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).


i.m. Peter McManus

When I first came on a visit
to your limewashed house
– a clean-kneed child from town –
your two great fists

impressed me, for they
were ponderous chunks
of granite, notched
carelessly for fingers

and which, at your own willed
creation, you had torn
from the heart of the land.
Yes, I knew then how

you had risen and, separate,
must have kept on walking.
I was almost frightened
to be your friend, but still

am running so breathlessly
beside you as you stride
onwards, the castle of yourself,
across rough fields

of thistle and clover.
And the dogs are running
before us, and our laughter
creates again a flawless sky.


From compartment windows
they were fake, too far away
to be real. Friesians, shorthorns,
angus: painted cows

in a book of fields –
while on the train I rampaged,
shuttling impatience
through pages and pages

of green. Unexpectedly,
we’d arrive and land in a world
where they moped.
The first day up, a drover,

I’d goad them on with a stick
then savour their warmth
at milking when packed
into pungent stalls,

where a white jet steamed
frothed up in a galvanized pail.
The fields outside
were full of their muck

in pats that were ringed
and perfect. Wherever
I ran that muck
would cling to my shoes.


On a brand new TV we watched soldiers
parade and saw far off in Dublin
the men file past in ranked array
while dignitaries took the salute.
In droning celebration a band
thumped out The Foggy Dew.
Did their heads, too, drum to a bidding voice,
an identity: Poblacht na hÉireann
proclaimed in print on walls?

A die-hard republican veteran,
he had shouldered a gun in history.
Watching the screen with a child
half a century later
he doled out his memories;
with good-natured verve
spoke of days he’d lived through.

Memorial pageant, a smokeless sky –
we heard crowds cheer in Dublin.
Spruced up in his duds, I see him
jauntily stepping in line.


Speeches from the Dock: it was just a book
I have never found time to read. One summer
years ago, I picked up a copy to leave as a gift
for that affable, authentic old man
who let us rule his roost.

Tall stories, fields, politics: his talk
was a warm anthology that told us
where we came from, that here it was
we belonged; that the past was names
enshrined in pages of a martyrology.

Wolf Tone, Emmet, Casement –
through his eyes I try to see them all again,
each shade impassioned, eloquent,
as they hold their accusers spellbound,
their syllables streaming in a classical flood.

Our past was a landscape perfected
in memory, where each tree
is rooted, solitary and firm.


Her hand at the door, my aunt
said quietly: He’s going
then urged me in to speak.
Why? for I found him there
at peace, beyond all need
of words or comfort.

Without will, broken,
he was propped up against pillows
and like a child had been bibbed
to feed. Sustaining nothing,
he slopped weak broth
from a bowl he could not handle.

Its warm breath flared.
It had no power that quickened in him.
I played a part ten minutes
– the quietness pounding its anvil –
and quit. My dying bones
were light as those of a bird.


I shuffled at the back
for years and kept a truce
at home by looking
at others around me –
the prim communion
faces worn like a mask
on dutiful daughters;
or the old women
who lit the candles,
crooning responses
from missals as though
caged from doubt.

Through pious
circumstance each rite
had refined us
in faith, but now
when the host is raised,
a tiny weightless moon,
it drifts in orbit
beyond all touch of mine.


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