Poems by Susan Cohen

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"If You’re Reading This, You Might Be a Baboon"

Headline in the Christian Science Monitor when scientists discovered baboons could be taught to recognize which letter patterns make words and which are gibberish.

by Susan Cohen

From Canary Summer 2014

Susan spends much of her time looking for birds in both the San Pablo Bay and the Bodega Bay watersheds of Northern California.

And you might be bristling as you read
       the planet’s news after a rough night
              in the Jackalberry tree,

when all you ever wanted
       was your morning cuppa
              and the harmless flesh

of roots, juicy fruit of baobab
       before commencing your commute
              across the savannah.

You might be studying the encyclopedia
       of a waterhole, spelling out b-a-d weather
              from the sky’s alphabet.

You might be reading up on humans
       in the newly torn pages
              of ancient jungles:

the hard truths of our macadam,
       the visible clouds we belch
              from our metallic shells,

our tracks that flatten grass,
       the signs we post and mock
              with bullet holes.

You might be trying to read your future,
       puzzling over words
              with silent endings.

Beginning Birding

by Susan Cohen

From Canary Fall 2011

Before I found its page among the passerines,
I’d never seen a Black Phoebe.

I learned its family name means Tyrant Flycatcher;
and there it was outside my window, bullying insects!

It sallied off a phone wire — cursive flights
to make each midair snatch. The next day, too,

I saw one in the yard: sooty and white;
twitchy-tailed and crested. It said: seek, seek.

I saw another one next door, and when I strolled,
a Phoebe followed me gate to gate.

Black Phoebes waited everywhere I looked,
that obscure word you learn – then notice daily.

Though birds have no need to be written,
I felt I’d called Phoebes into being

from an alphabet of feather and full throttle.
How quickly it becomes about possession.

Soon, I was naming more birds into sight:
Let there be Bewick’s Wrens and Hairy Woodpeckers;

Rufous-sided Towhees, Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Let there be Sharp-shinned Hawks!

Previously published in Poetry East.

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