In Remembrance of Elise Cowen / Rebel Under Glass

elise Cowen

Rebel Under Glass
To Elise Cowen – For All The Wrongs Never Righted

In 1933 the fluid broke
and  ‘it’ poured out –
through one dark portal of cubiculum to another
neither less wet
neither less light
neither less broken

Sometimes parents become peripheral breeders
hoping for a duplicate of themselves
a duplicate to authenticate their status
of having made it among the social elite-
the umbrella-ed cocktails at social hour
Florida vacations
designer clothing
a decorated apartment with a window view
over looking Long Island

The Cowens wanted a charmed darling  –
like the fairer look of Elise’s friend,
Joyce Glassman, “Polish as Hell”.
They pushed for a debutant’s demeanor
for the love of gloved hands shiny with inherited bracelets
neck bragging of  black water pearls
and diamond brooches on smart lapels
the coxcombing of soft lifestyles
that Daddy’s hard work had provided

Instead they got Elise
the blurred copy
the one needing braces and a dermatologist
the one needing instructions and institutions
the one needing a calm that never came

Elise grew up pestered by flaws
for almost 30 years it was a contentious match
The hysterics many a Jewish child grows up with-
The constant clamoring and clashing
the Jewish theatrical supplication used to define family love-
They tore out each others filigreed hearts
in chewed up kosher chunks
only to spit them out and swallow them whole again

Elise didn’t want to play their game
Or — secretly, did she?
She went to Barnard as was fatherly ordained
looking for love and acceptance
someone opposite her father,
or maybe underneath
she yearned to be on the same ‘Mommy pedestal’,
to have someone provide for her
but with riches more in spiritual value than cash
and when her lover and Philosophy Prof
became detached and used her more as a babysitter
Elise still hung around him and through the door came Allen
the soul mate she knew she had been waiting for –
he was the one to render her parts into a whole – she felt it

A student and virtual twin, Allen shared the ‘tribe-vibe’
he was caring and casual
they could talk Keats, and later become Beats
they could commiserate and conjugate,
but would never domesticate

If only she had used the time
to find a real man and not cling to a boy looking for a boy
Elise needed someone to tend to her moods
who would soothe her soul
who would nurture her genius
who could solder through the parental armor
but instead she fell for Allen Ginsberg,
the boy-man requiring the same exact nurturing

Brilliance was inside her head
so was the plaque of  doubt
dulled by knives of constant cleaving
always treated as a child pressed against broken glass
Elise had found her twin
two naïve and lost souls
dependent and bespectacled
writing poems about their angry inheritance
they shared the mirror of madness between them

She tried acting the rebel
but secretly could have used convention
Elise was one more lost girl
striving for the love of that one ‘bad’ boy
and unfortunately,
so was Allen

They lived together
and tried to love together
and Ginsberg rejected her for Peter, (literally and figuratively)
Elise assembled a line of defense
and found a female lover
tit for tat
dick for dat
the 4 lovers even shared the same aggravated living space

And when Ginsberg was sent a psychiatric ward
Elise was sent to Bellevue,
“a sign” of their forged bond, their commitment she was sure
But Ginsberg departed for California
and Elise departed to a desolate deep end
But the mental hospital was just one lingering stop
along the highway to find her Allen

She quit her typing job and the police escorted her out,
and even beat her-
her father cared less about Elise’s wounds
insisting she never embarrass her mother
with such tawdry details

Elise trekked to California
found Allen and he moved back east,
she had nothing to stay for
but got pregnant and got unpregnant
and became sterile,
one more flaw and failure to add to her negatives

Back home she came
to the chorus of “I told ya so’s”-
back to the skirmishes and depression
and Bellevue again and again
writing her dark poetry along the way
begging for recognition
begging for Elise to be someone else, (forget the ‘i’)
someone other than a black hole constantly
trying to suck the gravity out of her parent’s sun

She checked herself depressive self out of Bellevue one last time
knowing her parents were in Miami
she sat in the living room
and finally Elise knew what to do
she had found a place of solace
the place where her heart would stop drowning
a place where truth and clarity
finally shined a light long denied her
a place where her parents and failure could not follow
a rebel’s heart roared at last
she would defy the convention
that kept defying her

How the police marveled at her bravado
after looking up
at the shattered window of her parents seventh floor high rise
Elise crashed straight through the looking glass
without bothering to open the window-
that takes guts, that takes desperation and lingering psychosis
that takes ‘show don’t tell’ to the limit

The cement sidewalk became her last portal
into permanent rendition
And her parents came home and carried on
they had the high rise window repaired
threw away all evidence of Elise’s poetry,
and traveled to Miami
where the other Long Island snowbirds would be waiting
waiting to gossip about poor privileged Elise
waiting to hear the grueling details
waiting to whisper about what SHE had done to her parents…


“No love
No compassion
No intelligence
No beauty
No humility
Twenty-seven years is enough”… Elise Cowen
[83 poems survived because she had left them with friend and fellow writer, Leo Skir]

Elise Cohen is associated with the Beat movement –

2 thoughts on “In Remembrance of Elise Cowen / Rebel Under Glass

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