Sandra Kohler


A little incest in the family keeps the children
off the street. You loved this line – did you
make it up or was it really the ed prof’s slip
you claimed? The bourgeois you flouted were
petits – mother dead by then, father gentle and
ineffective, yet suspicious of how far wildness
would take you, reluctant to let me spend
nights alone with you on your new boat.

I never told you how I hated your French
kissing me all those years, from my thirteen
to your death fifty years later. And I never
told anyone that our father also kissed me
that way once after mother died, holding me
on his lap like a younger child. I knew none
of it mattered. Like the unfunny jokes you
insisted on, all was a sad kind of play.

Now your illness, your death haunt my
body. I mourn you in my fashion. Nights
I wake with my left shoulder, arm, wrist
throbbing. It is a skeletal bond, the death
grip of your arthritic incestuous hand.
Which one of us can’t let go?


This morning I put on green suede pumps,
acid green earrings, everything else black,
dressing as the woman I saw last night in
a coffeehouse, reflected in the windowed
wall at which I sat drinking coffee, writing,
stopping, looking out into the dark street.

Observer, wanderer, flaneur, the figure in
those windows writes down the name she’s
just remembered, White Shoulders, writes
how once, turning a white shoulder away
from a lover’s hand, she tore off the peridot
earrings he gave her, tossed away her green
pumps, started wearing black old lady shoes.

This morning my white shoulders, hidden
beneath black wool garments, seem bleached
monuments, memorial to what I thought
forgotten, misplaced, lost: green earrings,
an abandoned self, a man, green suede
shoes buried at the back of the closet.


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press.  Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Natural Bridge, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, and The Colorado Review.