Peter Cooley was born and raised in Detroit. A graduate of Shimer College, The University of Chicago and The University of Iowa, where he was a student in the Writers Workshop and received his Ph.D., he is currently Professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans teaching creative writing. In 2001, he won the Inspirational Professor Award, and in 2003 the Newcomb College Professor of the Year Award. Married and the father of three children, he has published six books of poetry: The Company of Strangers (University of Missouri Press), which has been reissued by Coyne & Chenoweth, and The Room Where Summer Ends, Nightseasons, The Van Gogh Notebook, The Astonished Hours and Sacred Conversations, all of which were published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. From 1970-2000 he was Poetry Editor for North American Review. His newest volume, A Place Made of Starlight, appeared in January 2003. Carnegie Mellon will release his new book, Divine Margins, in 2008. He also has poems forthcoming in Paris Review, Hudson Review, and Epoch.
There is a wound in me which could not speak.
You see, my story was too familiar,
a part of cultural mythologies
to someone who had spent his life in school,
learning, teaching everything except the soul.
First there was the miracle of my sonís birth
before his time, his terrible infirmities
which disappeared, one by one like mists
at first light burning off the Mississippi.
Then, father to a little one, I was again
little myself and re-lived my childhood,
my sisterís legacy of abuse of me.
After my dark wood and talking cures,
several of each, I found you where youíd been
always, Lord, a morning I keep waking to
hourly, a sky that has no end,
a voice which never ceases singing
answers to my prayer, a wound corresponding
to my own because the original of all
and tomorrow the second life raising possibilities from possibilities.
An Ordinary Morning in New Orleans
Ordinary as the morning when I wake
the miracles insist on coming fast
if I allow them. Often I refuse.
Who wants to be a fire at first light?
Today I let my open palms say yes.
The lifelines wait. Then story rushes in.
This morning itís the two blind men who see
the instant they are touched. And Christ maintains
LET NO MAN KNOW IT.
Miracle is gone.
I start to question why He spoke like this
And when I ask, the dawn blazes like noon.
I will have both questions and miracle
some day. Itís just thatís itís not given yet.
Right now, I have to choose. And I chose doubt.
Crossing the God line I am in a place
where I am not supposed to tread, a child
walking beyond the breakers who canít swim.
How rapturous it is here: with each wave
I wonder: will I sink or see the next,
the next, the next, or is this breath my last?
And if it isnít, here, one with the sea,
the sky, where they meet beyond the beyondó
who am I to dare this but almost-God?
To keep myself myself, my sacred place,
the sky gave me this body to maintain.
When Iím tempted to travel, it says, not
as master would to dog and by its side
my spirit trots, obedient, tongue stuck out,
Panting. It knows its place, grace. The tail wags.
Twice Bright, Twice Dark
These poems are my second life on earth.
Maybe to you they donít seem much, to me
they are windows wide open on a sky
I saw only as a little child.
I see now, a man-child, twice as bright.
Summers in New Orleans the sky comes down
in radiance and rain alternating
minute by minute, changing with the clouds.
Look, if I tell you I have seen the sun
come straight out of the heat of morning grass
as if it slept there, you must believe me.
Sometimes morning and evening are the same,
sometimes in my life now I see the dark
the light, become each other instantly.
Poem in Which the Devil is Always Present But Only Appears at the End
As clear and cold as rain turning to snow
The morning in my mind as I awake
Stiffens the dead flowers in my black backyard,
The one in my head, not the one out there.
Interior weather is my breathing room.
I change the temperature each breath I draw.
And when I say that, I mean trace the shape
up on a wall like a daguerreotype.
The wall is me, every portrait myself.
Why did I leap, gardens to galleries
In a few lines, trying to explain this
unless I more continuously stand
a frozen man, a snowman in my life?
The devil can freeze my form with a glance.
For My Mother and My Father
I wake up. The dark is still that dark
I put myself to sleep in late last night
but it is morning now. I am alive!
I cup my palm up to my breath: my moist soul answers back.
This is the day: light will arise in it, billions
rise to walk in it. Mother, Father,
you will not look into its face again.
You taught me: Now I lay me down to sleep
in your disbelief, which, your last year at the home
turned to questions of me when I visited:
Mother: There must be something; what is it?
Dad: I say my prayers; I donít know who to, why.
You gave me these words to lie down in
until I join you beyond their little moment here.