book excerpt

‘I Miss the Simple Things’

Quarantine poems from Catherine Cohen.

Photo: Jenny Watts
Photo: Jenny Watts
Photo: Jenny Watts

It turns out that Catherine Cohen is, famously, the voice of her generation. In the distant years before the pandemic, also known as the late 2010s, the multidisciplinary comedian set previously unvoiced millennial concerns to music (can one, legally, go apple picking upstate without a boyfriend?) in cabaret and comedy spaces like Union Hall and Club Cumming, for audiences packed tush-to-tush. Now, Cohen has taken her talents for observation and channeled them into a debut book of poetry, the medium most fitting to our current reclusive situation. In God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From a Gal About Town, Cohen is our first Notes-app laureate, reflecting on life’s anxieties and mundanities in a way that’s both painfully relatable and hilariously her own. Here are four of Cohen’s poems to read, preferably while luxuriating in the vicinity of a candle while thinking about how gorgeous you must look reading poetry.

poem I wrote after I downloaded The Sims at age 28 during quarantine

In Paris we couldn’t figure out how to get
to the Arc de Triomphe so we went to Sephora
we had pink wine by the water
and you told me you didn’t think
anyone ever died from getting fingered too hard
that night I got McDonald’s
and watched 13 Reasons Why alone
on my laptop in Paris
I never told anyone that
a few weeks ago I broke a glass in my apartment and
I was too lazy to clean it up so
I kind of just pushed it into a corner
and now every few days I step on a tiny piece of glass
it doesn’t hurt it’s just part of my new lifestyle
can you die from being in a bad mood?

poem I wrote after I had a dream Jessica Simpson took me “under her wing”

Photo: Publisher

I cut my boyfriend’s hair on Instagram Live
and all I got was a sense of community
and this rush of adrenaline
Spotify tells me I can work from home with Vivaldi
what’s it called when you dread the end
of something before it starts?
We’re out of toilet paper and I just ordered
a bejeweled headband online
it’s coming Friday is it sexy
how much I hate being alone?

I ask my boyfriend if he wants to marry me
we’ve been drinking a new milk made from peas
I tell him I would say no if he asked
he says that’s okay it’s a big decision

I miss the food from Starbucks
I miss the shuttle at LAX
I miss crying in Italy outside
listening to Norman Fucking Rockwell on repeat
counting down the hours
till you’d pick me up at Gatwick
not as a surprise, because I asked you to
which upset you
because you were going to,
whether or not I asked

poem I wrote after I listened to my Spotify top songs of 2019 and it undid all the work I did in therapy last year

doctors really broke the mold
when they invented antidepressants
that make you feel worse
a pill that makes it harder to cum?
honey, where do I sign?!
I tried unlearning jealousy in 2015
I tried barre class
next year I’m going to buy something
and feel better for 12 minutes

poem I wrote after my lover quoted Zoolander towards me

If you don’t have crippling anxiety you aren’t modern
you’re a pioneer woman
churning butter in your bonnet,
having 12 kids near a wagon et al.
sometimes I feel so sharp but my body is so soft
is there an app for that?
I miss the simple things:
emailing someone named Jen,
crying about different types of love on the plane,
saying “my career is my boyfriend” over and over again
until blood comes out of all my holes,
figure skating.
I just want to go to an institution
where they charge you $12
to add the meat chicken
and tell you I once had a therapist tell me
you can’t gain weight
if you don’t put food in your mouth

Excerpted from God I Feel Modern Tonight, by Catherine Cohen. Copyright © 2021 by Catherine Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

‘I Miss the Simple Things’