London Grip Poetry Review – Elizabeth Cohen

Poetry review – MARTINI TATTOO: Charles Rammelkamp is susceptible to the charm of Elizabeth Cohen’s poetry

Martini Tattoo
Elizabeth Cohen
Alien Buddha Press
ISBN: 979-8829273842
65 pages        $10.89

Elizabeth Cohen’s charming new collection begins with a boozy seduction. The speaker of the first poem, “Drink Me,” lures us in with an enchanting promise, whispering in our ear,

I’m your last cocktail 
of the night, see how you eye

me, little wolf girl
see how you graze

my lip, lick my

In the next poem, “The Zigzag Line,” the speaker asks the reader, offering a similar invitation:

what wet dream could be wetter
than this waking wet dream

o sauce and the jimjams
the afterstumble throb

The alcohol metaphor carries us through the first of the five sections, and the entire collection is prefaced with an epigraph that states, “According to chemistry, alcohol is a solution,” a clever play on the chemical term that refers to the liquid state of matter, but also the means for dealing with difficult situations. In vino veritas, right? The title poem reinforces this seduction into Cohen’s world:

Blessed be all the dive bar poets
& vodka rabbis of the lower east side
who poured us their best drinks
those last drinks, the on-the-house
drinks, the just-one-more drinks

What are the difficult situations Cohen encounters? Loss, essentially. Demise, diminishment. In so many of her poems, Cohen laments the evanescence of things, their impermanence – death and loss. “Slip and Fall” drives this home.

		      Everything eventually slips across a border
Moments, lovers, dogs who don’t come home
		      Even you, yourself, you went off the map

The poem goes on: “We are, all of us / On the edge, daring the precipices / in the slip-and-fall world.”

The poems are divided into five sections and those in the one called “Invisible Saints” are almost elegiac in recalling the dead and disappeared. However, as in all of her work, Cohen is a charmer. She does not beat her chest and cry “Woe is me.” “Dude, Where” is one of those poems about loss – pets, parents, things – (“dude, where the hell / are my parents”), just as “Face It” recalls her deceased mother (who lives in her cheekbones), and “Dirge” her father, whom she oddly recovers in the discarded toothbrush he’d used just as Marcel Proust recovered time passed in the madeleine.

I find my father’s 
toothbrush the way 
you might find a missing
piece of a jigsaw puzzle
you’ve thrown away
because it was missing
a piece 

“Amelia, Your Babysitter, Patron Saint of Rubber Bands,” recalls the Mary Poppins-like sitter who was able to restore stability, hold everything together, as with rubber bands, “some beautiful new way / to hold back the dark.”

The poems of the fourth section, “Bad Hair Days,” verge on laments. “Your heartbreak is a mural on the side of a feed store,” a title that brings a smile, is nevertheless about somebody bawling in public. “May I Have” begins: “my heart / back now?” “How to erase your ex-lover in a beautiful canyon” also addresses heartbreak, but offers this comfort: “Passion is a daily drinker // and I guarantee you will find Passion in a bar / every day by 4 with a girl named Lola.” “Arm Candy,” addressed to “Beauty,” cautions:

Beauty, we will all die and
we always knew
that you’d run away
with the circus. It was a certainty.
Third act.  There you go.

“Bad Hair Day” completes the section but offers a note of hope. Her hair has left her but promises to return. It is bad hair, rebel hair, “hair that says / we will never, ever go back.” How like “the smallest girl in second grade” from the poem, “Girls and Women of My Life,” whose name the speaker does not remember but who climbed a tree on the playground and refused to come down when recess had ended.

She taught me that one thing and we should honor it I think.
Girls, women, all of us, always:

we do not have to come down.   

The poems in the final section, “Even Dead Dogs Understand the Moon,” also address loss, but with Cohen’s soothing tone, her consoling reassurance. “The Canine of Your Bones Is Barking Again” offers this emotional encouragement. (“You thought they were gone forever, but you were wrong.”) “Outer” does the same.

Outer loved us.  That’s what we were
certain of. It had to, or why bother
being so constantly
beautiful?  And we loved it back, 
with all its spacey stuff, like
quarks, holes, pulsars,
nuclear pasta, the smeared birthday 
cake rubble of exploding nebulae 

Martini Tattoo is a delight to read for its clever wordplay but also for Cohen’s comforting attitude and her modest wisdom. You can get drunk on it.