S U S A N  C O H E N

2 poems

JUST WHEN

After I choose a rock mid-way down the slope

and sit to watch the ocean, a red-tailed hawk

claims the rock below, observes the way

I eat my apple, scans the cliff-side vetch

and wort, launches, pounces on an insect,

then retakes its boulder. I’m used to being

the only hungry predator here, but the hawk

does not seem bothered. It lets me admire

its hook of beak, the holstered power

in its folded wings, its outsized claws

resting on the lichen like scythes.

Two ravens make a showy landing

on the rock behind me. Thick-billed.

Close. Each squawk, a detonation.

I get a little bothered, sandwiched

between the red-tail and the ravens, heads

like war hammers. Still, this privilege

of sudden beauty—and just when

I’d given up on mercy in the world.

PHOTOGRAPH OF CLAUDIA PATRICIA GÓMEZ GONZÁLEZ, KILLED BY U.S. BORDER PATROL AGENTS 

Her aunt holds it up, so we can see more colors than brown.

Purple, ruby, and canary-yellow stripe her apron in the photo,

embroidered butterflies with magenta wings

above the orange trumpet flowers on her bodice.

How small she is, nineteen, fists-on-hips, facing forward

towards her lover who wants her to join him in Virginia.

She squints, and fatigue underlines her eyes,

as if her Mayan village offers too much sun

along with too much worry and too little work.

Only the bush behind her prospers, big-leafed and glossy.

She wanted to be an accountant, her aunt tells reporters.

You can’t get more American than wanting enough money

to count. Afterwards, a witness described her face—

one side dirt, the other blood—in a junk-strewn lot

less than a mile into Texas. We’re told it’s wrong

to make a poem from someone else’s tragedy,

but she crossed the border and became ours.

Title

Susan Cohen’s third full-length collection, Democracy of Fire, is forthcoming from Broadstone Books. It includes poetry that appeared in 32 Poems, Los Angeles Review, Northwest Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Humanities Review, and the Southern Review, among other journals, and that won the Red Wheelbarrow Prize judged by Mark Doty and the 11th Annual Poetry Prize from Terrain.org, judged by Arthur Sze. A former journalist, she has an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Berkeley, California.