henri cole

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

watching the president's caisson.

                                                 We, we together move to the big house.

Shining, the sun is shining on my time line.

                                                                           Tears, copper-hot tears,

spatter the house 

                                when Father is drunk, irate, and boisterous.

The essence of self emerges

                                                  shuttling between parents.

Noel, the wet nimbus of Noel's tongue

                                                                       draws me out of the pit.

I drop acid with Rita.

                                         Chez Woo eros is released.

I eat sugar like a canary from a grown man's tongue.

                                                                                  The draft card torn up;

the war lost.

                        I cling like a cicada to the latticework of memory.

Mother: "I have memories, too.

                                                           Don't let me forget them."

Father: "I'm glad the journey is set.

                                                                  I'm glad I'm going."

Crows, the voices of crows

                                             leaving their nests at dawn, circle around,

as I sit in a gold kimono,

                                             feeling the subterranean magma flows,

the sultry air, the hand holding a pen,

                                                                      bending to write,

Thank you,

                      Mother and Father, for creating me.

- Henri Cole


       For Harold Bloom

"Sir, I don't have no black tea," the waitress replied, 
so I ordered Black Label instead. It was summer and the fragrant
white flowers of the black locusts had awakened, like faeries or obscure matter. 
A black bear clothed in thorns made a mess of the bird feeder where hungry
blackcaps were a vision. And the black flies were biting energetically. 
Billy died of the Black Death (I shouldn't call it that) and hovered like a
       winged horseman. 
There's nothing so wrong as when young folks die. I smashed my bike, 
blacked out, and got two black eyes. At the Mayo Clinic, 
Daddy had his arteries cleared, praising the surgeon's fine black hands. 
After he died, we called everyone in his black book and found
a black space that couldn't be lifted by impotent wings. Like me, 
he was the black sheep. There were struggles. Once, driving near Black Mountain, 
he blurted, "There ain't nothing so good as stolen corn or watermelon." 
His face was like a smiling black spider's. Questioning the earth
from which he came ("Son, you got mixed blood")—and that drew him back— 
he cleared a way forward into the murky light. Beside the roadside blacktop, 
a deer, with black diamonds in its eyes, lay in a bed of black pansies. 
Around us, black ash and black walnuts made a velvety curtain. 
Dead ten years, he visits me often, like a head behind bars, with that black temper
and black bile still coming out of his mouth, but tenderness, too, like black gold. 
Did I love him back, I wonder? If I loved him with all my heart
and all my liver, why did I spit him into the river?

   - Henri Cole