Three poems by David Cooke

 
 
     Urban
 

Drawn to our open lawns and clipped verges,
the spectral profusion of a well-stocked
border or neat geometrical bed,
they tiptoe across our phantom frontier.

Too easily startled, they sniff an air
that’s fraught with omen, their delicate ears
twitching. Once spooked, they bounce on bony shanks
beyond the range of each imagined threat –

when dangers here are mostly unforeseen:
the unyielding edge of bricks or iron
their jitters misjudge, the lumbering tons
of a bus cruising its late night circuits.

In breathless seconds the rush of instinct
subsides. Discovering quieter shadows,
they settle back to their wary grazing,
eavesdropping through glass on still breathing homes.

Bunched together in sisterly huddles,
the females seek no more than sustenance
and a safe return to the world they’ve left.
In the road a dominant stag ponders.

One day his kind will repossess it all.
For now his antlers are like a chalice
abrim with dingy light. High above him
there’s darkness, where tonight he dreams of stars.

 
 

    Sicilian Elephants

 

As I try to interpret the evidence
of bones shrunk to a homelier scale,
I imagine their vast migrations.
Keeping in step with a pillar
of dust, they lumbered stoically
from one mirage to the next.

For how many more thousands
of years could hunger lead them on
across parched wilderness,
salt-scorched and scrawled
with thorny growth – a whisper
of water in the skirr of wings?

A sense of kinship their greatest
strength, each family group
was focused on who they were
and how to stick together, remembering
mornings that dampened briefly,
the nights when sun desisted.

There were generations
they had left behind – stripped
and whitened beneath rapacious
sky – while they plodded onwards
beyond the roar of tides
that cool but cannot slake you.

Slowly gradients altered
and the sea wiped their footprints
till they were corralled in a short-lived
paradise of sweet leaves, springs
and wholesome shade: their needs
unsustainable; their bulk a burden.

 
 

    Tin

 

Too mundane to be respected,
your name has been abused
in tin-pot general, a tin god,

or the kind of ear that can’t
discern distinctions in music.
Good enough for a fair day

and a tinker’s jig, you’ve been
around a long time, but
never made a decent blade.

Too soft to harm a soul,
you have fetched up in
brooches, trinkets, figurines –

the kind of tokens love
admires. Winning hearts,
you lack significant value.

Disregarded, your qualities
are of the humbler sort,
but if they fail it’s tragic

when explorers come to grief
for want of sound supplies.
Trudging back through hell

that froze your seams
to dust, Scott found his fuel
had trickled away.

Conscripted with copper
in monuments and plaques,
you have tasted glory.

 
 

David Cooke

About David Cooke

David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977. Since then his work has appeared in many journals in the UK, Ireland and beyond: Agenda, Ambit, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, Magma, The Manhattan Review, The Morning Star, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Stand. 'Reel to Reel', his sixth collection, was published in 2018 by Dempsey & Windle and his seventh, 'Staring at a Hoopoe', is published in March 2020. He is the founding editor of The High Window.