Henri Cole


Myself with Cats

Hanging out the wash, I visit the cats.

"I don't belong to nobody," Yang insists vulgarly.

"Yang," I reply, "you don't know nothing."

Yin, an orange tabby, agrees

but puts kindness ahead of rigid truth.

I admire her but wish she wouldn't idolize

the one who bullies her. I once did that.

Her silence speaks needles when Yang thrusts

his ugly tortoiseshell body against hers,

sprawled in my cosmos. "Really, I don't mind,"

she purrs — her eyes horizontal, her mouth

an Ionian smile, her legs crossed nobly

Oil & Steel

My father lived in a dirty-dish mausoleum,

watching a portable black-and-white television,

reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica,

which he preferred to Modern Fiction.

One by one, his schnauzers died of liver disease,

except the one that guarded his corpse

found holding a tumbler of Bushmills.

"Dead is dead," he would say, an antipreacher.

I took a plaid shirt from the bedroom closet

and some motor oil — my inheritance.

Once I saw him weep in a courtroom —

neglected, needing nursing — this man who never showed

Saint Stephen’s Day with the Griffins

Half-eagle, half-lion, the fabulous
animal struts, saber-clawed but saintly,
a candlewicked ornament dangling
from our rickety sugar pine. Butternut

pudding in our bellies. His reindeer
and sleigh hurried here and gone — thank God
for us childless folks. Almost: the lovelocked
Griffins on the sofa, sockfooted, hearing

Self-portrait in a Gold Kimono

Born, I was born.
Tears represent how much my mother loves me,
shivering and steaming like a horse in rain.
My heart as innocent as Buddha's,
my name a Parisian bandleader's,
I am trying to stand.
Father is holding me and blowing in my ear,
like a glassblower on a flame.
Stars on his blue serge uniform flaunt a feeling
of formal precision and stoicism.
Growing, I am growing now,
as straight as red pines in the low mountains.
Please don't leave, Grandmother Pearl.
I become distressed