Bruce Cohen

A Brief Portfolio
June 22, 2024 Cohen Bruce

Art Restoration (The Art of Marriage)


Our first time at the Sistine Chapel, prior to the restoration, the colors were dulled,
Cloudy due to centuries of neglect & tourists & religious seekers allowed to smoke


Cigarettes. But the greatest damage to the ceiling was inflicted by the daily
Perspiration, carbon dioxide & dead skin flakes of twenty-five thousand visiting


Pilgrims. Can any masterpiece, badly weathered, really be brought back to its original
Elegance? Does touching-up the sun-faded hues actually reanimate its vibrancy?


The restorers, who sacrificed their own aspirations as artists were, nonetheless,
Still a breed of artist. I think of Rilke slumming with Rodin in Paris—how Rodin


Mentored Rilke on how one must dismiss the name of a thing to truly see it. I think
Of Rilke’s alter-ego, Malte Laurids Brigge, who conjectured it must be enchanting


To grow old with someone you love, to learn to shed ego & vanity. On our next visit,
After the renovation, I, too, felt the jolt of God’s lifeforce transfer into Adam’s finger


& wept. There’s a side room nicknamed the Room of Tears where the newly appointed
Pope could retire to decompress & recompose himself after the emotion of his election.


Michelangelo created his frescoes for four years but left God until the very end,
Wishing to refine his techniques to depict Him perfectly. I nudged my wife


To make sure she was absorbing what I was. We’d been bickering that morning.
Someone was late or forgot to do something promised or muttered an insensitive remark.


The guard, shushing anyone who spoke, shot me a stern glance. My wife pressed
An annoyed finger to her clenched lips, then lovingly squeezed my hand. How could


Anyone remain wordless, unmoved amidst such immeasurable magnificence? After all
These years, I felt revived, rejuvenated, our love refurbished. Awestruck to be in this place.



Please Don’t Touch the Art


Because we can’t be trusted to not
Touch the art, a death-ray forcefield
Is installed on the museum floor,
&, to be doubly sure, the exhibit’s
Blocked off with red velvet rope
& guards hip-holster walkie-talkies
To summon reinforcements if needed.
Because dunce caps were a mandatory
Part of the school uniform, highway
Signs are marked Wrong Way in red
But knuckleheads still drive the wrong
Way. Now our lives have been made
More pleasing by the greatest of all
Inventions, the GPS. I no longer pop
Blood vessels or blood pressure meds
Or attend Anger Management retreats
Or blame my wife for a wrong turn.
I even chuckle when my kids trespass
The backseat’s imaginary border & wallop
One another with some handheld device.
Whoever had the brainstorm to serve Pigs-
In-A-Blanket & mini-chimichangas as
A Happy Hour enticement must have
Been a genius. We collect superfluous
Stuff we assume will someday have
Immeasurable value but end up renting
Dumpsters when we change addresses.
I won’t mention the outlandish monthly
Fees we fork over for storage facilities.
Still, I feel an emptiness for any kid
When the ice cream from their cone splats
Onto the sidewalk. There’s the unexpected
Shooting nerve-pain cracking a molar
On a pearl while slurping Blue Point
Oysters. Nonetheless, you actually can
Taste the ocean’s recurrent beauty which
Many disregard as redundant waves.



This Is Not a Magritte


This winter there was no winter.
Can there be such a thing as an inactive shooter?
If hungry enough, you’ll slurp scalding soup even with your hands handcuffed behind your back.
Tupperware with misplaced lids, you confess to your therapist, is the cause of your insanity.
You try on thrift store jackets that retain previous bodily shapes,
As though your parents had no siblings but you have infinite cousins.
A man who appears as a woman enters a room & locks the door, both of them.
Floating green apples & levitating derbies that have the audacity to leave their wings at home.
How mannikins appear more human.
The ecstatic vanity of the first human to invent a comb & engage in untangling. Then the brush.
Unmoving on the sidewalk on an un-air-conditioned day, an unboxed blueberry pie.
A father places his offspring in a box. (This is open to various interpretations.)
Is this a Rodin replica from a scrapyard or a sculpture constructed out of actual trash?
Don Perignon, accidental inventor of champagne, declared on first sip: I am tasting stars.
The children were not paying attention in geography class nor expecting to be gunned down.
High school boys decapitate mailboxes on rural roads with baseball bats.
The volley between ignoring actual pain & experiencing imagined pain.
With no explanation, the pilot ordered the passengers to de-board, leave nothing on the plane.
Knowing nothing about cars or what you’d even be looking for, you nonetheless pop the hood,
Gaze into the dead engine’s anatomy as though the solution might magically appear.
In the mail you get what appears to be a bill that states in bold, capital letters: This is Not a Bill.



The Art of Piano Movers


I’m sitting in a vacant parking lot not smoking pot watching
The levitation of a baby grand too large to fit in the elevator,


Hoisted by cables, the legs unscrewed to fit through the 7th floor
Window like this legless man who’s panhandling for spare anything,


Who zips around the street on his makeshift vehicle, a disassembled
Roller skate nailed to a hunk of plywood. It’s never been about survival


Of the fittest but of the most adaptable. I once mistakenly populated
My aquarium with fish that ate the other fish. Another time I fantasized


About pouring sugar in an ex-lover’s gas tank to maintain my dignity.
I know the piano will have to be retuned & how you never have to retune


An elephant. I know the keys to the real world are not ivory, never black
& white. I think about the family who still have legs moving into this apartment,


How this must be the last chance gas station for the piano. I think about heavy
Boxes. The silver duct tape. Items meticulously cushioned in tissue paper.


A utility knife. Unpacking. The way someone labeled each box with Magic
Marker so the movers would know the wrong rooms to leave them in.


I imagine fragile heirlooms will be broken. The ones the movers admit
To & those they deny. The functional items without sentimental value.


I suspect the family will live on take-out for a while. Empty pizza boxes
& greasy Chinese food containers on the refinished floors, the lame unread


Fortunes. I imagine the smell of freshly painted walls & the quarts of touch-up
Paint. The space where the piano will go. I think about the family sleeping


In sleeping bags, searching for the toilet paper. I think about those fish
That cannibalized weaker fish & me stupidly thinking they were the kind


Of creatures that kept the aquarium in balance by sucking up the algae.
I remember ruining her engine because she didn’t let me fill her with sugar.


I thought about those amoral poachers who black-marketed ivory tusks,
Never imagining their cruel butchering would someday play a lovely concerto.



A Pleasant Nightmare (The Art of Babies or Fatherhood)


When I was about four, I road in the front seat of my old man’s
’34 Buick, pre-seatbelts of course. My father jerry-rigged a metal rod
That jutted from the passenger side of the dash (attached to a small
Wooden steering wheel with horn so I could pretend to drive) that would
Have impaled my chest if he ever had to slam on the brakes. I was


A big boy with a cloud of his Chesterfield smoke & the sweetness of
My own candy cigarettes. Time jump: Leslie’s water broke & I transformed
Into a Dick Van Dyke, tearing apart the apartment for car keys, doing
A slapstick face-plant over the ottoman, but our doula insisted I just breathe
& not bring her to the hospital for a few hours. Take a stroll. It’s a lovely day—


Just think about the baby. So, that afternoon, arms-linked, we egg-shell
Tippy-toed around Lake Merritt; once at the hospital, her labor seemed
Longer than the entire pregnancy & when she finally gave birth I did
& didn’t recognize who I’d become. In those days, you didn’t know
The baby’s gender before birth. They immediately shipped you home in


Accordance with health insurance policies. Naturally, Leslie was ecstatically
Exhausted; she said she had to sleep, so, she thrust the baby into my arms.
Panicky, ill-prepared, I death-gripped his jelly-boned torso, quivering yet
Robotic, terrified I’d drop him. At that moment, all I could take in were
The ominous pointy corners of the coffee table, the wedding gift china


That would crash during the ‘89 earthquake, leaving hidden shards we’d
Step on weeks later when we zombied slipper-less & sleep-deprived for
Our morning Peets. All I wanted was to press my lips to his head, but was
Nervous I’d push too hard on his soft spot. I imagined our jealous cat,
Flannery, pouncing into his crib & gouging his eyes out. He & I were father


& first son of a first son etc. for keeps: Nathan, Norman, Bruce, now Jake.
I was the most contemporary caretaker in our genealogy. I know parents
My age half-joke to dinner guests, after their kids are grown, that they had
No clue what they were doing, that they just winged it—had no bedtime
Ritual—let them survive on Happy Meals. When Jake screamed in the middle


Of night from jaundice or a nightmare, I bobbled him to Prince’s “Dance-
Music-Sex-Romance”. When he drove at night that first time, I was the one
Not able to sleep. Now I feel enigmatic love when I see the amazing father
He’s become to Miles, researching the safest car seats for every age of
Growth: I know whatever I did wrong, at least I did manage to keep him alive.


Bruce Cohen has published five volumes of poetry. His most recent, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays, was awarded the 2015 Green Rose Prize (New Issues Press). His poems have appeared in many literary periodicals including AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, The Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry & The Southern Review.