David Cooke – Six Poems

David Cooke - Issue 65 jpegDavid Cooke was born in the UK but his family comes from the West of Ireland. He won a Gregory Award in 1977. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, was published by Ward Wood in 2012. His poems, translations and reviews have appeared widely in the UK, Ireland and beyond in journals such as Agenda, Ambit, Cyphers, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Literary Review, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, Magma, The Morning Star, New Walk, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand. He has two collections forthcoming: A Murmuration (Two Rivers Press, 2015) and After Hours (Cultured Llama Press 2017).


The day I floored Mick Kavanagh
defending my granddad’s interests,

we had crossed fields to reach the shambles
at the end of the big man’s boreen –

a morning’s adventure together,
if I helped fetch the sucking calf.

The deal sealed with a spit and a snifter,
they were making the most of the visit,

when talk turned to boxing
and my half-hearted career.

I must have missed a wink
between them – when it seemed

the giant was set to renege –
just as he saw nothing coming …

However the calf skittered
across the squelching fields home,

my grip on its halter was iron,
my gum booted stride transcendent.


Through white noise
money has made
I hear inherited wisdom.

It is battened down
and canny,
telling me now

to make do and trim,
as if somehow
I might succumb

to the unforgiving cycle
of extravagance and
and meltdown.

Stern-voiced, insistent,
it is penny-pinching,
penny-wise –

peeking always
each corner.


It’s like I’m a truant trying to sneak
back in, fingers crossed and hoping
they’ll never notice in the hullaballoo
unleashed by the bell
at the end of a morning’s lessons.

If hawk-eyed Fidelis spots me,
or gruff Leander, should I own up
to my guilt and shock them,
knowing the slate is wiped clean,
if I’ll make amends?

Too many decades have passed
since I first bunked off,
deciding nonetheless to risk it
past two minatory blocks
of concrete, their edges yellow striped,

into a site ‘protected’
by powers who’ve cordoned it off.
They have left a board with a fortress
logo and the number
to ring if I’m concerned.

Inside I follow blistered tarmac
that curves around a sunken garden.
There are no roses left, no hives –
only clumps of pampas grass
rooted in a dreamtime.

Staring blankly, the original house
seems stunned by its fall from grace –
the boarded windows, the silence,
its brickwork shot from the ground up,
revealing zigzag scars.

At the back the veranda’s rusted,
where I see ‘new’ labs, the ‘huts’,
and older classrooms, past which
we walked to the ‘clock’,
awaiting retribution.

Toeing the line, we had no sense
that a canker, slow-burning
elsewhere, could bring down trees
at the edge of the field: their roots dissolving,
their poisoned leaves dispersed.


By summer term, our first year,
we had mostly survived –
working class migrants’ kids
and a few posh Brits,
some of whom were ‘paying’.

Ungroomed graduates
of a ‘two tier’ system, we got by
on nous: with no practice papers
bought from Smiths;
or parents pulling strings.

Once past the rumours of dark
initiation – and barely noticed
by older boys – it was books,
books, all the way, hooked
on the rituals of a new Parker pen.

With so much to learn,
I was hungry for it, and mopped up
elements, declensions, dates…
It was hands-off knowledge,
orderly and abstract –

the better half of the old equation,
as I tramped blank circuits
around Prospect Park,
or held back, clueless,
on a muddy football pitch.


There is no way back
to that landscape
or the child
that you once were.

The well is boarded up;
the Iron Age fort
bulldozed flat.

They have cleared
the table.
The fire is banked.

While you were busy
they switched off
the light.

Níl aon bhealach siar
go’n tír sin
ná go’n óige
a chaith tú tráth.

Tá béal an tobair
dúnta; leagadh
an sean-ráth.

Glanta acu
atá an bord;
múchta an tine.

Agus tú cúramach
áit éigin eile,
an solas as.

(With thanks to Aifric Mac Aodha through whose good offices this Irish language version was supplied anonymously).

for Brian Joyce

The day I told you I’d read him
you remembered you’d seen him once,
hunched over his pint, broodingly,
back home on Inishmore, when you

were maybe seventeen,
eighteen, or old enough at least
to get past the landlord’s gaze
in that free and easy tavern

where, perched on the edge
of a swirl of talk, you listened in
to blether, blarney, craic,
never imagining then

your first words might fade –
though learning two trades,
you knew that one or the other
would take you away,

your eye as true as the grain
in wood or the faultless seams
you stitched for years
in Savile Row’s finest suits.

And there he sat in the corner,
muttering quietly, as you observed him
watching a gull that settled,
momentarily, on some weathered post.

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