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.
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.
How some people are forever
down on theirs
while others thank their twinkling stars.
Some nursed from the start
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
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,
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 Terrain.org and the Red Wheelbarrow Prize. She has an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Berkeley, California.