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La Campana

Ring, grandfather! And ring for liberty.
The bell spoke once and, speaking, croaked and cracked.
Our gazes bathed its iron in gold hazes
As Hebrews treasured tablets their sin split.

Its silent iron: I will ring again.
We have a problem—witnessed by the crack.
The groan of Washington,—like Moses’ finger,
Accusing, warning, – joined that hollow clap.

It was the very law we loved we broke.
The flaw was in the casting of the gong.
But every March the acorns burst and break
In sunrise pinks, sprouting their soft Spring fangs.

The crack is an escape hatch. Follow me.
It is our right, it is our duty. Climb.
Where we go one, we go all. It is late.
Four bells will tell the new day’s rising time.

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Note: “Four bells”: 6 o’ clock in the morning, by ship’s bell.

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El Pino

to Christ our Lord

The stalk is tall and way up at the top
The branches sway, a grain-head in the breeze.
The ranks of pine trees stagger in their march
Unto the vanishing and trick the eye.

Your royal countenance of Lebanon
Found me lost in the woods. Closing my eyes
So we could be alone, I met you there.
You met me, where the forest stood like smoke.

Tree mirrored tree, in endless mirror halls.
My faraway reflection wasn’t me.
A wood spirit? Your gaze enfolded her
In miles of needles and in velvet darks.

And all so still. Was that a roof I saw?
Or were those rafters attics of the trees?
A groaning deep as Pentecost possessed me.
The branches swayed like grain-heads in the breeze.

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Monika Cooper is an American family woman.


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17 Responses

  1. James Sale

    These are beautiful poems; beautiful in both senses of their subject matter and the craftsmanship that informs the writing. I particularly like La Campana and the lines ‘It was the very law we loved we broke. / The flaw was in the casting of the gong.’ which seems to epitomise the whole human condition exceedingly well. Congratulations: this is poetry of a very high order.

    Reply
  2. Brian A Yapko

    Monika, both of these poems are exquisite descriptions of things/places which carry great meaning. I love your poem on the Liberty Bell and particularly like your brilliant imagery of Moses’ finger and the idea that the crack “is an escape hatch.” Also, the reference to acorns which must crack in order to germinate.

    I also love your imagery in “El Pino” with a special shout-out to “a groaning deep as Pentecost…” and “the forest stood like smoke.” I see the latter as an incense-like smoke which connects to the Cedars of Lebanon.

    May I ask why you chose the Spanish word for “the bell” and, for that matter, a Spanish title for “the pine?” Interestingly, your poem’s title echoes “el Nino” which refers to the Christ child.

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Brian! Exactly right about the smoke.

      The Spanish titles, here and in my other poems at the site, come from the Mexican loteria (a game with play similar to Bingo). There are 54 cards in the loteria deck, each with an article, noun, and picture. I wrote a series of 54 poems with Spanish nouns from the cards as titles. It’s sweet that El Pino rhymes with El Nino!

      Reply
  3. Cynthia Erlandson

    I absolutely love how you’ve compared the crack in the liberty bell to the broken table of Commandments — and with that, compared what happens when the people of Israel, or a nation such as ours, “cracks” by breaking the law which is meant for our own good. “Where we go one, we go all. It is late.” So true!

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Cynthia! The crack becomes a feature. The Liberty Bell is such a powerful national icon and its condition haunts it with hidden meaning.

      Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    Monika, both of these are impressive poems.

    “La Campana” is not really blank verse because of its many approaches to rhyme, finally ending with a perfect rhyme in “climb” and “time.” That in itself suggests something about the nation. But to me the acorn is the most endearing of the poem’s features, because of my homeschooling experience with a split acorn my children had found. We planted it and expected to observe growth. But after a year, it was still a tiny seedling with a very few leaves. I gave up on it and decided to re-use the rather large pot it was occupying. But when we up-ended the pot to remove the soil, we found a mass of rings and rings of thin roots at the bottom. That’s what acorns do for the first year, send out as much root as they can, as far down as they can send it. A lesson in patient, unseen labor!

    El Pino is a dreamlike devotional poem with motion. There is a great deal in it to interpret, but the important thing about the contemplation of the tree is that the speaker is true to her prayer by moving continually between the tree and the Lord. Overall, she experiences a positive spiritual possession, and at the end she seems surrounded by others–additional trees who are probably other Christians, in accord with the reference to Pentecost. It is a rich poem promising a rich harvest.

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Margaret. It’s consoling that La Campana resonated with you and others here. The “we” pronoun is always a risk. Have you noticed how often Trump uses it, clearly to refer to himself (and very strikingly in yesterday’s speech)? Is there a Presidential we? For me, getting the pronouns right in poems lately has been a very conscious challenge.

      That’s a wonderful story about the acorn in the flowerpot. I wrote another little poem on the theme:

      acorn – charged with all
      the mad energy to grow
      for a hundred years

      🙂

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Yes, thanks to you I listened to the July 1 speech, and there are many Presidential “we’s” in it. But I think it does not always refer to Trump himself. Often he is clearly including those present, not just inviting them to share his enthusiasm. He has always seen himself as someone “standing in the way” of forces menacing Americans, and preventing those forces from carrying out all they might like to do. That’s how he understands the attacks on himself. Supporters appreciate that point of view, but others may or may not. That’s the difficulty we (you and I) have in using “we” as the speaker in poems. Not all readers will accept it, yet we still want to be heard, because some come around, enter into the thought, and finally appreciate it even if they don’t fully accept it.

      For example, I know you don’t use “we” in that good acorn haiku; it’s just your observation. But it asks the reader for further thought, because oaks can live longer than a century. A reader who knows that has to say, “What does she mean?” I think what you mean is that after a hundred years, the oak can be considered an adult, not an acorn any longer. My acorn experience contributes to the interpretation!

      Reply
      • Monika Cooper

        Margaret, I really appreciate your take on my haiku. (If we can count “acorn” as a kigo: there are Spring acorns, as in my longer poem, and Fall acorns. But it’s the Fall acorns that still hold their entire charge within themselves. The Fall acorns become the Spring acorns, by surviving Winter!)

        Glad you were able to hear Trump’s speech! I still have to catch up on the last 20 minutes myself. He uses “we” both ways, to refer to himself and to refer to himself and his people, and sometimes it’s not clear which way he’s using it. (Other times, it’s abundantly clear and even emphatic.) It’s very very interesting to me.

      • Monika Cooper

        The most striking example in the July 1 speech, I thought, was at 2:14, when Trump begins his sentence: “When I become,” then corrects himself, “when we, WE WE WE, become 47th President of the United States. . .”. We’re not all becoming 47th President, so what was he doing there and why emphasize it like that?

      • Monika Cooper

        (Not to put you on the spot or anything. I don’t have the answer but I’ve been noticing this pattern in his speeches and statements for awhile. It’s very deliberate and still mysterious.)

      • Margaret Coats

        I think you are right, Monika, to notice and be interested by the pattern. There is a fascination about Trump’s use of words because often they do not seem deliberate–but will be taken as such by opponents who can interpret them in a hostile manner. The particular emphatic “we” you notice would have to be among his more deliberate usages, since it is repeated with the apparent purpose of firmly correcting himself for saying “I.” Clearly one thing he means is that he cannot become the 47th President without the support of Americans. But thinking back to his past uses of “we” to represent the nation (not just his present supporters), I would say that he is assuring all Americans that he will govern on their behalf, WHILE he confirms his own thoughts developing in that direction. It may even be that he includes enemies for whom he will do the best he can. You are right to say that there is a degree of mystery in this usage.

      • Monika Cooper

        Well, in his speech on Saturday, Trump said (this is his own quote, with his ellipsis, from his speech): “Your historic mission is to liberate America from these communists…and that’s exactly what we are going to do together, when we all together become the 47th President of the United States of America.” Makes me wonder if he was reading our conversation here!

        I mentioned it to my husband and he said “that’s an interesting twist on the doctrine of the unitary executive.” I think Trump’s wording here may be to emphasize, as he has since his inauguration, his intention to have an executive branch responsible to and representing the people, and I think it’s related to his plans for “demolishing the deep state” that obstructs a unitary executive directly responsible to the people and hosts horrible corruption.

        Trump got mocked for saying he had the best words but I’m constantly fascinated by the way he uses language. “The Snake” is something of a “classical poem,” I’d say, and it’s always exciting to hear him read it. I found out it’s based on one of Aesop’s fables, “The Farmer and the Snake.”

      • Margaret Coats

        Amazing quote! Thanks for laying it out, Monika.
        Shows that if we listen with attention, Trump will clarify what he means by any seemingly problematic statement. He’s not one for edited sound bites, but do we have the courtesy and fairness to hear him out?

  5. Shaun C. Duncan

    Sensational work, Monika. “La Campana” is almost dizzying in the way it riffs on the idea of cracking as both problematic and liberating, drawing imagery from the time of Moses up to January 6. “El Pino” makes for a meditative and almost dream-like contrast and the phrase “A groaning deep as Pentecost” is simply stunning.

    Reply
    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Shaun. Thinking more about your “aging senator” poem, I saw it almost as the other side of the coin from some of my political poems. “Thou mettest with things dying, I with things new born.” A world ransomed or one destroyed: perhaps both have to happen (and are happening).

      Reply

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