Peter Cooley

RODIN, “Hand with Small Torso, Bronze” | Rodin’s “The Cathedral”
July 10, 2014 Cooley Peter

RODIN, “ Hand with Small Torso, Bronze”


In Paris you can see his drawer of hands.

My poem is not about dismemberment.

I’m trying to understand his focus:

the hand, he said, could be the whole body

expressive as the face. This hand is Rodin’s,

modeled by his mold maker when he knew

death was in the next room, waiting, patient.


The torso of the woman in the palm

headless, legless, armless, a miniature

of all the women he had sought to own

by forming them—why this is  his death mask.


Other men have a form put to their skin–

as if eternity could have a shape.

Rodin chose this hand, his own illusion.



Rodin’s “ The Cathedral”


And when the hands give up their prayers to air—

hands which lie open, waiting for evening–

morning will answer, whether we hear or not.
Always there are these correspondences—

many nights, desperate, I have asked for sleep.

There wasn’t much more I could bargain for.


Like a small child, I promised to be good.

The gods understood. Yes, impossible.

Eons they’d asked humankind for bodies


they might dwell in, bodies flawed and mortal.

They knew hunger for ineluctables.

Last night, I asked to be reborn today.


Well, here I am. And how am I doing,

you, gods, who yesterday inspired me

to sit down and, against my will, to write?




Peter Cooley is Professor Emeritus at Tulane University and was Louisiana Poet Laureate 2015-2017. His 11th book was THE ONE CERTAIN THING, elegies for his wife, who died in 2018.