Helen Degen Cohen


Agostino… by Moravia

On the beach five dirty boys (Hey, Pisa!)
demonstrate the act of love

    On the boat
    he saw his mother
    undress like sunrise. . .

    for a moment. He did not look:
    Instead, he was alone with her

On the beach their fat master divides
her stolen cigarettes:

Hey. Pisa. Tell us about
your 20 rooms, her chauffeur, her... “receptions”—
a fist opens his eyes

    On the boat
    he turned away
    from the heart of surprise

He must follow them, his teachers:
cops and robbers, they adore hate,
now he will learn to steal
corn and watermelon, spit and kick
and feed the fat man in their beach cave,
it is wise to be poor

    He has seen his mother and the young man
    laugh in the water
    behind him...
    among the rising and falling waves

He has taken a rich man’s son
for a ride,
has refused his golden beachball,
is paid like a fighter
even if he can’t fight

    Her door not fully closed he sees
    a woman in the mirror touch her hair,

    the light is thin, her body under it
    he knocks she adds a layer
    lets him in, admires an earring... Good boy
    you may go away now... Agostino



Carnal Knowledge

—across a space which narrows each time, growing
like a fresh world out of a bean in dark earth
where unspoken juices feed you
I hear you whispering don’t rush it
let it linger like a mothy diamond in dark earth
shaping itself, stretching above-ground with shy muscle
feeling the sun, still so tender
still growing from pale to pulsing green
the first straightforward look up, into eyes
and next the beautiful nod:
you seem to understand what is happening here
I hear you whispering don’t rush it
let growth investigate the sun, like a man
mushroomed with his first beard, his first delectable
confusion, sweating out leaves and next buds
and when next I reach over you to lift my hat and coat—




As he walked, lost
to Hawthornes and Lilacs and mysterious reds
coursing as the cells of seconds, minutes—time
rose and fell and—I lent him a quick look
from my garden. My father was hidden,
my mother was shamed,
and I, the little she who risked
Marcel’s intrusion, like a maypole to May,
lent him my artful self
“akin to a charming phrase.”

His father was starless, his mother was good:
when the rain poured, his room
stored the sun
like a woman, in her skirts

But when, on his Way, he walked by me,
I invited him into his dream.



Helen Degen Cohen (Halina Degenfisz) is a widely-published poet and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She won First Prize in Stand magazine's worldwide fiction competition for an excerpt from her autobiographical novel, The Edge of the Field. Other honors include two Illinois Arts Council Awards, an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, an Indiana Writers Conference award in Poetry, and fellowships to the four major art colonies in the United States.

Ms. Cohen is a graduate of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and, after years traveling to schools throughout the state as part of the Artist in Education program, she returned to teaching (at Roosevelt University) and then to co-editing Rhino magazine. Helen originally co-founded the magazine as well as its adjunct, the Poetry Forum, a monthly drop-in workshop. She can be reached at: Halinka1[AT]aol.com (replace [AT] with @).

For more of her work in TheScreamOnline, visit the Talent Index.