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Susan Cohen

How the Story Starts

The sad little human, a six-year-old begins

when I ask him to make up a story.

We try to maintain the color of cheer

around children and I don’t know why

a six-year-old’s sweet piping voice

is already matter-of-fact about sadness.

All children are foundlings, raised by adults

who did nothing to earn them.

While they bivouac with us, we hope

we don’t cause them too much harm.

I put his words to paper and suggest

he illustrate the story with his paint set,

so he adds a chrysanthemum in sunshine yellow

and ripe-apple red, unconcerned

that watercolors cannot contain themselves.

They leak their brightness

all over his page and into his smile—

childhood being more complicated than we like

to pretend, than those of us who were once

sad little humans prefer to remember.

Of Thievery

Arrested for stealing the Mona Lisa, Apollinaire implicates Picasso. Aren’t the painter’s eyes as greedy for what’s beyond the frame as the Mona Lisa with her impoverished smile and conniving glance? Picasso weeps that he doesn’t even know this poet Apollinaire, though together they toted two stone heads—ancient, Iberian, and stolen—from Picasso’s studio to dispose of in the Seine just days before. The judge finds them guilty only of a lack of shame and lets them go. Of the real thief, I can say he was a laborer at the Louvre, this crime his one footprint on history. Of the Mona Lisa, obviously it was found. Of artists, they are born to steal: clouds and spires from a Paris sky or the look of Africa looted from a hollow mask. They’ll slip a sip of eau-de-vie (delicious word) from a poem by Apollinaire or anyone’s intoxicating and unguarded glass.

Considering Luck

How some people are forever

down on theirs

while others thank their twinkling stars.

Some nursed from the start

on godsends,

while others scrounge

a crumb of kindness.

There are those who get up

from a puddle with silver fish

in their pockets.

Those who rise drenched

and with the same old holes

gushing sludge.

Just his luck, we say, though

justice has nothing to do with it.

Remember the legions,

how one soldier survived

while twenty fell, luck

faltering at the sound of the bugle.

Fortune rains on everyone,

irrigation filling

the open mouths of crops

unless it’s a downpour

that drowns your last milk-cow.


Susan Cohen is the author of two chapbooks and three books: Democracy of Fire (2022), A Different Wakeful Animal (2016), and Throat Singing (2012). Her poetry has appeared in 32 Poems, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Southern Humanities Review, and Southern Review. Recent honors include the Annual Poetry Prize from and the Red Wheelbarrow Prize. She has an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Berkeley, California.


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