Poet's brains prove to be useful!
6 poems by Ira Cohen  


Imagine Jean Cocteau

Imagine Jean Cocteau in the lobby
holding a torch
Imagine a trained dog act,
a Rock and Roll Band
Imagine I am Curly of the Three Stooges
disguised as Wm Shakespeare
Imagine that I'm the cousin of the Mayor
of New York or the King of Nepal
(I didn't say Napoleon!)
Imagine what it is like to be in the glare
of hot lights when you are longing for dark

            Imagine the Ghost Patrol, the Tribal
Orchestra --
Imagine an elephant playing a harmonica
or someone weighing out bones on the edge
of the desert in Afghanistan
Imagine that these poems are recorded moments
of temporary sanity
Imagine that the clock was just turned back --
or forwards -- a hundred years instead of an hour
Let us pretend that we have no place to go,
that we are here in the Cosmic Hotel,
that our bags are packed & that we have one hour
to checkout time
Imagine whatever you will but know that it is not
imagination but experience which makes poetry,
and that behind every image,
behind every word there is something
I am trying to tell you,
something that really happened.

An Act of Jeopardy
for Garcia Lorca


A star of blood you fell
from the point of the hypodermic
singing of fabulous beasts &
spitting out the sex of vowels
Your poems explode in the mouth
like torrents of sperm on a night
     full of zebras & bootheels
Your ghost still cruses the river-
fronts of midnight assignations
in a world of dead sailors carrying
         armfuls of flowers in search of
                       your unmarked grave
Your body no sanctuary for bees,
Death was your lover in a rain of
      broken obelisks & rotting orchids
In the tangled rose of a single heartbeat
I offer you the shadow of a double
     two heads held together at the bridge
         of the nose by a nail of opium
     in the long night's dreaming
     & memory of water poured between
In my mailbox I find a letter from
     a dead man & know that for every
                shadow given
                one is taken away
Yet subtraction is only a special form of
addition and implies a world of hidden
intentions below a horizon of lips
thin as your fingernail sprouting
mysteries in the earth …
The ace of spades dealt from the bottom
      of the deck severs the hand which
      retrieves it & the eyes of Beauty
      sewn together peer over a black lace fan
      in the vulgar sunlight of a Spanish
           morning without horses
             The Belt of Orion is loosened
before you as you remove the silver
fingerstalls from your mummy hands &
kneel to plunder the nightsky in a shower of
                  bitter diamonds.
(Somewhere under a blanket someone weeps
               for a lover.)
Peace to your soul
& to your empty shoes
in the dark closets of
kings with no feet!!!

From The Moroccan Journal - 1987

My heart feels like an uncut diamond
Though it is still the same, it is not the same
Someone speaks of a bridge to be built from Tangier
to Algeciras or is it Gibraltar?
"Yes & then a highway to the stars or more likely
an elevator to the Underworld," says Yellow Turban
To White Jellaba as the exhaust fumes from the bus
engulf them, leaving behind not even a single
Is that Mel Clay in a white jacket turning the corner?
No, it is a figment of my imagination escaped from the
Is that Ian Sommerville walking backwards up the street
as if pulled by a giant magnet?
No, that is Wm. Burroughs making electricity
from dead cats.
Is that Tatiana glistening on Maxiton?
No, that is the sun dancing in the sugar bowl.
Is that Marc Schelfer wavering on the cliffedge?
No, it is a promontory in the wind of time
about to fall in the sea.
Is that Beethoven's 9th Symphony being played
up the street?
No, it is the sound of the breadwagons
rumbling over cobblestones
Is that George Andrews with two girls in hand
looking for bread?
No, it is an unidentified flying object about to land.
Is that One-eyed Mose hanging by his heels?
No, that is the hanged man inventing the Taro.
Are the dead really so fascinated by lovemaking?
Yes, that is how they travel.
Is that Irving in short pants looking for trouble?
No, that's me unable to stop thinking.
Is that Kenneth Halliwell looking for Joe Orton?
Is that Jane Bowles looking for Sherifa, Rosalind looking
for her baby, Alfred searching for his lost hair?
Is that the wig of it all, the patched robe of my brain,
the wind talking to itself?
Brion is dead and Yacoubi is dead, and I am a not unhappy
ghost remembering everything, the warp & woof of memories,
her yellow slip, her shaved cunt, her idiot child.
Dream shuttle makes me exist everywhere at once.
The blind beggars led by children keep coming.
"They all have many houses in the Casbah,"
chant the unbelievers sucking on sugar.
Words keep coming back like Bezezel for tits, Lictcheen
for oranges, like Mina, like Fatima, like Driss Berrada
dropping his trousers for an injection in the middle
of his shop.
The trunk is full of old sepia postcards,
barebreasted girls smoking hookahs etcetera.
We speak of the cataplana, the mist which obscures
even the cielo you cannot even see the hand in front
of your face.
We embrace, he says he thought of me only yesterday,
he says there are always nine such men who look like us
in the world and that we are the tenth.
We speak of the gold filets in the sky over Moulay Absalom.
The garbage men in rubber boots go thru the Socco pushing
wheeled drums of collected garbage.
An unveiled woman wobbles out of a taxi and heads home
before sunrise.
Paul couldn’t believe that was a Karma Street,
but I will never forget it.
And Billy Batman, who made the best hash in the world,
he dropped a loaded pistol in Kabul, shot himself in the balls,
took some heroin and lay down to die.
Now I must get up from my table in the allnight Café Central.
No more Dr. Nadal, no more window with red crosses & red
The water thrown from buckets runs across the café floors
& over the sidewalks & I drop a dirham into the hand
of a blind beggar singing in the dark on the American stairs

From Anais Nin’s A Spy in the House of Love—"The women wear fireflies in their hair, but the fireflies stop shining when they go to sleep so now and then the women had to rub the fire- flies to keep them awake."

Atlantis Express

Let’s take a silver train underground
to the back streets of Atlantis
thru the corrugated iron roots &
then to the peak itself, to the
saddle of the last ridge past strewn
finally meandering thru cascading snow
wearing miner’s hats on the perpendicular
                                       dark night &
going up to the edge of the Southern Cross
where we reach at last the pure white
                            glistening glaciers &
                 begin to chant over bones in rags
                                       of Scorpio
Armless in the sticky substance how could
         they ever have had a chance?
         Permission will not be required
         only poems of blood offered to
                 the memory of TREE
         It is not ice which is eternal
         but the fury of the absolute
         separating the void from the spirit
                                      of man,
         uplifting like life when it is used
                                against itself,
         that is, Radical Love -- & again, we
         are reduced to living beings
         Caught by the instant
         we are taken away
         We live in the imprint of the flame
         & we are helmeted within the internal
         where the ray begins its passage
                    across the indignant sky
Vain clouds uncaring in a tangle of
culminate in the hermaphroditic mirror
                   of the epileptic dancer
                        And during sleep
                        the light is joined
                           to the light
     It is all a matter of getting up
and then to abandon the pain
It is there that the journey beings
     in the self generated flame of
        Spontaneous Combustion
    The main line running counter
    to the triangle comprising the
    SARGASSO SEA where sleeping Atlanteans
                                       dream forever,
     this line, this battlefield of the ages,
     crosses the divide of my most wandering
     backdoor heart.
     We will all have to go
     if we want to reappear
     in the rhythm of the ritual
     It’s the wheel of fools spinning
             over my bed
     If I put my left foot first
     they will find a way to call me
                      by that name
     tracking tremors
     like glyphs
     on drunken walls
     in the negative palace
     just before taking eave
     of my senses
     the white powder dissolves
     in the sunlight
     & making noise like a peacock
     he hops on one foot up the mountain.

Song to Nothing

And surely we will die without memory
coming to cold in the shadow of space
& if it isn’t too late
for the star to love you
spraying the sky w/ whispers
attuned to galaxies hungry for flame
And if the tongue of night sings
of Albino winos
till the morning light shafts
                   the doorway
then surely we will die tonight
                  faceless at the White
sharing the smoke
w/ ancient shapes in future garb
and you stand somewhere there
                    on the other side
feeding on the pain of dreamlessness
Wherefrom the misty morning of
                        white shadows
& the unresisting need to destroy?

Samael, Samael, I beg it may be forgiven
          that they may be driven
          out of the black into the white
Only let the dazzle remain
          for gamblers to surprise,
  the strategic diamond, the throne
                            of compressed bone
           in the unshored dark
where only light can forgive
              & your mind is singed
Embers of echoes in the vastness
        disguise the yearning to burn
                            blind eyes
in arrogant displays of feeling—
Running wild these beasts will feast
                         on the newborn kind
for surely we will die tonight
unless we learn to ignore
what the others live for
on the other side of morning
& the Skin of Nothing left by the same
masks the faceless wanderer

          O let it happen,
          this weird to discover
          the shape of Beauty in everything
for surely we will die tonight
whether we will or whether we
O Samael, forgive the dreamer
                   forgive the dream

The Song of Nothing is your lullabye.


If my heart were made of bread
I would wait at least one moment
before breaking the sunrise --

  The Arm of the Dorje

  1. Sunyata – Song to the Winter Sun

    There was much wind
    but I new not how to call it,
    a roomful of strangers,
    how familiar the feeling,
    how cold it must be – barefoot
    at the fountain when the sun goes down,
    how the brown people love the blond baby
    The white horse which looks out
    from the wall suggests a journey
    I once might have taken,
    a covered memory reeking of sulphur
    Words, they can go anywhere,
    can they tell me where I come from,
    the name of my planet,
    the empty space which was my home?
    The condemned murderer longs for
    a firing squad, knows
    where to put the shadows
    you keep inside –
    Between hands there are worlds
    of ashes & thunder,
    silent collisions of meaning,
    the utter sugar of nights
    taken for granted
    They say the sun rises every day,
    that sleep is incidental
    I say myself
    & so I look for your face at dawn
    rising over my grief, over
    the twice told terrain, violet w/ciphers,
    Suffused w/ yr eternal smile
    I would offer my flesh to your tiger,
    turn your stone wheels w/ my water
    Longing for the peaks the stars say
    it will be clear
    Let us meet in the sky then
    till we come closer down here.


  3. The Day of the Basilisk – The Wayfarer’s Song

    It started in the dark room
    thinking that night had fallen at dawn
    Then arising we glued red eyes
    into the dry sockets of a dead bird
    its belly full of dirty cotton
    Then across the paddies & out of
                                            the town
    where familiar figures of Kleist &
    rise from the road in eddies of dust
    The voice of the Changeling names the day,
    the day of the Basilisk, usurped
    from the tyrant’s quest to know
    how not to maim the Gilded Hind of
    self knowledge
    Licchavi sirens shortchanged of a renaissance
    spread out cracked wooden arms,
    split skulls of haunting beauty, smiling
    Mud murtis made by nature distract
    Goethean comments fearful of what is hidden
    while the delicate head of Mahadev
    whittled by the wind
    still seals the lingam in the ancient temple
    We look with Mudusa’s eyes
    at the first born fruits,
    the full breasts of the river
    where there is no infidelity –

    The golden larva w/ the royal face of Narayan,
    hold it by its tail & call it by its name
                            Narayan, Narayan
    it will dance for you & shake its head,
    it lives only on air –we do not know if
    it is alive or if it is dead, so gilded
                                           its beauty
    The face of Vishnu etches a dream of
    ancient seas tinted w/ fallen light
    Your face is everywhere
    Your glory rings out over the peaks
                                    capped w/ flame
    Your shadow is enclosed within your shadow
    You watch yourself falling
    While falling you watch yourself looking down
    You want to pick up the Tamang corpse
    no one will touch
    You call the children of darkness,
    refute the wasted years of salt
    poured into furrows
    You see the thread needled to the hem of Night
    betrayed by the shinbone of Day
    where the fear is burned away
    You look w/ basilisk eyes
    turning the day to stone,
    touched & transfigured
    by the human, by the changing,
    by the eternal, the always repeating



Insomnia On Duke Ellington Boulevard
July 14, Breakfast w/myself at the Olympia Diner, 106th & B’way  

Fell asleep around 4 AM
w/ the TV on
Van Heflin & Barbara Stanwyck
enter my disturbed sleep
Sometimes the only way out
is to die, but happily
someone else escapes,
takes to the road, goes on
I’m up at seven, go to the post office.,
send two Cuban alligators
to Brussels,
the read Gabriel’s column in NEWSDAY
about the real meaning of the closet,
feel nauseous, order a hardboiled egg
which come w/out a shell
mashed in a cup
Is my heart, too, yearning
for its dying hour?
Please bring me one order
of cool snow!


If I could remember just a fraction
of what I said on the telephone
If he could take his clothes off
and sit on the banks of the Ganga
If she could see the profile of Caliban
in the smoke over the oilfieds
If we could just take off & go to Madagascar
     If they would stop killing each other
     and wake up tomorrow morning
     w/ a new vision
     I would stick my head in a printing press
     and you could read tomorrow’s paper today:

     Read all about it
     Poets’ brains prove to be useful!

     P.S. Sometimes when I pick up my pen
     it leaks gold all over the tablecloth.

This is a cooperative presentation by
Big Bridge and
Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry

Go to Light and Dust Poets or
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Copyright © 2000 by Ira Cohen