Joanna Penn Cooper
A Day in the Life
A meal of oatmeal and organic bananas? I'm thinking and nibbling
on chocolate, Friday April 18th, 3:03 pm. Lifting the filter I see
there's more coffee and do an "I see there's more coffee" dance. The green
on that scrawny tree seems to be alive. The sky is doing that thing
where it's glaring white and overcast, like someone trying
to be kind to you through the filter of their hangover, but not really
caring. Earlier a drama teacher in someone else's clothes and mustache
socks came to watch my son. I descended to the underworld. I emerged
two neighborhoods over where people seemed real today (Greenpoint).
I bought a bagel with scallion cream cheese on my way, thinking
"Oh! this is the deli where I went with the Soy Bomb guy that time
I accidentally got drunk, having had drinks before dinner and during
dinner with the artists and the psychotherapist and forgot what
neighborhood I was in but it was here, I guess?" I never even realized
those were the days, I guess? I guess those were the days. Tomorrow
I promise to write a poem that isn't about writing itself. Or I'll put on
sack cloth to go with my new hair ("shorn"). I'll put on art clogs
and call it a day.
Pink Moon Self Portrait
Once I told a poet at a bar that I was having difficulty. "Oh, Joanna," she said. "Don't have difficulty." I laughed at myself then, at all of it. I tried to leave for the woods to stare at a fire, but the poets came and sat on my log, talking about the job market. True story of difficulty.
Perhaps you will understand if I tell you that I sat in the driveway for a good five minutes before getting out of the car this afternoon, wondering if I should call someone because a squirrel was looking at me funny. Finally, I honked the horn to make it go away. Then honked again.
It's like what Virginia Woolf said— if you could see what really moves through your friends' minds throughout the day, you'd be appalled. Once something really odd gave me the giggles in a college fiction class, and the guy sitting next to me said, "That's exactly the kind of thing that would make her laugh." The wave of affection I felt for myself then would appall you.
I feel bad for Sylvia Plath's Esther, trying
to read Finnegan's Wake in the middle
of a nervous breakdown. This morning, the sun
on the dining room table— we have a table now—
and I notice that my local goat cheese looks like
an angel when I first spread it on my sprouted bread.
This is the problem with lyric poems and class rage.
If I weed the irises and have a dining room table, I
suspect myself. Everything must happen for a reason.
Isn't that what Voltaire's fool said? I will stop trying
to solve the equation of human suffering— X people
stuck at airports plus X people killed in a gas attack
minus whatever our government is doing plus whatever
our government is doing ... Meanwhile I'm here in a room
managing my small son, who has sensory problems at
the classroom Shabbat. Too many people in one room
plus the singing plus the rabbi coming in and reading
a book equals E. turning to shove one ear to my chest,
then bursting into a different state, shouting out in the middle
of the Passover book, "Why didn't they free themselves!"
and hopping about the room. "Then Moses parted the sea,"
the rabbi says patiently. I gather up my child as the book
ends. I go home and try to weed, but he cries about
the "poor little weeds." Later he tells me he stops
loving me when I'm mad, but starts again later. I've
been so often mad during these months. I want to say
something about "let my people go," which tradition is
partly my son's— enslaved ancestors— but I also want
to say that in Adonis' Syria, being a poet earns you
the threat of death. Speaking and not speaking do
matter. For a week, I lost the Swiss Army knife
I carry with me everywhere, but yesterday
I found it among the spatulas.
Joanna Penn Cooper is the author of The Itinerant Girl's Guide to Self-Hypnosis (Brooklyn Arts Press) and What Is a Domicile (Noctuary Press). Her work has appeared in South Dakota Review, Zocálo Public Square, Open Letters Monthly, Posit, Poetry International, and other journals. She is an editor at Trio House Press and lives in Durham, NC.