Two Poems by Sandra Kohler


Walking with Samuel Beckett in Paris on a perfect spring morning, a friend says to him, “Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive?” [and] Beckett answers, “I wouldn’t go as far as that.”

How far would you go? Odysseus
went as far as one can to find
a different answer: descending
to the underworld he meets
Achilles, who tells him he would
rather be the lowliest living serf
that king of all the dead.

I think of my dead brother’s widow,
who in her anger at the awfulness
of the current state of the world,
announces at one new horror
that she’s happy her husband
isn’t alive, doesn’t have to see
this latest outrage. Is my brother,
somewhere in the kingdom
of the dead, happy to be dead?



On the fourth day of the first month of the year
2020, first or last of a decade, my granddaughter
hands me a perfectly unused spoon of rhetorical
questions. All of them stump me, I know answers

to none. If I were a stump, I’d show my age in
rings, not by my ignorance when questioned.
All of the rings I wear come down to one. It is
not the ring that triggers the door to all matter.

All that matters is the ring, the spoon, the question.
The child who asks it. No, that is not all. There is
a world elsewhere. A world here and there, here
and here, in each question, each object, answer,

perception. No one can know them all. All
one can do when asked is stump for replies,
replay, repicture the elements which pose
the riddles, demand their one answer.


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music (WordTech) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Illuminations, Tar River Poetry and many others over the past 45 years. In 2018, a poem of hers was chosen to be part of Jenny Holzer’s permanent installation at the new Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia.

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