which every day now widens in the gulf.

I’m out here at the rims of my edges,
circling around, trying to find my names,
a place to stand, where I can take this in.

Louisiana. The word’s beautiful,
the coastline and the marshes you can watch
as you descend or ascend in your plane.
But when I try to understand such loss
as no one yet admits, I’m staggering.
I snap off the TV. on this image:
the first dead pelican slickered with black
sliding into a body bag like those
the US keeps in Washington for this,
for Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq.

The art history professor told our class—
this was during the invasion of Laos—
the pelican is a symbol of Christ.
Remember. I do not allegorize.
My purpose is to note—and then to sing.


For a long time, I thought it was enough to write poems of “personal experience” or poems about “transcendent experiences,” but recent events have shown me that I want to do more than that. The intersection of the political and the personal–
and the intermixing of these realities– is where I want to locate some of my poems which deal with crisis and cure.I hope the poems I sent you will force people to sit up and take notice.


Peter Cooley is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Tulane. He has eight books of poetry, including his new volume Divine Margins, (Carnegie Mellon, 2009). Peter’s poems have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic and in over one hundred anthologies including most recently The Best American Poetry 2002, The Manthology, Poets on Place and Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website.

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