cover image Touch


Henri Cole. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23 (80p) ISBN 978-0-374-27835-9

Cole’s eighth book of poems may be his most sensitive (in the manner of a compass needle), pointing as precisely as possible to the various sources of a lifetime’s fragility and emotional power. Written mostly in the pseudo-sonnets he’s developed in his recent books, these poems take long, at times excruciating looks at memories that Cole’s speakers must force themselves to learn from, as in “Dead Mother,” in which “five or six tears—profound,/ unflinching, humane—ran out of her skull,/ breathtakingly heroic.” With the same power of attention, Cole also watches the self slowly passing away: “My hair went away in the night while I was sleeping./ It sauntered along the avenue asking, ‘Why/ should I commit myself to him?.../... Then my good stiff prick went, too.” It’s as if Cole’s extreme attention manages, somehow, to simultaneously magnify and sooth aloneness, a mystery like the one into which a pair of free canaries fly in the book’s title poem: “Though they didn’t know where they were going,/ they made their prettiest song of all.” (Sept.)