selected poetry

I am its daughter.

 

This is the pilot prudish and shy

who knows the where but not the why

who falls ungraceful from the sky

and goes like soda, flat.

This is the soldier riddled with shot

who knew what he was and now is not,

a place where unmarked microbes rot,

killed in viral combat.

This is religion where you can feel

the trust you had was never real:

the crust that’s left from Jesus's meal

you eat, at the last, alone.

These are the acts that make hearts weep

the facts that fill them with snow so deep

their course through nightmare they cannot keep

and turn, by turns, to stone.

This is a country creamed with a fist

the cost of torture, a watch on the wrist

This is the well wherein he pissed

and poisoned the water.

This is a prison of private disgrace,

its seas like boils on the fuehrer's face,

a land that nature will soon erase:

and I am its daughter.
 

-Lyn Coffin

LOOK AT THE STARS   
(poem for a high school graduation)
 

When I was a high school graduate, roughly three 

hundred years ago, my father took me

to Paris. I don’t remember the sights we

saw— the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower.

All I recall is one evening hour,

walking with dad on the Champs Elysees, 

how he pointed up at the night sky to say 

the one French sentence he sort of knew:

”Regardez les etoiles dans le ciel.”

You’ve changed what you think, where you go, how you run, 

when you speak, who you are in the public sun,

and you feel new when the night has burned

and turned to cinders the day’s disguise.

You’ve learned much more than you realize yet, 

more than the facts, most of which you’ll forget, 

more than the theories you’ll need to unravel. 

Sitting in classrooms, you learned to travel.

See , and the obvious truth will come clear: 

you’re each a gift, it’s amazing you’re here...

But since there’s no “other,” no “them”— just “we,” 

drown your demands in the depths of the sea 

like pirated treasure in tangled kelp:

our world is in trouble; we need you to help.

My father’s French sentence sounds silly, it’s true,

but it’s still the present I offer you: “Regardez les etoiles,” or try—

wherever you are, see the stars in the sky. 

Observe the chill beauty of stellar space,

the cohorts of clarification above;

then warm to the beauty of our human place, 

eyes you look into, looking back with love. 

-Lyn Coffin

THE CHAMBER WHERE HEAT IS TRAPPED

Walking hard on a stone beach, both of us
(as we joked) literally around the bend,
we came to where once upon a time a cliff
collapsed-- the wreckage of what had been
a cottage with a view-- and you began
naming what there was to see, recalling
old brands and invalidated functions
with a doer’s, a maker’s, a lover’s
nostalgia, while I stumbled on, hypnotized
by the forked flickering in my mind
of old emotion, cold event. “This was
part of a wood-burning stove,” you said. “Here,
at the heart, is the chamber where heat was trapped.”
You showed me where smoke had parted company
with itself, becoming as circular and
lazy as recrimination— “Oh, and look,”
you said. “That two-horse Little Giant motor!
I think it could still be hooked up, and made
to run.” “Right,” I agreed. “If only
the garage, the cottage, and the cliff it stood on
weren’t gone.” You tried to hold me then, but
I had read the writing on a crumbled wall,
and asked again what time your plane would leave.

-Lyn Coffin

GOD SPEAKS TO US

 

God speaks to us in schoolmaster claps,

erasers of thunder, parabolas of shock.

Chinese kites high over cliffs no one

has fallen off of yet are first of all

swooping birds that skim the sea of

childhood, then the “all-at-once I’m 17

and old enough to ride the roller coaster”

sign…. Don’t watch or read or listen to

the news any more unless you want to

feel grim and ghostly: try the winding

tunnel of love or wander through

the Victorian haunted house of gabled

intentions and dilapidated desire.

At this appalling hour, our representative

is a chrysalis waiting for rebirth in a white

nightgown— resurrected as a young

Bette Davis, she will descend the curving

staircase with a candle that pins our

shadows to the wall. We in the audience

must do more than pray must rebel must

be violently unviolent must speak out

-Then and only then we’ll know- that

when she falls as fall we all must,

she won’t injure herself, she won’t be

the center in a petaling of corpses or

anyone’s house of cards on fire—we know

she will establish herself as mistress of

the brief collapse, and make it to a gentle

decrescendo, not a Hollywood cheat

but an ending we can all embrace as

far in the future, and wildly happy.

-Lyn Coffin

The Reception Line

 

Last night, I dreamt about Aunt Percy,
the spunky alcoholic I so loved for
being who she was—funny and flawed.
Leaving a bar one night when she was young,
she rammed her car into a back road bridge abutment,
then made her way in heels to the closest farm
and called the police, complaining that someone
had moved the bridge. Aunt Percy, old, was in
my dream’s reception line: she offered apricots:
cold and sweet. “Aunt Percy,” I said, you look
wonderful. “But thin,” she said, and it wasn’t good.
A question came up: someone in the family
needed immediate help. “Don’t worry,”
I said, which is almost always a mistake.
I think dream-talking with the dead may be
a sign my own death’s not far off, and
little time left for me to tell it
like I think it is, which is the farthest
honesty can take us while we breathe.
In the dream, I spoke to my father,
and was glad to see him looking well.
The last real time was in a Scottsdale hospital:
I went in as soon as the nurses were done
with bathing and shaving and feeding him.
Garbled as he was, he got out my name and
rumbled something about “feet” and “cold.”
I rubbed his feet till he signaled me to stop,
left a picture of my mother by his bed,
and walked back to his nearby empty house,
meaning to return after lunch. I was
hardly in the door when the hospital called…
In the dream, my father, too, was standing in
the reception line: he looked happy and
healthy. I said I was glad to see him. Then,
I added, speaking from someplace deeper than
memory, “You’re my father, among other things.”
When I woke up, I knew: my father’s love
was like a ship and the ship wrecked and
went down and wood floated to the shore of
the island of my life, and I picked up
all the timber I could and used it for
fires when the nights were cold.
When we die, it doesn’t matter what we had,
only what we did. You may, like me,
be so close to the edge,
your feet are beginning to get cold.
Your dead, too, may have formed a reception line—
and so many in our family need immediate help.

 

-Lyn Coffin

From This Green Life: New and Selected Poems (Transcendent Zero Press, 2017)

EDGE POEM

 

Is love a sustainable passion, a shared solitude, or

a web for learning new ways to fail? Yes. Sky through the door-

way is just a high place to fall from, but a delicate girl  

is dangerous. Holding a pomegranate like a grenade, she’ll

wake you up to who you are. Your love for her will cost you

everything. I don’t think you need to know more than that. Too

much knowing changes the outcome of event: it’s an old way of

pulling things apart- tearing the fabric so you go from place to

place without getting anywhere- and feeling is a form of

non-linear progression, a fact-finding trip to a place where

no one can live. But if you name what isn’t there, you possess

it like a bee owns honeycomb, or a rabbi owns the Talmud,

and all there is to see or say is a gift. Writers sustain their

passion by writing, readers read to share their solitude. Oh, Yes.

*

November 17, 1917

 

WELCOME

TO MONTDEVERGUES

asylum for the cold, the insane,

 the inconvenient

 

They say I'm lucky to be here.

I who used to

have a name

 

**

The war to end all war

rages outside

I am safe

within these walls of stone

 

***

 

You’ve come to this asylum,

but not to trade places

 

I am safe but you are free

 

You have come to tell me

what I already know.

 

****

 

RODIN is DEAD

Long live RODIN

 

*****

 

The first time I saw Rodin, he gave me a word test, "Say two nouns quickly!" I answered and he took me as his student there and then.

******

 

Later, when Rodin and I first made love

he told me future sculptors favored

abstract/human combinations

 

*******

 

I had answered “Death” and “Maiden.”

 

********

I tickled his left testicle

tickle tockle tickle

and I asked

*********

 

“Of the two-- Death and Maiden-- which is human, which abstract?”

 

**********

 

Alone with Rodin

I could never THINK

 

IMAGINING

his hands

 on my breasts

 like

 

 milking spiders

***********

 

So when I fled to the studio along the Paris streets and found him there

I sank to the only ground from which I knew I could not fall and said— “Auguste, I lost the baby. I was going to the bathroom when it dropped down into the Paris sewer. I heard it cry out when it landed in the moving muck. I heard it. I heard it when it landed. I heard it."

 

************

 

“Ah, you took something,” Rodin said.

"Ah, of course you took something."

"Of course," Rodin said.

"Of course."

"Ah."

*************

 

“Of course you took something," Rodin said.

"Poor Camille. How dreadful.

How very dreadful. Very dreadful, indeed.

"You must have thought

life as we know it was coming to an end.”

 

**************

 

"Poor Camille."

"You must have thought

life as we know it

was coming to an end."

 

He never understood

 

***************

 

life as we know it is always coming to an end.

 

****************

 

Before he spoke, I saw his face

SPLIT               WITH A SMILE

SPLIT               WITH A SMILE

 of                      RELIEF

a smile of               RELIEF

 WARRANT for   the DEATH of

      everything

 

*****************

 

 

he was grateful because he thought me guilty of the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

the murder of our child the murder of our child the murder of our child

 

******************
 

I meant to say nothing

 

to be truthful

*******************

 

Let me close now with a benediction

 

********************

 

BENEDICTION

 

Imaginary God

Imaginary God

Imaginary God

         tormenting and tormented tormenting and tormented and

         tormented and tormenting and tormented and tormenting

         and tormented and tormenting and tormented and all in

the name of love

the name of love

the name of love

the name of love

the name of love

have mercy on our

souls have mercy

on our souls have

mercy on our souls

so human

 

so abstract

 

so human

 

so abstract

 

so human

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