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Site design: Skeleton

Sample Poems by J.L. Cooper


The Will of Seeds

A storm in Corcovado. I’m waist deep
in seed pods and mahogany limbs

ripped from mountain homes. Waves churn
toward every rock, beach, and sand bar

land can offer. Not a tender love - these
relentless crashing kisses. I breach a giant

wave, then another, slamming each time
to a glistening salt bed, each descent a misty

birth, soft-shouldered, rolling, then another.
I swim head down between their crests.

My father told me I would use the things
I don’t know I carry. He never taught me

to cling to the ocean floor, to hold against
the surge with fingers dug in sand:

so this is what he meant, that life
is claimed by a furious kick,
a breath and a desperate swim

until the gentle sea is earned beyond
the violence of waves. I’ll rest a while,

unfolding; one arm stretched
toward Panama, the other, Nicaragua.

Corcovado, I’ll return to you as ashes,
in all your tides and storms, and fine
burgundy clouds at sunrise, with eyes

of ancient brimming forests yielding
to dense salt air and the will of seeds.


A Simple Gift of Flowers

You’ve set a gift of flowers
carefully between us. Notice
we cannot keep this simple.

There’s mercy in the rounded
canopy - a delicate fragrant
cloud. I see in them a lady,

a storm in wheat, a muse.
Stems cross in passionate
abundance, magnified in glass.

The ones I bring for you
have leaves of threes and fives,
spikes of zinnias, dahlias too,

in sculpted wooden vases.
A cluster leans in conversation.
Ask the Japanese lamp.

I can’t tell you what to live for.
You can’t tell me what to see.
I must sit with them a little longer

until I find you in the spiral stems,
in pockets of air near thorns.
Here we are, uneven, tangled,


fresh sacrificed, lifted and set
in fetching vases, on different
tables, on different days. Notice
we cannot keep this simple;
the colors, so unabashed,
have given us away.


The Turn of a River Rock

A ribbon of rippled silk runs the river’s length
where water touches shore. Hypnotic wavelets
caress your willing feet like heartbeats. You
don’t think to leave until deeper water calls.

You’ve heard of large rocks imprisoned in clay,
so you dive and turn a rock, unprepared
for life that’s there, or the certainty of death.
Tiny snails hold fast the underside; some

are crushed by the turning. Crawdads scurry,
unless an otter visited first, then a hundred
parts of death scatter in a silent cloud.
The startle makes you cling to the rock.

You can’t return it now. The crater begins
to fill with silt. The current is relentless.
How did you think it otherwise? Release,
and you’ll drift over roots brought down

in storms, over undulating grass, and clay
banks too slippery to stand. Mud is deeper
around the bend. Come November, come
weary salmon. All this was here before

places had names. Whatever you’ve come
to fear, it did not stop your birth. Turn,
in a second fetal roll for shore. Cormorants,
black and urgent, fly low upstream at dusk.

A turtle slides off a log. Ducks settle
in reeds. The quickening heart is yours.
Geese, by hundreds, migrate in the night.
A cottonwood leans over the river.


Visitation on White Pleated Curtains

A finch crashed our window
when September fires spread
hungry amber fingers through
golden grasses during sleep.

All this has happened before.
I reach for the old shoebox
under the bed. This time
the finch rallies – flies back
to the raging storm, but where
it hit – an outline emerges,
on white pleated curtains
at dawn: the profile of a woman,
a hundred years old, sipping
lemon tea in a chestnut chair.

So calm is her refusal to call
our names. Perhaps she sent
this bird, and we tremble as
her outline fills. A shadow
is her shawl of lace, a crease
becomes her rocker. To her,

our lives are merely a blend
of teas: cinnamon and jasmine,
or persimmon and pear – so small
our differences. She leaves us
to the rest of our days, and surely
will be the one to carry us
beyond the curtain, across
her lap, lifting us in her porcelain
cup, hand-painted with roses.

Now the fear is less. We touch
and wish the injured bird home.
So human, our little prayer:
When she comes for us, may we
spill, only a little, as she smiles
toward a field of maize.