Editors’ note: In honor of Marvin Cohen's 91st birthday (July 6, 2022) our print edition features eleven pages of Cohen's recent poetry, of which the following are a selection.
Loving Candace Watt
is not a load of rot.
We never had a tot,
being married late,
and slow off the gate.
An ancestry like a Scot
gave her strawberry blond hair.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Her soul is big as the globe.
No wonder we had to elobe,
and then were soon to grobe.
Thus all romances evolve,
like plumbers know their valve
of faucets hot or cold.
Knowledge makes us bold
with complete authority,
akin to enlightened morality.
We can dispense with formality
and get on with nitty gritty,
taking excursions into being witty
while keeping up with feeding the kitty.
How privileged, living in the City!
Sophistication is our product
as a real grown-up adult,
thus determining our conduct.
Enjoying life together
occurs independent of weather.
We’re not freaky. (We don’t wear leather.)
We’re frequently apart,
but never threaten to part,
and unlikely ever to start.
Love has deepened
through the years,
and its volume is never in arrears.
As life goes on and on,
what will I base a theme upon
for which to wax poetic?
If nothing, I’m apologetic.I already used the subject of Death
till I ran out of breath.
I already wrote of sex and women
and gender-based Evolution
for giving babies birth.
I spoke of dimensional earth
and orbiting into outer space.
Can I come up with a new ace
and enter into it face to face?
Sure. I promise readers not to bore them
with trash not worth reading.
To the task can they be worth breeding?
To teach readers how to read,
am I aiming for a new verbal breed?
Then give me a new seed and how to plant.
Sign me up for a new subject to grant.
I’ll alert the Muse to inspire me,
and if I’m wild, how to umpire me
to get the ball over the plate.
Perhaps they’ll swing too late.
If my fielders behind me do the job,
I promise the ball not to merely lob,
but spin it like to Ty Cobb.
Should he hit it, let the fielders rob,
with glovework to dazzle,
while I chirp and razzle.
My curve dips and dives
to catch the batters’ lives.
When they droop home,
their wives try not to foam.
They go right to sleep
and snore not a peep.
Their dreams forget to move,
since they’ve lost the groove.
A cloud with an inferiority complex was too shy to compete with other (more fluffed out) clouds, for a place in tomorrow’s sky pageantry that would feature a parade across the top, followed immediately by a spectacular rain storm just before dark, causing theatre goers inconvenience, who were too fooled by optimistic weather reports to fetch umbrellas.
The inferiority complex was well merited. Its cloud owner was scrawny with grey patchy parts that could barely connect with their major central body. The other clouds scorned it with contempt. Cloud Land was an Evolution-like struggle for survival and supremacy, like a dog-eat-dog world without the barking. Anyway, as it turned out, the inferiority-wracked cloud gained
enough uncharacteristic moxie to gate-crash the sky pageantry as its surprising underdog star, indicating there’s hope for too-shy competitors in other life competitions unblemished by sentimental endings.
To be able to avert a fearful disaster,
and run away from it faster,
put yourself under the protection of Fear,
so imminent danger won’t get too near.
Then cling to the consolations of safety,
and enjoy the comforts of coffee and pastry.
To get away QUICKER from disaster,
PANIC will enable you to run even faster.
Again, take refuge under sweet Fear,
that prevents a horrible outcome from coming too near.
Always look behind you to guard the arrear,
so you won’t give yourself too bum a steer.
All glory to your protector: Fear,
without which, you would have been long dead,
with many atrocities damaging your head,
so you even take too much refuge in your bed
to escape, via sleep and dreams,
from nightmarish screams.
All is not quite the same way it seems.
Before risking a boat ride, I take a peek
at the bottom, to see if there’s a leak.
This is precaution against drowning.
Who wants to be crowning
his own demise at the sea’s bottom,
all because down below was rotten?
When the brine gets into my lungs,
I’m so scared that I release my dungs.
Reader, let this not happen to you.
The bottom contains too fishy a view
if you read that leak all the way through.
So cling to your safety above all,
so out of the mud you won’t have to crawl.
When you’re about to enter a boat,
be certain it will be able to float.
Once assured, be happy and gloat.
Then away you’ll go sailing,
every precaution now availing
to prevent any future ailing.
Don’t be victim to a watery splash
that eventually consigns your corpse to ash.
When your musical creation has a sour note,
“Delete it!” is the prevailing critical vote.
Any work of art that’s quite imperfect
should give a ruthless goodbye to its prominent defect.
A painting should have such impeccable unity,
that a false color should leave without impunity.
A sculpture whose sculptor added a sixth finger
should not allow that marble or granite to linger.
Any poem written for the heart
should eagerly see a disharmonious rhyme depart.
Such is the unsparing nature of every art.
Therefore, a novel whose heroine is immoral
should not have its second edition under restoral.
Rectify what’s wrong
by making a change.
But if things are already OK,
keep them going the same way.
Play the radical
when things are radically wrong.
Play the conservative
when you’ve struck the right way to live.
Live of course in your comfort zone
where things come into their own.
But depression and melancholy
need a new tack to make things jolly.
In that case, not to change is folly.
So see what’s going on
for what to base your strategy upon.
Judge what’s the product
of your recent conduct.
Preserve it or revise
according to what seems wise.
Then you’ll be a wise guy,
according to the way the wind will fly.
The future can be engineered
depending on what you enjoyed or feared,
but don’t be deceived by what only appeared.
To whatever goes on, be geared.
On the eve itself, be happy new yeared,
so with plenty to drink, be cheered.
But if you don’t play up, be jeered.
A cloud and a clock had a competition.
If it came to a draw, there’d be a repetition.
The cloud claimed the advantage of height.
The clock claimed a mechanical superiority
by mechanistic expertise.
The cloud claimed it could float on a breeze.
The clock claimed to be so timely
that the cloud diminished to tiny.
Juries and referees came in to judge,
but neither side was willing to budge.
A math expert came in, knowing high division.
Each side regarded the other with derision.
So when a verdict was given, it was “no decision.”
But the cloud and the clock figured it out
that the result would remain in permanent doubt.
Thus harmony won out between the opponents,
leading each to hug its individual components.
Whenever I go into the kitchen,
the appetite on my belly starts itchin’,
so if I don’t get food, I’ll start bitchin’.
I fill my belly to an obese extent,
so I don’t know where my slim figure went,
since all my extra poundage has been spent
on excess pleasure at the table.
To fill my belly, I’m more than able.
Then, puffed up like a frog or toad,
I have to go to discharge my load
into the bathroom’s ivory toilet.
If that’s too difficult? I’ll toil it.
If it won’t come out of my ass? I’ll oil it.
Any remains of left-over food? I’ll boil it.
Why waste any food at all?
Get the left-over at the toilet stall.
If you mix up digestion and elimination,
remember that you’re a patriot of this fine nation.
Throughout my life, I’ve always had some kind of future.
But now, at ninety plus, I barely have any.
So I proceed to invent imaginary ones
that serve as unreachable daydreams
describing a whole lot of impractical schemes.
All the stationery I waste in reams
to write down these elaborate devices
can be crumbled up. And my future’s gone,
like a dead old swan on a dirty pond
I spend remaining life to ponder upon.
Why not my own human past,
whose effect on me was so vast?
I too much mourn that it couldn’t last.
Before that, it was one big beautiful blast.
My bony hand crumbles my baldness
into bundles of imaginary hair
that realistically just aren’t there.
My brainless skull conceives of cloudless air
in an empty universe where corpses stare.
Am I then about to croak?
I’m sorry. This is no joke.
So now that I’m about to relinquish my state,
with whom can I conduct an endless debate?
Myself, if I can find him,
so continually assigned him.
Together, we’ll be both dim.
Pursuing inspiration as a writer,
I got bogged down. So then I became a fighter
in the game of fooling around with the written word.
But my efforts turned out absurd.
Readers tried in vain to make sense,
but the lines I wrote got nowhere -- too dense.
They gave no readers a lift
from my so-called literary gift.
My method of writing was to emphasize thrift,
by saying the most in the fewest words.
But I filled my stationery with waste,
and had to resort to glue or paste.
Maybe I simply lacked taste?
I appealed to publishers in vain.
To reject me, those scum couldn’t refrain.
So what happened to my profession?
It flew away from my possession,
leading to an almost clinical depression.
But then I made a comeback,
and leapfrogged to fame on celebrity’s back.
To redeem myself, how had I taken the right track?
That remains a total mystery,
unable to trace my creative history
in the strange and weird inner world
from which arbitrary words became unfurled.
What’s next on my agenda,
having to be life’s spender,
with no more prospect of splendor
except the option to surrender?
I’ve squandered my entire youth,
leaving old age to be my final truth.
Can I protest? No, I’m mute.
After all this, then what’s left?
The dubious privilege of being bereft.
Wonderful times happened to me.
But now my rusty ghost yearns to be free.
Medically I’ve so deteriorated
that my chances of survival are nil-rated.
To doom and Death I’m fated.
Will future hope make me elated?
No. Things are even worse than stated.
If I’m still pleading for the element of hope,
I should give up, unless I’m a prize dope,
having reached already the end of my rope.
With blind eyes, where can I further grope?
Happening to meet Death by chance,
I kiss goodbye to Life’s romance,
and tear up my Invitation to the Dance.
Marvin Cohen is the author of many novels, plays, and collections of essays, stories, and poems. His shorter work has appeared in over 100 magazines and books, including: Ambit, Antaeus, Assembling, Center Magazine, Cricket Addict’s Archive, Essaying Essays, Extensions, Harper’s Bazaar, Hudson Review, Monk’s Pond, The Nation, National Camp Director’s Guide, New Directions in Prose andPoetry, The New York Times, Plays from the New York Shakespeare Festival, The Pushcart Prize, Quarterly Review of Literature, Salmagundi, Sun and Moon, Transatlantic Review, The Village Voice, Vogue (UK), and Wormwood Review. His work has been performed on radio and theatres in the USA and the UK, including readings at the Poets at the Public Series, featuring, amongst others, Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn.
Born in Brooklyn in 1931, Cohen has described himself as one who has “risen from lower-class background to lower-class foreground.” He studied art at Cooper Union but left college to focus on writing, supporting himself with a series of odd jobs, from mink farmer to merchant seaman. He later taught creative writing at various New York colleges, including The New School, the City College of New York and Adelphi University.
For a long time, Marvin Cohen has lived in the Lower East Side, New York City, with his wife Candace.