introduction by krysia jopek:
I fell in love with the prose poems (in from Innuendos in a Minor Key) that Mike Cole sent me—the six seeds that morphed and evolved into this full-grown, granulated, virtual poetry show, a day’s dissolutions. The selections from the six unique poetry manuscripts that Mike chose function like six movements of a sonata, unified by his signature, seemingly-effortless tone and style that subtly carry the reader across the surface of precise language and syntax into new poetic territory again and again: “patina of offal,” “distillation of crushed star,” “where party lights are the eels’ fluorescence,” ”a galaxy of meanings/that look like stars,” and “birds were swept up in dust devils of spirit/that rendered them silent with dizziness.”
The selection of poetry that follows exemplifies Mike Cole’s versatility with short, discreet prose poems; poems that utilize line breaks and complex enjambment/syntax; prose poetry (in the two selections from Missives) with a Beckettian even-keeled tone and discursiveness; poems with very short lines of ten in a perfect column structure; and very short poems. The statement of poetics that follows this extraordinary mini-ouvre allows readers to look through the window of this poet’s writing cabin and watch the poet wait for poetry to breathe itself into (human) being.
poetry by Mike Cole:
from Innuendos in a Minor Key
What Was Intended
37 You can, in fact, know what was intended. You can see it in the way the breeze makes of leaves and limbs such easy and graceful sweepings through the light of almost any day. It is there in the way a child regards the dance of dust swirling through a band of morning sun. In the whispers and then breathless and wordless urgency you hear through the wall between your solitude and love.
23 We had hoped for something almost other. We had been both to and away. We were making sure we hadn’t been followed. We had left passion of the old sort to those who could still use it. We were developing the habit of sitting in the waning light watching the leaves and shadows move, and we caught ourselves repeating what had never and now even less mattered.
25 It tastes like the air that only a long climb gives the mouth to breathe. Like her hair caught on your lips. Like her fingers after she has peeled an orange for both of you. It tastes like something the apothecary gave you to share: a clear mixture that will convince you both that you are gods before it quickly kills you.
Come and Go
27 Something of the other and much of the more met and became lovers. They whirled and then tangled, they wanted and then had, and in the end, because it is never something that can go much beyond its beginning, they smiled and went each his and her way feeling what had been was what was meant to both come (as they had) and go (as they would).
44 Probably when the tides turn on themselves and the moon rises up and eats the sun. Probably in the next century when you and I switch places behind our faces and your smile becomes my grave expression. Probably in a Never that has become Always and at the depths of a mountain that is standing on its head at the bottom of the Mariana Trench where the party lights are the eels’ fluorescence.
60 It felt like walking across a lake next to a floating moon. Like drinking the distillation of crushed stars. It felt like taking up residence in a daffodil and having all the light warmed and yellowed. It felt like playing “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago on a balalaika as the background music for the coronation of the archangel of a just re-gilded heaven to which only the homeless were admitted. Like riding a unicorn that had borrowed its wings from the daughter of Pegasus and whose horn was a neon orange that was recognized in the next universe as a herald of the arrival of euphoria.
from The New Alchemy:
There is always the possibility
that something quite celestial
will arrive in a blue stretch limousine,
wearing the same sandals that bore Christ
out of the desert with a song so simple
even snakes were charmed into praise,
and birds were swept up in dust devils of spirit
that rendered them silent with dizziness.
The chauffeur will be the poet who was estranged
from her muses when they tempted her to jump
from so high above the Styx that she suspected
subterfuge and chose instead to weave her gowns
of metric and sonal intricacies that ended up
having the exact character of a cast iron
chastity belt from which the only escape
was looking hard and long into the eyes
of this savior of sorts who found his rhythms
in the air above a canyon over which he waltzed
on a slackline dyed and woven by virginal chorus girls
who watched and wondered how this divinity’s
tattoos could fluoresce in broad daylight and all move
in directions dictated by a power neither they
nor the updrafts that lifted their deliverer’s waist-length
dreadlocks into a cloud of breakdancing medusas
could ever explain.
Realize there’s no hurry
Realistically you won’t
reach an end anyway
Reassess what you are
Renegotiate with mortality
Reconfirm your resignation from the real
Reap only what no one else needs
Reason with the residue of dreams
Recount the way you realized your
Realign your reflexes
Re-educate your regrets
Recoil from rationalizations
Advice To a Friend Suffering From Disillusion
I would say
that you are
in the last aisle
of a delicatessen
that stocks every
variety of fatigue
next to the blue cheese
and feta and just beyond
helplessness that permeates
the lavosh so completely
that hope cannot be restored
even by grape leaves
perfectly rolled and stuffed
or olive oil
so virginal one drop
on the tongue
conjures the most nubile
and willing Greek goddess
any soldier fresh from Troy
or Ithaca could envision
stepping toward him
out of a doorway
filled with steam.
But that shouldn’t suggest
any absolute resignation
to eternities of starless
nights or loveless
dawns, but rather
on your part
for calculated naiveté
garnished with an astonishment
of saffron and sage
and washed down
with a flask
of elderberry wine
entombed with a king
who was so infatuated
he forgot what the living
had given him for his
from A Bouquet of Stars:
Let’s make it clear now
that his is a way of singing
that has a strange appeal
only to the dispossessed
and as such will be heard, if at all,
as a theremin’s distant moaning
by an audience that isn’t listening
but is nevertheless eased
by his song
toward the numbness
of both clairvoyance
Advice He Received from the Experts
She or he or they
said, or seemed to be saying,
“You aren’t trying hard enough.
You have to study the intricacies
and be able to recite the rules.
You have to bend both yourself
and your materials in ways
it would have seemed
such things could not be bent.
You have to break before the impossibility of it
and then try again with even more abandon.
You have to lose the only thing
you were sure you couldn’t be without.
You have to know that if you arrive
at the end you seek,
the way back
will have dropped away.”
He Receives This Response
From the Editor:
We are looking for structure
that gives evidence of a rigor
that could only have caused
a discomfort not unlike torture
of the type that those clever
machines of the Crusades
or the British Court might have
exacted upon the bodies of the
too pure of heart whose last
cries were echoing anthems
that both terrified and inspired.
Upon His Interrogation by the Canon
—And what do you think will happen
as a result of your lack of rigor?
the day will split open
right here beside me
and a voice from before
even your time
and that at first seems
exactly air moving
will cross through
the translation of this
first of morning’s light
and tell me in my own
what to sing
to make time
step back and wait
for my permission
to begin again.
There was a poem
he couldn’t find.
It was nowhere
It had a body
that had no shape.
It was outside of gravity
and slept near an unnamed planet’s core.
It rode a dream from one star to the next
in a galaxy that housed the imagination.
It was dressed like a child angel
and like an old man dead on the street.
It sang once to the tune of a great river
in a country it would never visit.
It ate only the dust
that arose and dispersed
when a bristlecone pine
beginning its 2000th year
was pushed to its repose
by a hundred mile an hour wind
that moved even rocks across the faces
of the White Mountains.
He thinks of Vallejo eating almost nothing,
smoking hand-rolled cigarettes,
spitting the shreds of tobacco
between his dried lips,
crazed by the black horses
thrashing through his waking dream,
and of Lorca smelling the slaughterhouse
and the Hudson River with its patina of offal
and setting it all to the rhythm of metal-flanged heels
on the moon-fringed tiles in Barcelona.
He thinks of the unnamed and never to be known one
aflame from so far within that what she becomes
or how she is regarded cannot shred the fist
that grapples her to the thrumming engine
carrying her back into a galaxy of meanings
that look more like great fires than stars.
25 Knowing the day of the week has come to be of almost no importance to me. I am pleased when I don’t know the day of the week. The next to go should be the hour of the day, though there are indicators that make an estimate of the hour all too possible. If I had developed other skills, I would have something more tangible and possibly more beneficial and useable to show for my time making whatever it is in this case that happens to be made of the only medium with which I have learned to work—words. I drank a beer because that sometimes loosens the flow of words, but after the initial stimulation, it can also bring about lethargy and then even sleepiness, which become inhibitors of that same flow. In the long run though, I may be led toward, or, through no conscious sense of direction or clarity of purpose, stumble upon the kind of revelation that in the religious context seems only to be discovered by the poorest and most desperate souls who have no reason other than their simple and absolutely blind faith to hope. Think of the status attained by the miracle, whether imagined or real, of the Mexican peasant whose sarape was stained by roses with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It is time for me to quit today. There shouldn’t be a time to quit. There should only be a time to go on. The need to do other than the one thing that might lead to what has not manifested itself before and will only assume tangible form in hands that are intent on waiting for as long as it takes to shape whatever the air hands them should be set aside so that the waiting can be as pure and purposeless as the miraculous demands.
26 Evidently Emily Dickinson carried scraps of paper and a pencil with her all the time and used them to record lines or snippets of lines intended for possible later use in poems. Many of those bits and pieces have now been published in small books. One of the things that seems to have also been true is that flies, though possibly not as big as the one I am presently hearing, buzzed where she was writing too. As it turns out in my case, the fly is trapped between the screen door and the outside door here. There is a hole in the outside door where there was once a doorknob when the door was in use in a Bay Area house from which it was removed when the house was torn down, and the door was brought to the salvage yard called Urban Ore where I bought it along with several windows and brought them here to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to install in the cabin I built of rough-cut lumber milled from beetle-killed pines. I need to cover that hole so flies and bees and even on occasion small birds don’t get in here through that hole and then through the space around the screen door. Emily Dickinson was equally concerned throughout most of her day with such practical matters. It was reported, though, that she recited lines of poetry aloud while she was in the storeroom skimming the cream off of the milk which may have come from a cow that her father owned. More likely the milk came from the cow of a neighboring dairy farmer. Had Dickinson lived in the first third of the 20th century, that dairy farmer could have been my grandfather who was in North Hampton only a short way from Amherst where Emily was cloistered (for a little more than half the century before) in her father’s house and at night in her upstairs room composing poems and sewing them into the little fascicles that she knew would be found after her body was taken away to the family plot. The fireplace in her bedroom was bricked up and fitted with a small wood stove that kept her room warm through the night so she could sit at her writing desk, reportedly 18” square, and be transported to a realm that was not inhabited by any other human of her time and place but seemingly by the spirits and possibly echoes of poets who came both before and long after her—if such things are possible, as they probably are not, but it might have felt to her, as it sometimes feels to me, as if such times can be inhabited by such voices and presences. My mother would have only been vaguely, if at all, aware of the poet who would have been nearly her neighbor, and it is certain that they would have had nothing to talk about, except that Emily would have no doubt been interested in and maybe intrigued by the fact that my mother played the baritone in the community band that gave free concerts in the North Hampton town park on Sundays and that she sometimes marched with that band in town parades. But my mother would have found Emily too strange to be of interest and would have regarded the poet with the same wariness as she did the Smith College girls she said she saw walking too close together and hand-in-hand along North Hampton’s main street. My mother would not have found the line “I heard a fly buzz when I died” to be anything more than strange.
from The Glad Oblivion of Light
She still doesn’t know
exactly how it happens
or how it happens that sometimes
and other times it doesn’t
though it seems it eventually will
which is why she must
at least sometimes
stay there longer
waiting to be taken up
by whatever hands or wave or dustless dust devil
that arrives to elevate her to a place
where she can
at least for a moment
from A Distant Place:
there were always
near the end
that seemed they should be
far beyond their season
and he would pause
put down the heaviness
he had been carrying
too far and for too long
and sit for a while
maybe beyond a while
where the delicacy
of the unexpected
I would recommend
denying you ever wanted anything
and then drilling a hole
in the forehead of dawn
and crawling in to watch
what shadows do
to prepare for the day’s
all poetry ©2021
post-introduction–finding my way back [poetics]:
I became involved in writing during the poetry renaissance that Philip Levine and others brought to Fresno State College and the dusty, hot, foggy San Joaquin Valley of California in the late 1960s. I have been hunting down poems for the more than 50 years since, though teaching high school English, Spanish, Creative Writing, and other subjects for over 30 years severely limited that effort. But in the past 11 years, I have spent most mornings waiting on the arrival of poems. Though over the years I have written and published carefully-constructed narrative (and some lyric) poems, I’ve never enjoyed that approach to writing—beginning with a topic or experience and building a poem from that central idea—so I have gradually returned to an approach to writing that actually served me best as an undergraduate when I first discovered poetry. That process involves allowing a flow of words to gradually lead me toward a state of mind in which poems take shape on their own, a process in which I serve only as the receptor and recorder of that voice. I know that this approach to finding poems is anathema to most of the poetry establishment of the day, but at this point in my life (at 73 years old) that no longer matters.
The section titles between the groups of poems published here refer to the titles of book manuscripts I have assembled of my poems. I have one manuscript of poems from the years 1968 to 2010, and 10 more manuscripts for the years 2011 through 2020. The selections included in diaphanous micro 4.7 are taken from the manuscripts covering the years 2012 to 2017. Many of the poems in these manuscripts have been published in various print and online magazines, but none of the manuscripts have been, as yet, published as books. My intention is to publish selections form all of my manuscripts in a single book at some time in the future (or not at all). For now it seems more important to go on following the trail of words wherever it leads.
Thank you to Krysia Jopek for accepting my work for publication in diaphanous micro. She is doing something truly unique and important in this online magazine. It’s a valuable forum for amazingly varied and thought-provoking approaches to literary and visual art. The featured writers and artists push our perceptions and approaches to our own art in many new directions. I hope my poems serve that same purpose for diaphanous micro readers
Mike Cole reading “Therefore, Sing”:
Mike Cole’s poems have appeared in Antioch Review, Laurel Review, Stirring, and Red Savina Review, among other literary journals, as well as in the anthologies Highway 99 (Heyday Press) and Some Yosemite Poets (Scrub Jay Press). He holds a Master’s Degree in Poetry Writing from Fresno State College. For 30-plus years he taught high school English, Spanish, and Creative Writing. He lives in the California mountains near Yosemite and is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.