Friday, June 23, 2017

#SOL17: Faith - A Poem My Husband Left Behind

Rob and Max (Many, many years ago)

16 months after Rob died I have found the courage to sit down at his computer and to begin to browse. It's a stormy night and somehow the mood seems right or perhaps the courage I needed to do this is somehow present.  Rob left behind 40 notebooks and a computer filled with images and poems and stories and the the first 6 chapters of a novel he was writing when we first me. Lemmings. 

I have been thinking about a poem he wrote--one I fell in love with as I was falling in love with him. I can remember him reading the poem aloud in in the basement of an old mill in Paterson, NJ at some poetry event. The emotion his voice captured. The passion. It remains.

He wrote "Faith" when he was 33-years-old. What legacies there are that he has stored and left behind in this old computer. Such gifts.

Rob Cohen



I stood on line
in a chinese takeout place
on 9th ave
while the owner
his back against the counter
& spoke
on the telephone

I wanted to know
an american phone
could speak chinese
as if the technology
were language dependent

& I thought
of all the prejudice
I was taught
about foreigners
that each country
has a separate history

that all those people
in all those places
are different

that this
is america
& our technology
is ours

do you picture china
with phones?

Or do you see
a peasant
in a coolie hat
& loose garment
in a paddy
or perhaps
at work
        bent over
some old piece of equipment
in an antiquated sweatshop
in a rickety seaport warehouse
where there are no downtowns

this man
who spoke chinese
became more
& more animated
until I realized
his voice
was translated
by a device
which does not remember
yet carries out
an ordered transfer
of energies,
              his voice
broken into parts
& reassembled
in a demonstration
of 3rd grade science
where atoms
are made of parts
so small
that the distance between them
is comparably vast
as in a solar system
where most of everything
is made of nothing
is this the logos?

No. It is just
cheap talk.

& I wondered
was on the other end
of the line--
a chinese man
in china?

do you see him
in a 3-pc suit
briefcase in hand
as he stands
in a tall building 

     important man
with a corner office
one window
a view
of the waterfront
the other
of the countryside

He spoke to a different china

--the one downtown
is a selfsufficient village

a bunch of brownstones
where gardeners work underground
old apothecaries
have potions for everything
& the gang of 4
wears leather jackets
knives & chains

a west side story
in chinese

& because the words that carried
across connections
were messages
of a confused culture

in a broken down universe
tells us
how it is

each mystery
lessens the number of things
we understand
about democratic laws
that let a chinese man
speak his ancestors tongue
on an american phone

laws which last
& work
as we believe in them

did we want phones?

Doctrine tells us
to stay on the line

just hold on
it will work better
once we find the explanation
for all of this
we can harness
this universe, understand
its every machination

an autism
which barely initiates
is its own language

it keeps
every last bit moving
when we already know
what it means to believe
that the way we have come
is not
the way things are


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