Sunday 4 June 2023

Four Poems by Robert Cooperman


Reciting “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”


The first time I heard that poem

was on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,

hilarious cartoons about a flying squirrel

and his pal, a dim, lovable moose.


The show wasn’t really for kids,

with satire skits on the Cold War,

the space race, and puns so rarified

they flew over my head like Rocky

zooming into the stratosphere,

before he’d alight on Bullwinkle’s antlers


I’d watch with my dad, laugh-tears

runneling his jaws at sly references

more tart than lemonade.

The one segment I did get, Bullwinkle

reciting poetry: “Stopping by Woods

on a Snowy Evening” the one I remembered

and could recite, but only in his reedy-poet voice.


Otherwise, the words fled me, like the court

beauties who dallied with Elizabethan poet,

Thomas Wyatt, before he committed

something unpardonable in the game

of courtly amours.


Years later, I’d recite the poem at parties

in Bullwinkle’s voice, to friends’

stomping approval, and recalled

my dad’s happy tears at the Cold War

connivings of Boris and Natasha,

the mischief of Martians Gibney and Cloyd:


Dad’s laughter still ringing.


Chekhov’s Gun


“Chekhov’s Gun” postulates:

if there’s a gun in a play’s first act,

it must be fired by the end of the second,

or don’t show or mention the weapon at all.


Beth and I used to love Kung-Fu,

a 70’s TV series featuring a banished

shaolin monk wandering the Old West,

spouting Hollywood-Taoist wisdom,

saving the innocent and reluctantly

fighting bad men with guns,

who never stood a chance against

his choreographed martial arts razzle-dazzle.


Alas, in real life, the bad guys with guns

always win, when they shoot up

supermarkets, houses of worship, schools:

anywhere people congregate in large,

targetable numbers: the killers leaving trails


of blood and body parts that Chekhov,

who trained as a doctor, would’ve been

so horrified by, he might’ve said instead,


“Never show a gun, never, never:

good drama doesn’t require one.”


A Game of Chess


In Bergman’s The Seventh Seal,

a Knight—a visual pun on the chess piece

that can move in devious patterns—

returns disillusioned from the Crusades

and plays a game of chess with Death,


partly to try to escape the fate

he’s been summoned to,

partly to give his wife, squire,

and new friends—a woodcutter,

his cheating wife, the head

of a troupe of traveling actors,

the company’s acrobat, his delectable wife,

and their adorable child—a chance to elude

the Hooded Angel’s fatal patience.

The Knight loses, but his delaying tactics

save that holy family of strolling players. 


A buddy and I were once so transfixed

by American Bobby Fischer beating

the Soviet grandmaster, Boris Spassky,

we took a chess set to the park.

One game proved how hopeless I was:


far more adept, these days, at arranging

the vials of meds I’m forced to take

for more maladies than I can remember:

popping the pills with glasses of water,

turning the bottles upside down, not

to resign the game, but so I know

I’ve taken my daily dosage; even if,


they’ll prove as futile

as that overmatched Knight’s gambits

in my own endgame. 


Writing the Great American Novel


Every morning for the past two weeks,

Tom wakes with a ballpoint pen

on his chest, and wonders if space

aliens had dropped them there.

Or if a crossword-purist ghost

was taunting that his using a pencil

was an act of cowardice.


Last night, the mystery was solved:

when Tom staggered to the bathroom

a few hours after a second glass

of good white wine

with his wife over dinner.

Their cat was padding up the stairs,

a pen in her mouth as if a dead bird

or mouse love-gift.


“Ah,” Tom bent and took the pen,

and wondered if it was just that

she’d seen him writing checks

and thought he wanted to cherish

that cylinder, as she might a litter,

if she could.


Or maybe, Tom thinks, while alcohol

streams, then dribbles, out of him,

she wants him to write

the Great American Novel,

and he remembers the carton—

still in the basement—he’d filled

in college with character sketches,  

scenes, but never wrote that book.


“What else,” he asks himself, 

“is there to do in retirement?”

the crosswords, even Saturday’s

labyrinths, too easy.

Robert Cooperman's latest collection is BEARING THE BODY OF HECTOR HOME (FutureCycle Press).  Forthcoming from Kelsay Books is HELL AT COCK'S CROW, a sonnet sequence about pirates.

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