The Poetry of Patty Cogen is Breathtakingly Beautiful & Brave

These are the poems from Patty Cogen and her book (seeking a publisher now) – The Flip Side of My Skin. I want to gush endlessly about her talent but for now will give her writing the space it deserves to speak directly to you including her own brief introduction. I must say thank you to the fierce, honest, truth-telling advocate and friend, Beth O’Malley (author of Adoption Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child) who introduced me and Patty.

Why Patty Cogen Started Writing

In l985 I visited an infant specialist/psychotherapist get help with my 6 month old son—he was crying. His crying was the key to locked room. ” I think something happened…to me.” I said in a sort of trance. “Maybe something did happen,” the therapist said. The key turned in the lock.

I left the office and walked into a room I had kept locked since early childhood, a room of memories, inhabited by six year old girl. That girl drew a series of ink drawings and began to tell her story. Her revelations explained so much, and turned my life inside out.

I began writing almost constantly to keep from going insane or killing myself. I had a two year old son by now, I had to live. I filled 28 journals and wrote over 100 poems to document the past and the journey my therapist and I made together. I joined a writing group and submitted a single poem for publication (“I Told My Mother”).

Then after 8 years of therapy, I put those notebooks and therapy aside and went on with my life.???????????????????????????????

Thirty years later… (Two years ago) I opened the notebooks and began reading. The poems were too compelling to ignore. I read several of them at Poets’ On the Coast, a women’s writing retreat. I contacted my therapist. I spent a year reworking old poems and writing new ones using feedback from a few selected friends and two editors.

Writing short compressed poems allows me to put the unbearable, the unmentionable, and the unfathomable into a manageable package. Too many details become overwhelming; overly graphic and extended description dilutes the impact making some readers turn away and others read for gore. I want to put in capsule form the conflicting emotions of angry-terror, fury-abandoned, honorable hatred.

“The Bag Lady of Brentwood” (shared below)was the first poem I wrote in this series. I needed to have a image of what I was doing, not just from the inside, but from a larger perspective.

“How I Write” and “Why I Write” (both shared below) expand this perspective, but it is not what most of my poems are about.

My early experience is captured by “I Told My Mother” (linked) and “My Dale Evans Dream” (shared below).

The Bag Lady of Brentwood

I am the Bag Lady of Brentwood
writing about the worms
crawling in and out of everyone’s closets.

Especially mine.

Someone has to do it.
It’s a sanitation job
like cleaning truck-stop toilets.

I empty the closets of my childhood,
dump the detritus in a shopping cart:
—notes on napkins
—journals kept in code
—trigonometry papers with poems in the margins
—the songs I sang myself to sleep

When it’s full, I’ll push the cart down San Vicente Boulevard
wheeling my life alongside the Beautiful People jogging,
my shopping cart careens between the sidewalk and the curb
beside the Volvos and the BMWs—

Down to bluffs and the beach I’ll go—
rumble onto the wooden pier,
dodging tourists and teenagers,
I pass the carousel with its clanging calliope,
dragging my market-basket down to the end
where the poor people fish.

Watch me push it off the edge—
watch the carefully collected remains of my life
spin down
fly apart
reunite with other times.

Watch it all hit the waterGlacier Bay Calving
and get clean.


Why I Write

The secret about the secret
The room behind the wall

The room with no door
The witch under the bed

The houses that speak
The breath that cannot exhale

The wish that could never be granted
The love that weaves itself.


My Dale Evans Dream

When I was five
I wore my Dale Evans skirt
with the imitation leather fringe
matching vest
gun holster.

Daddy showed up
riding Trigger
wearing leather chaps

He looked me over
with his squinty Roy Rogers eyes
aimed at me with his six-shooter—
the one with the silencer attached.

Don’t kill me, Daddy!
I won’t tell.

He turned & rode away.

Freightner and one of the horses at Wild Hearts building trust. Photo credit: Margaret Bellifiore

Photo credit: Margaret Bellifiore

I drew my gun
shot him dead.

He wasn’t Roy Rogers
I didn’t want to ride his horsie.

How I Write

Long pink dress with buttons down the front
bare feet
legs crossed beneath the typewriter
coffee brewed/poured— then forgotten, cold

across the room
the sofa sags
flowers nearly rubbed from the fabric
on the walls notes flutter
titles of imagined poems
people I’ll never call again

in faded jeans, flannel shirt, worn running shoes
standing in the welter of a kitchen
tea water on the boil
spatula grease
scrambled egg crusts
the dog sitting, expectant

across the room
sofa tumbled in apple juice boxes
Sesame Street
cushions tie-dyed with stains
slices of cucumber
a second dog asleep on the couch
all fighting with my pen

sometimes after midnight
in a thigh length t-shirt
on the stairs
walls smudging into charcoal
a single light at the bottom


Photo Credit: Margaret Bellafiore

across the room
the dogs snoring
stray sleep-words leak from the child upstairs
the pen’s violent scratch slices at the language
resting along side the closed green journal
arms loose
released to sleep
my search completed for
the secret about a secret
hidden within my own skin.

Bio of Patty Cogen

Patty Cogen is a retired psychotherapist specializing in children from birth to five and their families. Patty authored Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child (2008) and numerous articles on adoption parenting as well as political commentary in local newspapers. Her memoir-essay, If you want to change your life, begin with your underwear, appeared in the Winter 2013 Issue of Persimmon Tree.

Her poem, “New Morning Prayer for Women,” was chosen by poet and activist, Marge Piercy to appear in the Lilith Literary Magazine blog, and in a future print addition. She is looking for a publisher for her memoir-poem cycle: The Flip Side of My Skin, which includes the poems shared herein.

Patty is a wife and mother of two adult children. She lives in Seattle and Port Townsend, WA.


Cissy’s Note: I need to read these words. They helped me hold a piece of my soul more softly and to sit in and with pains I still lock up in my closet like a terrified feral cat.

We need one another to utter sounds, syllables and triumphant song that we recognize, can hum to and feel able to lullaby rest within. I can’t make poems this well-crafted and spare and on point. I don’t need to. This is Patty’s beautiful voice and it reaches me.

We all have this ability to speak to and with one another in voices entirely our own. We may not all choose to write but I hope to keep creating a world more inclusive of our voices and experiences, poetry, soul and song.


You Matter Mantras

  • Trauma sucks. You don't.
  • Write to express not to impress.
  • It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors.
  • Breathing isn't optional.

You Are Invited Too & To:


  1. Hi Cissy – Just listened to your interview with Alaura O’Dell, then followed you around cyberspace for a while, and back to Heal Write Now. Thanks for all you are doing, how beautifully and sensitively you talk about your life and all of ours.
    In the greater scheme of things, we’re in the same field. I write, teach and blog about “memoir and mindfulness,” not as specifically trauma related as yours, but very similar basic message. I have memoir out, King of Doubt – happy to send you a copy, if you’d like (let me know format) … and also would like to quote you in current book I’m writing, but unsure whether sayings like “Breathing is not optional” are yours original or if not, from whom, so I can credit correctly.
    I’d be happy to exchange blog posts if you’re interested.
    Again, thanks for all you’re doing and being. Peter

    • HI Peter:
      PLEASE send me your blog and your memoir and a link to both for me and others. “Breathing is not optional” is me. If it’s what someone else has said, I will quote and attribute because that is SO IMPORTANT. I don’t know why people don’t do that more. However, it’s always best to check just to be sure and I can provide a bigger context if there is one or it matters. Anyhow, I’m so glad you enjoyed the Alaura O’Dell talk. I was nervous but it was fun. I look forward to learning more about your life and work. Cissy

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