Sunday Oct 01

CooleyNicole Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans and now lives outside of NYC with her family. She is the author of four books of poems , most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both published in 2010, and a novel. She directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-CUNY.


The tap water arrives too late at my table in a small-necked jar,
heavy and decadent, for my dinner alone while
at home, a dollhouse baby drowns in a bowl of seltzer
while the girls sit on the front steps with guns they fill
from the green garden hose, angry and tin-mouthed.

In the Estuarium on Dauphin Island, the jellyfish is a fat pink purse.
The coral all  Neapolitan, the fake river bottom lemon cake and gravel.
Lovely river, lovely Gulf, tamed and quiet behind glass.
Exhibit sponsored by Shell Oil.
Welcome to another summer of the river breaking, swelling, splitting.
I tell my mother, I haven’t lived here in so long, beside this water.
So yes it’s true that as a girl in New Orleans. I stood in front of the air conditioner
in a soaked wet white slip to make myself sick. To encourage a fever. To stay home with my mother.  She’d warned the air conditioner was full of poison—Freon—pale blue.
Stay away from it, she said. Stay away from me.
Two blocks from my parents’ house I walk at the edge of the river on the levee
that did not crack open. The house where I don’t live.
In the Canal Museum, my toddler leans too close
to the exhibit, water like a long table runner,
banquet of sludge and stones,
my girl sealed in  a plastic smock like an x-ray shields.
I lean in too close behind her.
Learned from my mother: how to stud the dimpled skin
of an orange with cloves
till it leaked its awful water, color of baby aspirin.
I lean too close,
I have always
leaned too close—
to girls, to home,
to the edge of the river.
Glass case of turtles and Spanish moss, a Cypress swamp.
A pitcher plant looks like veins in a body.
Here’s a  slash pine, a catfish skull
Most wrong: my desire to float in an isolation tank, in heavy salted water.
The sink metal-voiced, the sink in the kitchen we fill
with sand and suds, fake beach for dollhouse, girls
finding comfort in those small hard plastic bodies
they place face down in water?
The fact is, he explains, the Mississippi River is mismanaged, the river
can’t be dependent on industry or agriculture or the Army Corps of Engineers.
We have ruined it, he says, with levees and dams and spillways.
I nod, I lift my glass, the drink too cold, bitter with cubed ice.
How long has it been since you lived here? he asks.
Water: A space for splitting.
The exhibit tells us that barrier islands are land in motion.
All the mothers lean too close.  The girls are drowning?
Or we have ruined it.
Drink a goblet of blue sparkling ice, blue poison, then
climb into the water tank, fairy tale glass coffin
where all other water is wished away, spilled.

In the Franklin Mineral Museum

At the mineral dump at the bottom of the hill, in the gravel pit glinting silver,
all splintered light. Each us with a plastic bag to fill.
None of us sure what to look for.
Rocks spilled and spilling, flecked black and cracked.
The dump like a parking lot.
The fluorescent mineral capital of the world!
Wash the rocks in a bucket of mud water then take them to the Testing Shed.
Under the mineral light, short-wave, under the purest ultra-violet
is a rock like a hot pink washcloth scrubbing a baby’s leg.
Albite. Flinkite. Octavite.
The rocks laid out like a steam table of meats. Girls circle in the dark.
Edges of your body in the dark of the testing shed, edges of mine.
None of us sure what to look for.
I lean closer.
Under that light, a rock like a dilated eye.
Rock glowing green as iceberg lettuce.
Rock fever bright.
What to remember. The year before:
the escalator at the top of the PATH train terminal where
I waited tell you about the baby.
A rock, a cross-section of a body.
A split heart, all ventricle, hard arterials where nothing drains. All blood solid and still.
Now M wants to know what happened that September.
Quartz the size of a child’s fist yet too sexual.
You don’t want to peer inside that body.
We’re kissing at the edge of the dump.
We’re bathed in fake light in the testing shed.
We’re aglow, we’re alone, we’re back
in the Before.
M wants to know what happened that day. We were in the apartment, she was on my lap, we were watching TV where the tunnels shut down, we were sealing the windows with towels, socks, cloth diapers, to keep the smell and smoke from leaking in.
.Jumble of the cracked and broken.  A marriage? What to look for?
Our words are rocks we pass back and forth between us.
Or, our rocks are words—
The girls delight in  “Christmas rocks” -- bright crushed tin foil.
M explains to us: “B’s mother would have died that morning but she was home with him because he was a baby. So she didn’t go to work where she was supposed to go. The place where she works burned down.”
We’re bathed in light, we’re fluorescent, we’re aglow.
Flinkite for fidelity
Octavite for hold me close
Albite for jealousy
None of us are sure what to look for.

Take me to the local room. The Flourescent Room. The Fossil Room.
The safe room. The room without history.