Award Winners

The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award - 2006

Nicole Cooley


Past the skull collection, wax model of a gangrene hand
in a specimen jar to the "Plates Illustrative of a Treatise on
   Midwifery, 1813"—

Leonet forceps, decapitating hook "used to extract the child
by the head from the maternal passage"

Or the umbilical cord with 26 twists. Or the placenta molded
    from paraffin.
I am looking for the Labor Scene.

Not the instruments: blade, shank, lock: but the women
holding each other, the women delivering—

Not my dream last night that I was pregnant for the third time
but there was no baby

there would be no "obstetrical interventions" to remove this body
from my body. I would not go down to that place

I'd traveled twice. I would not return
to Cervadil, Pitocin drip, to the birthing room where I had failed,

lifted off the bed on a rubber sheet and wheeled to the surgical
where the nurses tied down my hands

where I breathed the plastic shell of an oxygen mask.
On the second floor the curator draped

a wax model in muslin to resemble a patient on a table,
body for the surgeon to unfold. That place I'd traveled—

a hundred years ago I would not have come back—
Now my two girls running on the lawn beyond

the museum, behind the black gate, my girls
who refuse to be bodiless.

Gerald Stern on Nicole Cooley

I like this poem because of its fullness, its depth of feeling, its precision, its courage to explore the unknown and its abiding mystery—all of these are qualities that this poet shares with Dickinson, plus the jarring unusual nature of the poem, plus its inconclusive resolution coupled with an aesthetically conclusive ending.

I like also that is doesn't try to imitate the language or strategy of Dickinson but rather emulates her spirit. Deep things are involved here, the eerie replicas, the terrifying dreams, the innocent enduring daughters. This is a real poem and a real poet.