Nicole Cooley

Borrowed Stolen Owned

English Ironstone Adams China Service for Eight

I watch from the kitchen window as each girl swings, arm to arm, white tights flocked with mud, on the monkey bars, above the iced grass.

Three years after her death, I unpack the box of my grandmother’s dishes, box of too much, too many. Plates, pitchers, sugar bowls, gravy boats. I crowd the cupboard, slam it shut. Open, remove, restack.

I hate winter’s sunlight that leaks in through the kitchen window’s corners. Girls wait at the table with teacups of milk. My girls who never knew her. I take new potatoes from the roasting pan, tiny as dimes, spoon them out on her cold blue saucers.

Silver Porringer with Filigree, 1942

In the attic where my mother refused to save anything, on the floor, brushed sawdust clean, here is what’s not: my father’s silver baby bowl, with its lacy sterling handle, my grandmother filled with rice cereal, her baby’s first meal.

Chenille Bedspread with Tatted Border

An avocado pit lists in a glass on the bedroom sill, shape of an ovary, shape of an eye. And still I try to explain what things will last, to smooth out this expanse of fabric, to press my girl’s fingers to the handiwork, to make her imagine someone’s mother stitching and stitching a cloth I spread over her body. In my bed before she sleeps, my daughter whispers, Shut up, then moves closer.

Salt and Pepper Shakers in the Shape of Dutch Girls

White china suffers in the box till I set it on the table 
beside a ring of butter soft as loose skin.

Pink Plastic Cake Box

Round as a pillbox hat, I set it empty on the counter. I’ll never make any cake that it will hold. Pink as baby skin. Gummed eraser pink. Overturned doll bathtub. Stunned eager pink I showed my husband but he wasn’t listening, pink as my honeymoon lingerie, kicked under the bed, slur of mesh and lace.

Souvenir Spoons My Grandmother Collected

From Phoenix From Atlantic City From San Francisco From Montreal From Puerto Rico From Bermuda

Carefully, my daughter sets them one on top of the other, each half-circle cupping another.

Ruby Glasses Set of Four

I set one on each placemat beside a napkin cinched tight with ribbon.  
Watch the goblets pinking with milk.  
Ribbon cinched tight, red string snapped on a wrist-- to force my remembering.

Crystal Choker

Yard sale Saturday, without our daughters, Julia and I walked through her town, stopping at card tables, knocking crystal and jet bead necklaces against our teeth, to test for real glass or not, and transparent bubbles linked on string, heavy and cold on my throat were what I craved most.

Bag of Diary Keys

Jumbled like baby teeth in a box, now they crack and scatter. The pages they could open are all gone. Our secrets—my sister’s and mine—

Here is what’s not.

A Cocktail Shaker I Plan To Fill With Crayons 

Because I could only find one. Because it is painted with fruit, apples and oranges shaped like cherubs winding a garland. Because women are not supposed to drink alone. Because my grandmother would fill it with cold vodka and ice, and shake it and pour it out and sit at the edge of the river.

Because the edges of the glass are painted with lemons heavy as breasts, each a small bag of flesh.

Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans and now lives outside of NYC. She has published four books of poems, most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both in 2010, and a novel. She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-City University of New York.