Notes from the Dry Country – Ellen Aronofsky Cole

Notes from the Dry Country – Ellen Aronofsky Cole

Poetry. Paper, Perfect Bound
84 pages
2019, ISBN: 978-1-936419-87-6 $16.95 + S&H

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What if your death was born with you when you were born, your shadow twin, and walks around with you wherever you go, to be released only when you die? What if fear mice run down your spine in the hospital, and then make a movie where the highlights of your life are left on the cutting room floor? What if your spirit drifts north on prevailing winds to Newfoundland, or hangs around in the clouds above Penobscot Bay? In Notes from the Dry Country poet Ellen Aronofsky Cole writes about the end of life in poems that draw on myth, fairytales, fantasy, popular culture, and brutal reality. In this world Henry the VIII might shop at K-Mart for a wife, and an angel might appear in your back yard disguised as a T-Rex and dispatch your nephew and niece.

In this collection Cole chronicles her experiences as a patient suffering from a rare blood cancer that she was not expected to survive, the bone marrow transplant that saved her life, and then broadens her focus to include the depression, anxiety, and an inescapable sense of vulnerability in this world that her experiences as a cancer survivor and a woman have left her. She also writes movingly about her joy in her husband and daughters, and how her family and dearest friends have drawn her back from despair.

Cole’s poems are fast moving and vivid, using forms that include classic blues, sonnets, dramatic monologues, prose poems, and free verse. Her poems morph and surprise, reality merges with dreams in a Chagallian collage of unexpected images, tenderness, humor, and the dark corners of the human soul.

Note from the Dry Country reviewed in the Washington Independent Review of Books
Note from the Dry Country reviewed in the Midwest Book Review

Praise for Ellen Aronofsky Cole’s work:
“Everything is a knife,” Ellen Aronofsky Cole’s opening poem “Excision” teaches in the enormously moving collection, Notes from the Dry Country. The poem speaks of a hard diagnosis, and of a maiden whose open mouth pours forth birds. Such a tension between surgical removal and miraculous release imbues her book with awareness at the cellular level. In all of these poems about the disappointments of the body and the body politic, “the hardest task,” as she calls it in the short poem of the same name, is to go on: “Try to look, to praise. /Here are your feet, your pants. The/ task is to rise. You have not been mutilated.” I was deeply affected by these words and by so many of these poems, their tender wisdom and authority. Ellen Cole is a born poet, and Notes from the Dry Country is the fulfillment of her practice, which has been to coax our attentions from the way things ought to be, toward the way things are. — David Keplinger, author of Another City

I have never read anything quite like these chatty, sardonic, death-haunted poems. With her quirky, deceptively girlish voice and uninhibited imagination, Ellen Aronofsky Cole leads the reader through some of the darkest regions of experience, through sorrow, depression and cancer treatment, calling up equal doses of outrage and antic humor, alternating between anger and tenderness. I admire the daring, go-for-it directness of these approachable, deeply human poems, how Cole’s arresting imagery transforms the mind’s dissociations under duress into what Robert Bly has called “leaping poetry.” — Jean Nordhaus, author of Memos From the Broken World

There’s a lifetime of facing up to the end of things in this thoroughly felt and richly understood first collection. These “Notes” are so alive in detail, wit, honesty, and care as to elevate their hard evidence into something wonderful as well as valuable. — Stanley Plumly – author of Elegy Landscapes


I wake laughing from a dream—
a tree blooming with pigs.
Remember when Laura dreamed

of a pig-tree when she was six?
How we laughed?
I ask, and you
try so hard to smile you wince.

The nurse hangs morphine
on my IV. Chemotherapy
has seared my throat, blistered

the mucosa in my mouth.
I decide no more pudding.
No more broth.

My doctor says two things—
You have to eat.
You have to stay strong.

I do neither. I curl onto my side,
wish to suck my thumb.
Patients march past my door

walking their IV poles as if
they were large pets. I push
the button for more morphine.

Pigs drift down from the ceiling
like pink balloons,
settle against my chest.

About Ellen Aronofsky Cole
Ellen Aronofsky Cole is a poet, actress, and teaching artist. Her publications include her chapbook Prognosis, published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, Little Patuxent Review, Potomac Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Washington Post Magazine, Bogg: A Journal of Contemporary Writing, and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, and elsewhere. Her article “My Life as a (Fake) Patient,” was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Ellen works as a medical actress, role playing with medical students. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband Brian, and a small, feisty parrot named Haiku.