Advice from the Untalented

They smugly said I’d never make much money
From playing with my words and making art,
That it would be a waste to spread such honey
So any fool could tear the thing apart.

“Forget it! You have always been contrarian.
There’s money to be made and you’d be right
As an accountant, teacher or librarian.
You’ve got your back, your feet are good, your sight
Is sure. Why waste these on this silly dream?
A decent mattress beats a lumpy bed.
Instead of linen coarse in which you scream,
You’ll muffle tears in silken sheets instead.
They only pay an artist when he’s dead!”

I’m far too mean to die—I’ll wait, I said.

—from Lucid Rhythms



Literary Wildlife

When passing through the woods you sometimes see
A baleful eye or two, deep in a tree,
Just looking down on, sneering at your rhymes;
You sense they think all form and scansion crimes.

Snakes slither up each stanza, wait to squeeze
All meaning into every passing breeze.
Sly beetle shapes weave grasses in a rope—
To trip you up, they’ll criticize a trope.

The next to come are bureaucratic owls.
Who? Editors and critics, mean old fowls,
Sitting in judgment, looking down their beaks,
To give your poems little pecks and tweaks.

Most anything that smacks of language that
Is strong will cause a bitter little bat
To swoop down on your writing, take a bite,
Transform it into something he might write.

In hidden caves they squeak in unison,
But not one creature, when the squeaking’s done,
No, none of these pathetic little nerds
Can say just how your writing’s for the birds.

Assorted snails trail slime across the page
As webs are stretched to stop you at each stage.
I think the worst are deer who stand around,
Do nothing, roll their eyes and paw the ground.



Revising the Sabines

Grandmother and mother saw
How quickly this bad girl could draw
Her version of the art of love.
What could this child be thinking of?

Of course it wasn’t what she ought
To do, and there was little thought,
But what was high art in their eyes
A little child should not revise.
Re-paint the rape of Sabine Women?
Simple. Every hair and dimple
On the nipples of the women
Only made them seem more human.

I wish I had that drawing of
My seven-year-old take on love.
The painting did not matter much—
My eye, superior to touch,
Took in the turmoil of a scene;
The plump pressed up against the lean.
The tumult of those bodies there
Engaged my earnest, questioning stare
The way some other children scrawl
Their future on a walk or wall.



The Errant Child

She was the one who couldn’t dance,
Whose foot turned inward in high shoes.
And in the third grade, wet her pants
When faced with the astounding news
That earth revolved, and not each cloud.

So, she was ousted from the crowd—
There’s always one who won’t atone.
The solar system’s set in stone;
Of this, no one could so persuade her;
No moving planet could dissuade her.
She still thought clouds moved round the earth
And thought earth an immobile girth.



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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19 Responses

  1. ABB

    Overly practical boors really are the worst. Hope you have attended many a naysayer’s funeral.

    • Sally Cook

      Rarely attend funerals; never ones for Literary Owls or Slithery Snails. I could never outlive them all. Beware, Andrew, beware.
      They are lurking in the trees; among the stanzas.

  2. Cheryl Corey

    I enjoyed all, especially Literary Wildlife, with lines such as “Assorted snails trail slime across the page”, which gave me a good laugh. Thanks, Sally.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Cheryl – Laughing is sometimes the only thing there is.

  3. Shaun C. Duncan

    These are all wonderful, Sally. ‘Literary Wildlife’ is particularly clever with it’s foul menagerie and pungent use of language. ‘The Errant Child’ is almost painfully beautiful by contrast.

    • Sally Cook

      Shaun. you seem to have “the eye” as it is xometimes called. This is something which must be passed along from another who has had it, come from an actual practitioner of an art, or an apprciator of the same.

      During our last serious converssation, my crusit old English landlady suddenly looied me inj the ;eye and said YOU HAVE THE EYE! Then in normal tones she continued our conversation.
      So, Shaun I say SHAUN, YOU HAVE THE EYE.

      Use it well; pass it on – you will know when’.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Literary Wildlife” is a perfect little allegory of how the modernist literary establishment (both for prose and poetry) works pre-emptively to crush any form of expression that does not fit certain approved patterns. It functions not only in the editorial offices, but among the paid-up whores on retainer in our English departments, the many writing programs and workshops, and in the grant-giving foundations.

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Sally, I love all your work and to have four come along is a treat indeed. I can no longer look a deer in the eye again, and “ Advice from the Untalented” reminded me of a quote from a saxophonist friend of mine that said, “If I hadn’t been a musician, I could have been good at something.”
    “Revising the Sabines” is my favourite but “The Errant Child” painted a most poignant image.
    I wonder if any of your artwork is online?
    A most enjoyable quartet, thank you.

  6. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Sally, thank you for sharing your beautiful poems. The first one artfully and succinctly displays the kind of grit an artist or poet requires in today’s world; I’d even go so far as to say this applies to appreciators of good art and poetry. The last is also a brilliant exposition of a character. So much is said with so little. I wonder if this is autobiographical, but on the other hand it doesn’t really matter.

    • Sally Cook

      Evan, thanks for your kind comments
      Yes, a lot of the poems are autobiographical. At least they start out that way. But as a poem grows it becomes
      an entity unto itself, and may require change. So if January becomes May to make a better rhyme, so be it.
      I am a poet, not a biographer. Or I am a biographer, but in a larger sense, which makes a larger sense.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Dearest Sally, what a wonderful treat – four magnificent Cook Creations in a row! I simply adore the closing couplet of your opening sonnet, and as for the sibilant snakes in the second stanza of ‘Literary Wildlife’ (my favorite) – superb! Your voice is unique and relatable. Your closing two poems transported me back to my childhood thoughts and deeds… with a smile of recognition. Thank you for making my dull morning shine.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear S
      Thank you for your support in this stressful and yes, nightmarish time. We must all remain staunch and steady. Write when you have time; I will, too.


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