Nicole Cooley

Three Poems
April 24, 2023 Cooley Nicole



All things counter, original, spare strange—


Now, I will myself not to be disappointed when dawn breaks
over the carwash, light scatters on the diner’s parking lot.


Sun a dilated eye.  Sweep of sorrow.


Another morning opens.  I walk in my mother’s black coat,
track objects—


Orange peel.  Pizza box. N95. Tinfoil cross strung with lights.


Emptied of desire, in these months I have tried to erase myself
in a hundred ways.


I walk past the Emergency Food Distribution at the closed library,
car after car, trunks sprung open.


At the edge of the Garden State Parkway, watching the blur of traffic,
I recall Gerard Manley Hopkins—


The world will flame out like shining from shook foil—


Better to train my eyes to the asphalt.


Red tricycle. Bottle of urine. Hairbrush bristles torn off.


I miss the discomfort of other bodies on the F train.
The Mississippi.  My father.


I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

What hours, O what black hours we have spent –





I have no wanting, I text to myself. Which terrifies me. I circle the closed down high school parking lot.  For my birthday, my husband gives me a book about walking in Paris, Russia, Grand Isle, Louisiana. I circle our block: weeping birch tree, plastic bag the color of parchment. Today is as hot as the inside of a mouth, and I remember the man who died beside us, on the other side of the curtain, at the hospital, who was pumped full of drugs and air and could not be brought back. How his wife wept and shook his shoulders, his daughters late to arrive. How we pretended not to be there, in our own curtained room, inches away. A body could be lost to the virus as fast as loose change scattered in a pocket.  Any word my husband and I could exchange after that: pink as a tongue tip.  To keep her safe I set my daughter back inside me like a Russian nesting doll we bought on the streets of Berlin before we had any daughters. I am walking. I am treble-clefting. I want nothing except swimming pool blue—the color of my daughter’s eyes when she was born. Bring me back. Or don’t. I am dreaming of every phrase I can fathom for escape.





In a dream I drive the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans with my mother


and ask how long she will go on being dead.


How long have I felt selfishly uneasy in my body? And for what?


Bottle of urine. Pair of ear plugs. A Mickey Mouse drum.


In a dream, my girls are babies again and I devour them, an ear in my mouth, hunk of hair between my teeth to keep them safe.


Green Lego block. Oven door.  Caw of a restless crow.


You ruined the world and now we have to fix it, my daughter says. We slide into silence.
In a dream, I stumble in a lead apron, body too heavy to walk, as if underwater.


Deer graze on the empty yellow field behind the closed down school.


My girls’ disappointments settle in my chest, just as I felt their fevers as my own
when they were small.


A glue trap scattered with crickets. A license plate.


Older daughter snapchats me, the world is ending.


My boots chant the asphalt: I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.

Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans and is the  author of six book of poems, most recently Of Marriage (Alice James Books 2018) and Girl after Girl after Girl (LSU Press 2017), as well as the forthcoming collection Mother Water Ash (LSU Press 2024). Her poems have appeared most recently in Poetry, DIODE, and Scoundrel Time. She is the director of the MFA program in creative writing and literary translation at Queens College, City University of New York.