Cooper Esteban's poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across the country, including The Quarterly, Chelsea, and Cimarron Review. His work has also appeared in internet publications such as elimae, 5 Trope, Octavo, and The East Village Poetry Web.

Mini-Chap from WDS

Cooper Esteban

Patrokleia with Naiad

The armor told the lie
so well that, even after the helmet
tumbled back and Hektor yawed over
the suddenly wrong

body, his men scrambled
up with their knives for a hank of the ghost's
black locks: I was born into that first
wet world-- striated

foam ground across the bronze
nosepiece, the chin strap powdery with sweat
as the shorn beard-- forlorn Akhilles
laving his scarred feet

in dank Skamander's grief,
salt sea rankling the fresh, and I-- like this
last concubine-- learning to plait my
hair with his, the slit

rope thrown over the deck
of the ship that will never take him home.

Bone China

For the porcelain I
opened my mouth a final
time on the oracle: we
gods with our downy
pulses bound
by an alto's nocturnes,
no likely measure
to rasp the scale
from a vestal's thighs.

Coronado from the Darkness

I was el gato,
smearing my forehead
against their shins, my musk
in the sheared-off
And was it
the kneecap or the unshaven
concavity behind it
I made the ingenuous
fossil for my
I remember
the swelling crotch
of the myrtle, the skin
you never believed hardened
over only water,
bark I thumbed up
and away,
wide-eyed lemur
licking scabies
off his sister's palms.

The Tomb of God: Three Heresies

(originally published in "Octavo" on the web)

A cavernous black-- I knew-- though I
Could neither hear the space nor see.
No smell, nor feel, as though I held
A wax nose shut with a waxen hand.

But my belly raised the acid bath
Of a copper cent tied to the teeth.

The vertigo of a fisher-boy
Spun in a squall on Galilee--
And rutlike troughs snapping the sail
While yellow vomit caulks the hull--

Is sunlight slow to burn through the clouds?
Then count the years that eat one shroud.

And now I lie at rest except
For pilgrims kneeling at my vault--
Priests in cassocks shouting prayers
As though their god was short for ears--

And children tuning playful voice
To hymns because they have no choice.

    "Nag Hammadi"
You know the story that they tell,
The gospel of the Roman Paul--
That God left heaven for this hell
To save you sinners, one and all.
But can you stand the tale I share,
Or will your fingers stop your ears?--
That when the cross rose in the air
I was not there, I was not there.

I stood with John in Jordan's flow
And felt the feathers of the dove
         Brush through my hair.
I turned to watch the people go
Till John called out, "The God of Love
Is like a serpent in the snow,
As slow to give his venom heir."
But when the principalities
And powers cast their treacheries,
And Jude kissed Jesus in the trees,
I was not there, I was not there.

I was not there to feel the whip
To which the Romans tied their nails,
Or blushed to hear the Latin lip
And tongue cry out 'hail and farewell.'
You saw my fine disciples flee,
Denying that they spoke with me,
Or even knew the fishery
Of Chinroth's wind-torn beach.
--And when the saved leave act for speech,
And call out for me in their prayers,
And pass the peace from lip to cheek,
And salt their incense in the air;
When purple cloth arrays the meek,
I am not there, I am not there!

"Was she with child by Jesus then?"
"What matter, Lord? What matter?
Begetting is the way of men--
What matter, Lord? What matter?"
"But if she saw the shatter
Of the stone that sealed him in the grave,
Or touched the cloths rolled to the side
That only a grieving wife would save,
Or kissed the wrist-bones that still bled--"
"What matter, Lord? What matter?"

"Did Caesar's gold buy Caesar's men?"
"What difference, Lord? What difference?
The cross would soon take Caesar in--
What difference, Lord? What difference?"
"But if the haloed god-prince
Of the icons never entered death,
Or fought Beelzebul to take
The righteous souls who followed Seth,
Is not our mystery a mistake--"
"What difference, Lord? What difference?"

"I dream I see him in a ship
That leaves the holy coast behind,
The robe that hides the track of whip
And nail a-ruffle in the wind;
And hair, combed loose, obscures the trace
Of thorn-prints on the scalp and face,
And eyes that, for the first time, see
A dolphin leap across the bow
Are free to open lazily,
Unbothered by a childhood vow,
And rain-clouds hardly form to scatter--"
"What matter, Lord? What matter?"

After Falubert

(originally published in "elimae" on the web)

During the third
pass, even from the walls,
we saw how the flesh was tearing,

shed in layers
like an onion against
the thumb: somewhere deeper inside,
the receding

core of what we
called Hektor. Imagine
the sunset, the smears of the clouds,
girls in white slips

chafing up red
sand, dabbing the under-
lids of their eyes.

The Maze-Bull

(originally published in "The East Village Poetry Web" on the web)

How she squats
as though to
shit, but instead

delivers me-- mossy
spine, incipient

like a boy's
dry nipples above
my eyes.


he loves me: goading
me with the bobbed
sword or watching me

struggle up
the beach, my hooves cutting
into the sand

even as my brain
cries 'foot'.


Nearer here
to heaven that you
might think: spiralling
walls, though I cover

no distance; sudden
pairs of guests,
clean and unclean; a thousand

torches. The afternoon
sun reflected
off the lenses of a fly.


(originally published in "The East Village Poetry Web" on the web)

From behind I
fell upon him as
he had fallen
into her, the head
of my staff in the small
the small of his
back, the frightened
wings beating above
my ears no less
than his heart, blind
for all his open
          while the paired
fangs raised vision
all over her, unsleeping
watch of the serpent, blue
ringed poisons
that saw the final
scene exactly as it
was, a rash
of men weaving their fingers
into stolen hair, one
man strumming it out long
like the only
thread left in his coat.

The Gates of Hell
    for Geoffrey Hill

(originally published in "elimae" on the web)


Gaunt forms knot around the hinges,
their limbs caught like climbing ivy,
the joints swollen impossibly.
Above them, riding the iron flanges,
Herr Mengele and his angels.
As on earth, so in unearthly
realms-- those most damned rule serenely
with chicken hearts and syringes.


Here the All-Father reclines at
his leisure to figs and white wine
while four neutered cherubs stake down
the straining corners of a net,
the cords of it welting reprobate
no more than regenerate skin.
--One prays they are all only stone
and will, in time, disintegrate.

The Emilys


I could not be where you were not--
Empty sky--
I would have worn my fingers through--
Useless-- to pray

Yet I cannot-- where you are--
If I could--
My intercession manumits--
Every burning word--

    "The Terrible Dialogues"

[In these two poems, phrases from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins are incorporated into the faux-Dickinson lines, as though she might somehow have had access to his work]


I wake to find the fallen dark.
I wake to the cold.
I wake beside a naked man
Sleeping still.

One hand lies open on his chest,
Star made flesh:
Five rays to count our burning out,
Soon as we flash.


"Patience! Hard thing--"
To one who feels Its lips--
Or hopes one does-- or has--
Whatever else one hopes--

Hard grace to feel the feeling come--
The lips-- split--
Admittance granted-- but the body
Wants no-- Part of It


Dashed hope like water from the bowl
Beaded on the wax
Sunlight burning from a depth
No one expects

No one thinks to find so low
What never was
Except the blind who read our faces
Fingering their eyes

Otra Idiomas


bin und bist
hand in hand.

wahr, bin ist
el h. kant.

"du bist nicht!"
sagt bin. "ja,
nur bin ich."

"wass/er spricht?"
fragt bist. "kann
hoeren nicht."

    Canción Pintada

Vendrá un día
en que no más
tendré sed
y aún la hambre
se habrá sido

mi sangre
y mis huesos
se harán
el rojo y blanco
que les usan
las mujeres
a pintar
la cara
que les mirará
del cielo
uno u otro
de los dioses

y que él
no se tentará
a bostezar

    Canción Romantica


Las grullas

y no pueden
hasta un pez

que brilla

cada una
en una pierna

debajo la luna



Los grillos
rozando sus piernas

como si
podría mejorar

conchas prietas

otra canción
esta noche menor


y yo
en las tinieblas

en pie, listo
y no piernas

que rozar

de la ramada

sin nadie que cazar
salvo mías


Cooper Esteban's book, Jove Protected by Geese, is available in a fine, limited edition from elimae press. To order a copy, contact Deron Bauman at