Excerpt from 'Hymns & Qualms'

Hymns & Qualms

New and Selected Poems and Translations

By Peter Cole

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2017 Peter Cole
All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-71578-6


New Poems, New Translations


    and Bialik

    Sky — have mercy.

    When flechettes fly
            forth from a shell,
            shot by a tank
                    taking Ezekiel's
                    chariot's name —

    When their thin fins
    invisibly whiz,
             whiffling the air
             like angels' wings —
                       their metal feathers
                       guiding them in —

    When their hooks rip
    through random flesh
              in a promise of land
              with its boring sun —
                       Is it like the priests'
                      release in Leviticus?

    The male without blemish
    and dashed blood?
           The limbs in pieces?
           The tents of meeting?
                    The burnt offering?
                    Does it hasten deliverance?

    Or summon Presence?
    Is its savor pleasant?
              As the rage unfurls
              in a storm of flame
                       and the darts deploy
                       in a shawl of pain,

    does it soar like justice?
    Contain a God?

              Expose a Source?
              What will is known?
                       Does it touch a throne?
                       Can we see a crown?

    As the swarm scorches
    the air with anger,
              and the torches of righteousness
              extend their reach —
                       What power is power?
                       Whose heart gives out?

    When skin is pierced
    to receive that flight,
            what light gets in?
            What's left of sin?
                       What cause is served?
                       What cry is heard?

    When the blood of infants
    and elders spurts
             does it figure forever?
                       As it wreaks its change
                       and seeks revenge

    above the abyss?
    Could Satan devise
              vengeance like this

              war which is just ...
                      an art of darkness?
                     Have mercy, skies.

    Jerusalem, The Gaza War, 2014



         homage to Morton Feldman —
        "before the oracle, with the flowers"

               1 KINGS 7:49


    Here in the gloaming,
    a wormwood haze —
    the "m" on its head,
    a "w," amazed
    at what the
    drink itself does:

    god bless you — th.


    What really matters now is begonia,
    he thought, distracted while reading —
    their amber anther and bone-white petals
    missing from a jade pot
    by the door — not a theory of metaphor.


    In this corner, sweet alyssum.
    And beside it fragrant jessamine.
    Almost rhyming scents in the air —
    a syntax weaving their there, there.


    Erodium holds
    an eye in the pink
    looping the white of
    its tendering cup.


    The blue moon opens all
         too quickly and floats
         its head-
                         y fragrance over
                               the path
                  before us:

    And so we slit
    its throat, like a florist.


    These hearts-on-strings
         of the tenderest green
    things that rise
    from dirt,
    then fall
                    toward the floor,

                the air
         like —

    on-strings of the tenderest
    green things —
         they rise from dirt
    then fall toward
               the floor,
         hanging in
              the air like —

    hearts-on-strings of the
    tenderest green things,
    from dirt then falling
    toward the floor,
          in the air like


    Moss-rose, purslane, portulaca
                    petals feeling
           for the sun's
    light or is it
    only warmth
    or both
                    (they need
              to open)

             an amethyst


    lifts the sinking
    spirit back
              up and nearly
    into a buoyancy —
          its papery
    pink bracts
    proving with
    their tease
           of a rustle and glow
    through the window —
    there is a breeze.


    Epistle-like chicory
    blue beyond
    the bars of these
          beds suspended
                    in air,
    (what doesn't dangle?)
    elsewhere, gives
    way to plugged in,
                purply thyme,
    against a golden
    (halo's) thistle.


    What's a wandering
    Jew to you
    two, who often do
    wonder about
    that moving about?
    Its purple stalk
    torn off and stuck
    elsewhere in
    the ground takes root
    and soon shoots
    forth a bluish
    star with powder
    on its pistil.
    Such is the power
    of that Jew,
    wherever it goes
    (unlike the rose),
    to make itself new.



Excerpted from Hymns & Qualms by Peter Cole. Copyright © 2017 Peter Cole. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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