La Muerte

In those days, no king ruled in Ithaca.
A pack moved in with communist ideals:
An orgy funded by another’s store.
Wine flowed like beer, with all the women free.

All except one. Plus one too old to count.
The old order withdrew in toothlessness,
And kept to margins, crags, followed the flocks,
Or practiced the lost arts and spun and wove.

The queen cross-stitched like prisoners do puzzles.
Her backward method passed for meaningless.
The sharks swam circles ever closer to her.
Wolves jostled, nudged her shoulder meaningly.

He tests his bowstring. And the note rings true.
The bandits start: the walls are bare of darts.
He hunts the hunters now. No deals, no doors.
The rule of law. The wheel. The wall. The king.



La Bota

Spit and polish. We were taught to hate this.
The boot comes down and grinds the human face.
Whether it’s left or right, we hate the boot.
Planted on the chair, filliped with the whip.

We hate and fear it. We were taught to lick this.
To lick while hating. And the shinier
The boot the less we like it, knowing well
What spit it took to make that polish bright.

Sylvia’s shriek still sounding in the halls.
I could not think of one good thing to say,
One thing that would be not just good but true,
Until I pictured you on your white horse.

Remember Washington. And Valley Forge.
The threadbare costumes and the broken boots,
The blue and suffering frost-bitten feet
Sloshing for love through rivers of defeat.



Monika Cooper is an American family woman.

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10 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both poems are striking and vivid. I don’t know why they have Spanish titles (Death and The Boot).

    The description of the bad situation in Ithaka, and how Odysseus kills all the suitors, is refreshingly sharp and harsh — as it should be, which is why blank verse is a good choice.

    The second poem uses Orwell’s image of the future (“a boot stamping on a human face — forever”) and develops it with unpleasant amplifications — once again, the subject requires this. I don’t grasp the reference to “Sylvia,” and the last two quatrains are something of a puzzle to me. But I know the poem is certainly serious and deadly.

    • Monika Cooper

      Sylvia is Sylvia Plath, who has a line about “the boot in the face.” Her shriek has a double edge in the poem: it’s a wailing witness against tyranny and a noise that gets in the way of discerning all that is worthy of reverence in the patriarchy.

      The poems have Spanish titles because they come from a larger series, based on the Loteria deck. There’s a poem for each card of the 54.

      Thank you for reading and appreciating these and for your comment. It means a lot to me.

  2. Tiree MacGregor

    Strong ending to the first poem, though I might be more reserved in the use of the sentence fragment, which, however, works well enough there and is used well, if often, in the second poem.

    (Sentence fragments are an interesting problem for the poet. Often more of one for the reader. Take on qualities of a virus.)

    In “La Bota,” I find myself wondering about minor matters, a couple of word choices (“filliped,” “broken”) and about the “Sylvia” allusion.

    As to the latter, the uninitiated reader will be left wondering, while many who know of Plath will assume or suspect that reference. Only those who know of Plath and recall her line about the boot in the face will feel sure. Then, however, is the question of the speaker’s point and perspective. But the latter become clear with the next two lines, “I could not think of one good thing to say/ One thing that would be not just good but true,” which form the turn. The last stanza is, nicely, the strongest. I’d dispense with line one’s sentence fragment, though.

    Still not sure about “filliped,” I concede that boots can indeed be “broken,” at the sole. There’s just this lingering slight sense of oddness about “broken boots,” as we’re not likely to use or hear the phrase. Bones, plates, marriages, yes; boots, okay.

    Two very solid poems. Thank you, thank you.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and reservations!). I have a pious debt to quite a few modernist poets (and a past death struggle with Sylvia Plath): hence, fragments. Perhaps the question to ask about fragments is: do they make a whole? I’m glad you found these solid and honored by your comment.

  3. Margaret Coats

    I like them both, Monika. “La Muerte” lets us know the scene (Ithaca) immediately, and develops it as a picture of deadness. We almost wonder how “the rule of law” could bring any vivacity. “La Bota” is a brief but complex piece based on an object known in words that have become commonplace. Its difficulty is how to connect the three portions. I see no overlap of stanzas 1 and 2 with stanza 3, and stanza 4 is yet a different view of boots. Stanza 3 is not necessarily problematic because of “Sylvia”: I didn’t recognize Plath, but the poem up to then is in the first person plural, and I imagined “Sylvia” could be one of a group. “You” on the white horse is the real conundrum here. It can’t be Sylvia, but who? Seems you depart to Valley Forge without making a suggestion.

    I’ve come to recognize fragments of sentences as an element of your personal style, but recall it is only one of a vast array of means by which a poet can lead a reader. In much modern verse, it evidences sloth and sloppiness. The Romantics wrote fragment poems which they expected readers to finish, or to enjoy as incomplete works. These procedures may please some readers, but they can come to neglect the discipline of thought and art. Think about what you’re doing with this technique, because inviting the reader to free associations offers a limited benefit to you as an artist.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you for your comment, Margaret. Glad you liked them. Your perspective is always welcome.

      Ithaca: not dead, but certainly damaged. “You” in La Bota: maybe it wouldn’t be so mysterious in the context of the larger series I mention in my comment to Joseph Salemi above. Why do we have to be cryptic as poets sometimes? I think it’s related to what I call the “metaphor shelter” or to anonymity (on the internet and through the ages): it’s because it’s time to begin to articulate something new that needs a temporary covering to grow under until conditions are favorable for full revelation. There’s something like strategy involved. “Because the shoots can’t bear a sudden rush.”

      I wasn’t sure about publishing pieces from my series separately but thought it would be a good bridge between a long silence and publishing them as a book. And so far it seems to be. I’m very happy with the response I’ve received on this site and from others.

      Anyway, I will take your thoughts with me to my unwritten April pages. And thank you again!

  4. Shaun C. Duncan

    I enjoyed both poems, Monika. ‘La Muerte’ is a great retelling of the latter part of The Odyssey and you’ve done well to load the first 14 lines with enough tension that the violence in the final pair is pleasingly cathartic. I think the sentence fragments also work well in this regard. I have no problem with modernist touches like this; in fact, I find them less troubling than some of the hyperbaton and tortured syntax you often find in older poetry.

    ‘La Bota’ is a powerful piece and I enjoyed the contrasting vision of boots in the final stanza. As for Sylvia, I assumed it was a reference to Plath, but I’m not all that familiar with her work so I missed the “boot in the face” connection. However, the mere mention of her name brought to mind something similar to the double-edged reading of her shriek you describe to in your reply to Dr. Salemi above, so I’d say the allusion was effective over all.

    • Monika Cooper

      Shaun, thank you for stopping by to read and for your comment. You should know I can’t not read a poem of yours when one appears. I’m glad you found these poems — with all their fragments and allusions! — effective.

      Margaret’s comment above has forced me to examine the function of “sentence fragments” in my own work and others’. Maybe the best (pre-modern, pre-Romantic) instance of this phenomenon is George Herbert’s “Prayer (I)”. What get called “sentence fragments” are often not so much fragments as actual sentences, in which something (subject, verb) is understood. And that’s, of course, how Herbert’s marvelous catalog of fragments ends: with “something understood.” Using fragments is a gesture of trust in our reader to supply what’s needed for understanding, not by “free association” but from context, and from awakened sympathy with our living thought. Completing the arc — the imagination loves that!

      Who’s in Herbert’s class? Absolutely no one, among the aspiring or the great. But art wants to imitate the careless order, the carefree glory, of God. And wisdom is vindicated in her children.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I’d like to mention one thing about sentence fragments. All that you say about their use is true, and they do have an excellent effect sometimes. I also find that on occasion it is very good to write a poem in which the verbs of being are completely ellipsed. This makes for an impressionistic but intense concentration of diction. The skilled reader knows that he is being given a list of things, and the pile-up of items or vignettes becomes more vivid and suggestive. Of course, it works best with shorter poems, but the late John Whitworth did it with some of his longer pieces.

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