Poem of the Week | January 26, 2015

This week we feature a new poem by Nicole Cooley. Cooley is the author of five books, most recently the two collections of poems, Breach (LSU Press 2010) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books 2010). She has received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant. She directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-City University of New York where she is a professor of English. She lives outside of New York City with her husband and two daughters.
Author’s note:

“Posture Board, England 1820” is part of a new sequence of poems based on objects from the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London and part of a new manuscript of poems that explores objects—dolls, weird museum collections, discarded things from garage sales—more generally. I am less interested in fine art museums than I am in interested in the ways in which other kinds of museum objects offer a new lexicon, a whole new language. And how objects from other times and places lead you back to yourself whether you want them to or not.


Posture Board, England, 1820


Nothing drowns out the girl’s crying, nothing
will quit the pinch
in my throat, the fist
thudding in my chest
at the child’s grief,
grief for what? For self, for other?


This board has been inscribed with the names of five children who have used it—
Sally, Gatie, Tiny, Ada and Maud.


Her sobbing settles white cotton
over every table and chair,
as if we were abandoning the house.


The board, positioned behind the back of the girl and held in place by her arms, pulled
the shoulders back-


Don’t leave me—

her fingers twist my hair, her fingers itch my skin—


Instead I strap her backpack on like a noose
and carry her crying to the car.