Five poems by Robert Cooperman

Nose Ring

Your daughter wants a nose ring,
the way, you refrain from taunting her,
she once whined for a pet pony.

Now, she’s twenty-one, spending
the summer teaching in France,
and assumes a nose ring
is part of the uniform required
in that capital of culture and style.

“Don’t you know,” you seethe,
your daughter steps back
from the blast furnace of your rage,
“a nose ring is the official badge
of the women who hang out
with skinheads and neo-Nazis?”

You hope the lie will work,
but know nothing you can say
will convince Elaine; can only pray
she’ll tire of that ring, that she’ll rub
and rub and rub the surrounding flesh:
a rash erupting and she’ll toss the ring away.

“I don’t get it,” you shrug defeat,
relating the story over beers.

I stop myself from confessing
how tempted I was at twenty-one,
to burn a tattoo into my left bicep:
a tiger, dragon, or scorpion,
something really dangerous,
to prove I was too.

Books That Changed Our Lives

In Saturday’s Financial Times,
I’ll read interviews with writers,
the most often asked question:

“What book changed your life?”

Though no reporter will ever ask me,
my answer’s A.L. Rouse’s prose translation
of The Iliad I read at lunch recesses
in Ditmas Junior High’s library,
while my classmates ran howling
schoolyard-wild as Homer’s warriors.

Not that I was too snobby to play
basketball, but our English teacher
had taken us to the school library
and let us look at the books, none
we could check out, librarians knowing
what little Visigoths we were.

So I read the first chapter of The Iliad:
Achilles’ rage at being cheated
of his woman: tranced as the Pythian priestess.
I read a chapter a lunch hour: saw myself
in a chariot, dodging lances and arrows,
an indestructible shield and sword
forged for me by immortal Hephaestus.

When I came to the end, I wept for heroes
dying young, wept, too, there was nothing
more to read, until the librarian took pity:

“You do know, Bobby, that Homer
wrote The Odyssey too?”

I worshipped her for that information,
suddenly saw her possessing flaming hair,
and a face and figure warriors would die for.

The Things We Put Up With

In our first house, we carried
boiling water up from the kitchen:
the tub’s hot tap clogged as an artery.

Still, every day an adventure,
like when we heard thumping on the stairs,
and feared we were hallucinating
or the house was haunted
by a very energetic ghost,

until one morning, while I typed
in my little study off the furnace room,
our neighbor’s missing cat landed
on my typewriter, keys splattering
as if a rock had been plunked into a lake.

I don’t know which of us jumped higher,
but I fetched our neighbor, who coaxed
and cooed the hissing wraith out.

It didn’t pay to consider all the places
it had used for a litter box,
but that night, we bathed an extra long time
in water as close to scalding as we could carry,

then made cleansing love: no longer spied on,
our young privacy restored.

Bad Habits

As we walked past a car
in the parking lot
of our favorite breakfast
greasy spoon, his driver’s
side door sprang at our knees.

“Hey,” I shouted, “pay attention!”
The guy shot me a look of,
it was our fault; I shot him one back
with a “Come on, asshole,” ferocity,
and Beth steered me away
like a puppy nosing manure.

As we opened our menus
though we both knew
Beth would choose oatmeal,
while I’d indulge—
after my great annual physical—
in the eggs over easy,
potatoes, rye toast, and bacon,

Beth sighed, “And here I thought
you’d be mellow as maple syrup:
your blood pressure lower
than my shoe size.”

“Bad testosterone habits,”
I shrugged, “die hard.”

Just then, that guy strode past
our table, sat across from a woman
young enough to be his lover:
his look one of guilty hunger.

The Break-Out—The Husband

“A dog trainer who did volunteer work at a prison ran off with a convicted killer after helping him escape in a dog crate loaded into the back of her van. . . .” – The Associated Press

I should’ve been suspicious,
Tillie with a twinkle in her eye
from volunteering at that prison,
gushing how sweet “Her boys” were,
as if they were no more dangerous
than kids accidentally shattering windows,
who only needed to care for mutts
to set them on the church-going path.

What those boys really needed
was enough juice to light up
the high school football field for three weeks.

There were warnings: Tillie cold
as an iceberg in bed; even more obvious,
forgetting to have supper hot on the table
when I’d drag in from my auto supply store.

That killer will dump Tillie fast,
and she’ll come crawling back to me,
but tough titties. By the time
she finishes her sentence,
she’ll be deader than Rose Kennedy.

The cops won’t quit bugging me;
I tell them I didn’t know nothing
till I saw the news that night,
every reporter in the state demanding
an interview and a photo of Tillie.

I should’ve made her my bookkeeper.
But Mandy would’ve pitched a fantod,
after I swore I’d leave my dumbass wife
during our bouts of motel wrestling.

Robert Cooperman is a graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains (Western Reflections Books) won the Colorado Book Award for Poetry in 2000. The Widow’s Burden (Western Reflections Books) was runner-up for the WILLA Awards from Women Writing the West.  Just Drive (Brick Road Poetry Press) and Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is DRAFT BOARD BLUES (FutureCycle Press). Forthcoming from Main Street Rag is THAT SUMMER. My Shtetl won the Logan House Award in 2012. His work has appeared in the Sewanee Review, Mississippi Review, and North American Review. Cooperman lives in Denver with his wife Beth.

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