30 April 2011

Nicole Cooley

[from Nicole Cooley's Milk Dress, Alice James, 2010]


Gold-zippered, blue plaid, gilded with initials: suitcase
we were told to pack in case of a new attack. Girl's suitcase,

my grandmother's gift for those first sleepovers.
I fill it with duct tape. Cipro hidden in the suitcase.

The pediatrician refused but, yes, I begged, cried.
In the Before, this would be my daughter's suitcase.

While she slept inside me, I'd pack each silky nightie.
In the third trimester, I'd lie in bed and arrange the suitcase.

Now: Swiss Army knife. Distilled water. Potassium iodide
to carry with us at all times, in case of –

tablets to swallow as the subway fills with smoke.
This city permanently on Orange Alert, the ready suitcase

waiting while I nurse my daughter, watch the news.
In the After, another day of jewel blue sky, I pack the suitcase,

seal the windows, as told, against possible chemical attack,
but still we breathe in the burning, the ash, the soot.

Plan an evacuation route. The city shuts tunnels,
cuts us off. We're packed and ready, with our suitcase.

I watch the news. I already know I won't have another child.
Packed and ready for the next attack: our suitcase.

You must be ready, the TV tells us. To leave your life,
for the safety of your family.
I lay my daughter in the suitcase

stamped with my initials, N.R.C., letters engraved long ago
on a headstone, and now not mine, not hers, no one's suitcase.

Nicole Cooley

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