Reflections of an Aging Moon

Great brassy stalks of varicolored horns
Blow notes to keep the bees awake at noon.
Immersed in gaudy zinnia’s stippled forms,
They dance and flit, in homage to the moon.

Among the varied shapes and hues, a muse
Cavorts in blue-strewn, stuff-crimped marigolds
More crimson than a girl would ever use
To rouge her lips. Each snowy, waving fold
Of Spiraea, and the lily’s pleat,
So pristine, and on her bronzed skin so cold,
Combine to make her robes rich and complete.

The ancient orb thinks he may be too old,
So goes on moving tides, and makes it rain,
While wishing he were young and lithe again.



Painting His Portrait

Each time she thinks of him, she makes a leaf
Of black on canvas. Such a sweet relief
To frame his lying and deceitful tongue
With colors dark and doleful, for when done
She thinks of binding him within a book,
Where she’d not go unless she cared to look
At ragged remnants of a distant dream—
But then she thought she’d rather smile than scream,
So went on painting him as best she could:
His stony eyes, cracked brain, that heart of wood.

When finished, in the thunder and the rain
She wiped the surface of emotion’s stain,
And found that she had drawn an awful face
Exploding from an asymmetric vase.



The Poet’s Coat

Blue as the jay that haunts my door,
Deep as the sky is, just before
Clouds arrive with wind that rises,
This coat came in several sizes.

One single size hung on the rack.
I bought it, though it strained in back.
The sleeves were short and awkward. Then
I gave it to a Hobbit, when
He crossed my garden in the rain.
Now Hobbit strolls the rainy lane,
Stays dry, or walks about in Spain
As I pursue my quest again,
Searching for sharpness and surprise—
Sweet differences which soothe my eyes.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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25 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    This is beautifully written, beautifully resonant poetry that calls you to read it again and again, as I have been all morning.

    Thank you, Sally Cook.

  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Joe —
    Thanks so much for these perceptive comments, from one who has come so far, so fast ! There is such an abundance and variety of poetry on this site, for which we can thank Evan Mantyk, whoe tireless efforts have given all of us a place from which to speak.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Sally, Amen to the lovely, lyrical images conjured by means of your winsome words.

      (And Amen to your comment regarding Evan, as well.)

      . . . And isn’t it curious that various cultures have interwoven into our own to create the unusual case where an object such as the moon can be equally referenced poetically as being male (“he”), female (“she”), or none of the above (“it”)?

      I found the closing three lines in your first poem particularly endearing—leading me to embrace it as my favorite of the three.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    It’s no secret that I like Sally Cook’s poetry very much, and that we are good friends of long standing. So there’s no need for me to sing her praises effusively. But let me at least say that these three poems represent the kind of mature and professional work that the movement towards revived classical poetry in English should be producing.

    The first sonnet is a startling conflation of floral imagery and color with the unexpected conceit of a moon that is growing old — either in the simple sense of its waning phases, or in the larger sense of an individual aging into a regretful elderliness. Only poetry can concoct that kind of mysterious alloy.

    The second sonnet is an illustration of what Renaissance critics called “ut pictura, poesis” — a shorthand way of saying “as the painter works, so does the poet.” This is an unsparing portrait (in words, not paint) of an unpleasant and evil individual, but the words are used just as a painter uses his palette to choose and mix the appropriate colors for the depiction. In this case, the only colors mentioned are “black,” and “colors dark and doleful.” That Cook is an accomplished artist whose work hangs in several museums is a guarantee that her poetry will always have a strong element of painterliness in it.

    The third poem in tetrameters is sheer playfulness and fun. The narrator-poet buys a blue coat off the rack, being taken with its lovely color, but it doesn’t fit well. So she gives it to a Hobbit, thus pushing the poem into the realm of pure fantasy at line 8, precisely where the traditional “volta” should come. The poet then brings the story to closure with “her quest” — which is the search for “sharpness and surprise.” And those things are EXACTLY what every good poet should be aiming for.

    • Sally Cook

      To Joseph S. Salemi –
      Dear Joe –Please forgive my stupid mistake. I was trying to send two messages at once; it didn’t work. The computer is a
      sly and wily beast, and it really has it in for me.
      But that is no excuse. Please know that I am honored by what you said about me, and also my work.
      I am glad to see that you mentioned the Renaissance. I love the early part very much; the murals and paintings. The thing about them is that they are so modern! When I see so-called contermporary painting going for high prices and ensconced in museums, I think of the cave paintings; attempts at crude representation, whereas the Renaissance uplifted and illuminated mankind. Many of those 14th century portraits could have been done yesterday, in terms of composition and brushwork.
      I am so grateful for your help over the years. One of the best things you have ever said to me is that a poem is a “Fictive Artifact. ” That has helped me immeasurably and I mention it now on the chance that it may strike a chord with some other poet.
      Thanks, Joe, for everything!

  4. Leo Zoutewelle

    All three poems were absolutely, well yeah, stunning. I loved them.
    Thank you very much!

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Sally, your poems are a sensory delight. The mellifluous words trip off the tongue beautifully, with the deft employment of assonance adding to the effect – “zinnia’s stippled” and “blue-strewn” are delicious. “The Poet’s Coat” is my favorite; its quirky wonder appeals to my taste. All three poems illuminate the page and fire the senses. For me, they are magical. Thank you, my friend!

    • Sally Cook

      Susan, there is al.ways something unique in what you say – no one could ever accuse you of being dull. You are immensely productive, and on a very high level. The style and content of your work always resonates. And so I say, thanks for the compliments !!

  6. Rod Walford

    Lovely rich imagery Sally – and what an awesome response from Prof Salemi which just about says it all. If your poetry were paintings I would definitely have them hanging on my walls. Great work!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Rod, as it happens, her paintings are poetry, which I discovered when I was fortunate enough to take the virtual tour for which a link was provided some months back. What you see in her poetry are the verbal analogs to what Sally, the painter, makes use of on her canvases or whatever sunstratum she happens to employ: juxtaposition, imagery, clashes or harmonies of color, impeccable lines, and form. Having read at least a couple of her books, I can tell you that the range of topics with which she engages is impressive, but all her poems bear the stamp of the inimitable Cook perspective.

      • Rod Walford

        Thank you C.B. for letting me know. I had no idea Sally was a painter but I can’t say I’m surprised as quite often poets possess multiple creative and artistic talents.

      • Sally Cook

        Dear C.B. —
        Your seeing this connection is a wonderful gift to me.
        Do you recall a certain editor telling us both that trees do not communicate? We both knew that everything communicates, and how we laughed at such a thought ! The point being that though there is a mystery woven into our differences and similarities. Our varied paths sometimes intersect.
        I am so glad you decided to walk my path while on this site today. Thanks, Kip, and welcome ! Let’s get together more often.

    • Sally Cook

      Rod, first I must thank you for your imaginative response to my poems 1
      But are you sure you want to hang my poems on your walls” I can be a bit acerbic at times, and we all know that acid not ood for paper. You might be better served if you actually hang one of my paintings in their stead !
      Although, just last week someone accused me of being cynical, and if that isn’t corrosive, I don’t know what is.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Well yes, Sally, the editor who told us this was a virtual savage, but I want to let you know that I recently enjoyed your latest at Expansive Poetry Online. For every new formalist venue, two or three bite the dust, but still, somehow, we stay ahead of the game. Our efforts, if nothing else, become more concentrated.

  7. Sally Cook.

    The way I see it, Kip, we can either be mourning doves and sit in the ditch and wait for death, or be meadowlarks and go out singing. I will be voting for song, as I believe you will.

  8. David Watt

    Sally, the whimsy of “The Poet’s Coat” is my favorite of the three poems. This is because you have created a detailed and vivid tale from the starting point of a simple coat. The color and richness of language in each poem is impressive.

  9. Sally Cook

    Thank you, David, for verbalizing what I view as the essence of poetry. Anything has a kernel of illumination; it is up to us as poets to find it. The more vigorous our search, the better poets we become.

  10. Margaret Coats

    Sally, I hope you’re back for happy autumn moon-viewing! The moon poem is a potent exercise in unexpected symbol. Classic Japanese flower arranging tells us to choose just one bloom (not a bouquet), and to make it one that has recently opened. If it’s an exquisite, fully opened flower, the observer of ikebana sees something unattractive, because decay obviously comes next. But you bring us the muse in her full glory, maybe even past full bloom. Then, not accepting the usual observer, you pair her with the Aging Moon–not Diana but Tecciztecatl. Even he is so overcome he thinks he’s too old. Still, lunar epiphanies are coherent. He goes on with the fertility functions of rain and tides, providing for the next crop of flowers. But the greatest thing here is that the moon (unlike the flowers) is in a constant cycle of renewal, and what obviously comes next for him is the lithe new moon. You don’t need to say it, that’s just how symbols work, but you’ve definitely fulfilled his wish if we read this symbolically.

    • Sally Cook

      Margaret, thank you for this very scholarly interpretation of my moon poem. I do write a lot about the moon and I am sure will continue to do so. But I must confess that most of my symbols are so deeply ingrained in my mind that I almost never think of them in such terms. In fact, plants and planets, when I write about them, take on their symbolic meaning without any help from me. You might call me an intuitive symbol-maker. In other words, the objects, planets and flowers I write about have already developed intent and personality; all I do is put them in a situation where they may interact.
      I suppose this makes me a real oddball. Well,
      that’s just the way it is.

      Since you have such a talent for telling me what I’ve said, I
      would love to see a book in which each of my poems would be interpreted symbolically by you. No one before you has ever come close, and many thanks !

  11. Margaret Coats

    Sally, as an intuitive symbol-maker, you are by no means an oddball! I would say, you are purposefully doing what came naturally to most people in pre-modern societies. We are out of touch with symbols, and you as an artist are using your intuition to bring them back. You don’t look at a book to find out what the moon means; you look at the moon, and with human intuition, you discover what it means in the natural world, and to traditional human cultures (even when you are not aware of which culture). As I pointed out (having looked at a book!), a male moon made sense to the Aztecs and others, and you used the moon symbol the way they did.

    You are working with symbols in the only way that can have real power. Someone who doesn’t follow your procedure, but arbitrarily wrenches symbols out of nature and culture, ends up with flabby work. Still, you might be interested in what my two favorite books on symbols have to say, because they are thoroughly based on what is found in a variety of cultures, and they tell you about these cultures, not about useless theories. If you like, I’ll send you the moon pages from these books. Just send Evan an e-mail letting him know you want to get in touch with me.

    • Sally Cook

      Margaret, as usual my e-mail is acting up. Electronics seem to hate me. As a result I have been unable to contact Evan.
      Would you, could you forward the following to Evan? MKany thanks; just please let me know if you can do it.

      Dear Evan –
      Bad actions emanating from my computer per usual. I would like Margaret Coats to be able to contact me. Could you arrange this?
      Also I wish to pay for the latest book, and the fee to join the Society. Coiuld I mail you the cost for these?
      Thank you –
      Sally Cook

      • Margaret Coats

        I sent an e-mail to Evan telling him what you say, and asking him to look here for confirmation!

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