Trash by Nicole Cooley

On the last day before my second vaccine kicks in I drive to Paterson, red-bricked city,
former mill town, park at the Paterson Silk Machine Exchange and finally

I am walking at the edge of a river, for the first time in a year since I can’t go home
To the Mississippi—the Great Falls of the Passaic River

And as always water comforts and I remember how I copied into my notebook years ago,
Only one answer: write carelessly so that nothing not green will survive,

William Carlos Williams from his poem Paterson. Once, I believed poetry
Could save us. This was before I strained to hear the latch of my daughter’s breath

In the basement where she was alone and quarantined, before refrigerated trucks
Held bodies in Elmhurst for weeks, before my mother exited the future.

I would like to unfurl, unspool, lie down on the sidewalk and close my eyes.
I would like to press my face into the dirt where my mother is not buried.

But I won’t. Because now I am the mother. I record the facts: Paterson-the first
planned industrial city, founded in 1729 by Alexander Hamilton. I would rather imagine

the young girls in the mills two hundred years ago, spinning weaving dyeing cotton silk paper,
girls the age of my oldest daughter,

City red-bricked. I am bricked into myself. I study a mattress caught in a tree behind
The park, Bibi’s Ice Cream truck, graffitied blue, plays Home on the Range to no one,

No children. I study the sulfur-colored water. Give me a home—
Williams wrote, No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since the world

 It opens is always a place formerly unsuspected. Williams spoke of,

The roar of the present. I have rarely been careless in my life. Press
my face to the dirt.


Nicole Cooley is the author of six books of poems, most recently OF MARRIAGE (Alice James Books 2018) and GIRL AFTER GIRL AFTER GIRL (LSU Press 2017). Cooley’s work has appeared most recently in POETRY, PLUME and DIODE.