about the author

Rob Cook lives in New York City. He is the author of six collections, including Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade (Bitter Oleander Press, 2013), The Undermining of the Democratic Club (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014), and Last Window in the Punk Hotel (Rain Mountain Press, 2016). Work has appeared recently or will appear in Caliban, The Bitter Oleander, The Laurel Review, Epiphany, Thrice Fiction, Birmingham Poetry Review, Dalhousie Review, Natural Bridge, Hotel Amerika, Tampa Review, Verse, The Antioch Review, etc. He is currently working on an as-yet untitled novella.


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Two Poems 

Rob Cook



Illnesses Learned at Noon

At noon the doctors tell me it is safe to feed my pills.
Really they mean—with condescension—
that noon ends at night.
“Do you check the rice regularly for inflammation?”
asks the doctor closest to my illness, the one
that hurts more at noon than it hurts at night.
The rice I feed my pills does not become nostalgic
for the days before noon, the doctors before
the mastery of noon. “Do you sterilize the rice?”
asks the doctor when the kitchen children
disturb the deep pills of my drowsiness before the crack of noon—
margarine cut up into salted, yellow-legged enzymes
that spread across the ceiling one phone call before 12 pm in 2014
when no holidays existed—only hospitals.
But no noon. Nothing after the phone call at twelve
that said, you will always be tired
and your liver will never love you
and not one blood cell child will remember
or forgive the pills cut into slices at noon.



Illnesses Learned at Langone

1.

A liver by itself in the corner of the room, on its back, waving its confused cilia, listening.

(Or curdling into a cushion of shunts and lesions,
capable of recognizing sunlight.)

I keep thinking it needs to be swaddled.

But like the wind when it leaves my hand, (which is really just the stillness of the room) its one tentacle does not cringe or darken with moonlight when I try to touch it.

And no matter what treatment I endured, I woke more than once in a bed the dogs had lost. The light, false from there, pushed past a rip in the curtain, and though the doctors believe nothing, I swear that the breeze, no heavier than moths trapped at the speed of dust, made the curtain blush.

And on a different day, I woke up gripping my swollen pillow, and it hurt. I listened to the roses flattened beneath a repeating car alarm and my eyes drifted away, to Brooklyn, where, from the ocean floor of a rainy day, Maya Hebert told me the subways were faster and taller and carried the sick back to the days of good health, and then the sky (where it was blue) drifted away as well, leaving me to endure the nurses, who created more, cared more, and spoke with me more than the doctors ever did.

Not doctors anymore, but a flock of black shoes       approaching in murmurs

before the hissing of the mourning doves.


2.

The biopsy of a bus’s broken bones tells the doctors one thing: Someone will be late. The shoe biopsy tells each person within wincing range that he or she is nowhere. The biopsy of the window reveals, as before, unconscious Manhattan. The belt buckle biopsy suggests more tissue will be needed. (Somewhere, because of this, a woman—or a man thinking about himself—might feel a little closer to a long life.) The biopsy of my shadow betrays an inflammation among the twitching wallpaper. The pathologist’s report of that floral inflammation: “We can cure you with paint from a living donor.” They cannot biopsy the cries of my liver, though, which lurk on the scalpel’s one wall like the terror of a scattered child.


3.

Diagnosis: the patient’s imagination, which protected him for many years, finally turned against him.

The patient went on a rant during last week’s appointment with his hepatologist. It was by far his only decent story.

        And though what he said about the doctor was true, the words he            chose made it no longer true.

Sensing this, the patient said terrible things to another one of his pieces, and except for the puddle of words thrown onto the floor, he was not heard from again.


4.

The sunlight searched his apartment one last time and found a sheaf of phone numbers with the following:

“Tracking my closest physicians, I climbed to the top of an infected goose bump. (The altitude seemed greater than the heavens.) From there I mapped my cirrhotic terrain and fell, shattering into a thousand pebbles. (The shattering ended only after 25 years.) Now I attend the school of the disappearance of the classroom. It is there I keep getting attacked by the poems of great square dance generators capable of surviving beyond joy and its many rigors. Even knowing the risks, I can still talk about what is eaten before a page ends on Swans Island. I can still sing to the Imuran inhabiting the lymph nodes in my favorite poem. And from that final glimpse, I can show you where my liver sleeps without skin on the straw floor of the moon.”





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