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Midnight Bus to Oaxaca
by Elaine Cohen

Midnight Bus to Oaxaca: An Introduction

The poems in the collection were written over the last two decades. Some came all at once, dropping like manna, and others took years to finish and polish. Together they form a lyric memoir about a time in my life when I needed to reckon with my losses and possibilities. Reading Jack Keruoac's On the Road at age thirteen set me on a restless path of traveling – by hitchhiking, bus, car, train, subway, airplane – it didn't matter, as long as I got to where I was going. In retrospect, I see that it was all about the journey. Slowing down in one place, such as Oaxaca, Mexico where many worlds mingle and collide, I began to gain enough perspective to envision this slim volume of poems.

Advance Reviews

"I thoroughly enjoyed Elaine Cohen's pitch-perfect renderings, her words-eye view of the life of a restless Jewess cast adrift in a country not her own, how she has kneaded her vulnerabilities into art. The poems recombine phrases in the fresh manner of an accomplished improviser who adds layers of licks as life adds to experience. The sojourn in Oaxaca pulsates with life (and death). The bus ride. The healing treatment of Doña Rosa. The café. Cohen is such an active listener and keen observer of people and places, Midnight Bus to Oaxaca takes you right on board." 

- Richard Simon, Los Angeles musician, journalist, educator 

"Elaine Cohen creates strong and enticing poems, at once precise in detail and wide-ranging in the subject.
She writes vividly about places from Oaxaca Mexico to Hyde Park in Chicago, New York, Berlin, and Paris." 

- Marge Piercy, author of "On the Way Out, Turn off the Lights"

Sample Poems

Night of the Radishes

Tonight the famed Oaxaca Zocalo with its arcaded cafés

and colonial building is awash in radish brilliance –

a competition of masterwork sculptures carved from giant

tusk-like radishes cultivated for just this purpose, bright

magenta on the outside, snow-white interiors.

Around the square's perimeter in 3D radish:

skeletons and mariachis, monkeys, angels, devils,

Zapatistas, dioramas of Don Quixote tilting windmills.

Radish shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, stark, post-modern

radish abstractions. Hail Radish glory for one-night-only!

After the judging, I stop at a club near my hotel

to hear an Argentine play tangos on bandoneon.

Return to my silent blue cell on the second floor,

switch off the solitary light. Tangos drift in on the air

and I think of you no matter how much

I want to forget.

How you would have loved those radish sculptures!

How your sudden death was like an amputation.

Where are you? In spirit, they say. Dead, they say.

Resurrected. Gone to hell. Let him go, they say.

The night deepens. Banana leaves rustle.

Dim lights glimmer.

Chinatown Sonnet

For years I lost myself on those crowded streets,

Grant or Stockton, and all the narrow alleys

in between, elbowed by old women wearing

padded jackets, glaring at me as I gawked

displays of jade, or the doomed, crated ducks

soon to be roasted, glazed and hung

in shop windows. Sidewalks clogged with trucks

unloading chickens, frogs, turtles, clear-eyed fish

still flopping on ice, piled-up herbs, cress,

ginseng – I take in all the clatter and stink

of markets conducted in tongues I will never

understand, a tourist in my own city,

the city I kept faith with thirty years, until one day

I went out for cigarettes and never came back.