David Cooke

David Cooke

David Cooke’s retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing. His current collection is Work Horses published by Ward Wood Publishing in 2012. A new collection to be called A Murmuration is scheduled for publication by Two Rivers Press in 2015.

David Cooke’s poems and reviews have appeared in many journals such as Agenda, The Bow Wow Shop, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, Magma, The Morning STar, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp, Stand and The Use of English.


A salt-hardened vernacular fetched
from who knows where by raiders,
their sights fixed on the main chance –

or a language as sedimentary
as the islands where it thrives,
the impacted layers of influence

bringing forth a growth
that’s tough as the prickly pear
and bloody-mindedly

survives diaspora –
remembering the words
of Joseph, our guide,

who had made his stash in Australia:
Sure, we all know English,
but I couldn’t speak it to my sons.

And, as each semitic day
begins or ends with Roman greetings:
bonġu, bonswa,

a language hinting
at reconciliation –
like Aristotle absorbed by Ibn Sina.


As if it were a fist that has slowly opened
the diminutive city draws you in –
as welcome as any stranger
to the quaint peace of its aftermath.

Past cabs whose horses idle, unfazed
by the notion of time, you cross
a bridge that spans the disused moat,
where now a lemon grove

rolls out its spangled carpet.
The fault-lines of creedal war
have shifted since to bleaker zones,
yet here, through clenched centuries,

the conflict was defined where,
on its still imposing gateway
the pagan is memorialised
who accepted grace and shared his roof

with a shipwrecked apostle.
Renamed by each invader,
it has returned at last by quiet declension
to the semitic of its native tongue.

Only the great and the good
can afford to live here now
– grandees and a few contemplatives –
rumoured presences behind high walls

that cast their cooling shadows
down crooked streets and alleyways –
a genteel maze designed
to impede an arrow’s flight.


Vague tracings on the map
of a small strategic island
were a puzzle that drew us out

into the scrubby hinterland
of chained dogs and old timers
beyond the wine co-operative

as, ever steeper, the road
ascended to a chapel
on the edge of a scarp,

its anchor the tutelary virgin
whose gaze absorbed
oneiric distances –

the time slip of Gozo;
and here it was we found them,
outfacing an eventless frontier,

at first indistinguishable
from the natural fault
they followed, until

through growth we reached
more substantial remains
of an imperial high-wire act,

moving on to scry
the weathered cuneiform
left by ramblers like ourselves,

or red-coated squaddies –
trying now to understand
their myth of demarcation.


However annoyingly off centre,
the bus station at Valetta is a hub
through which most routes pass.

In its packed arena where
you breathe in odours of aniseed,
diesel, fried dates and cinnamon,

the stops are all laid out
like a numerologist’s puzzle
in broken rings we can’t decipher.

Trying to find our way to a temple
whose own mysterious circles
made sense to someone

two thousand years ago,
we give up and ask for help
from a group of drivers

who are eating, drinking
and larking around.
Muttering a word

that sounds like ‘blacks’,
they point towards the city’s walls,
where four or five North Africans

wait like stragglers
from some routed army
for the bus that takes them home.


Hunched like a foetus
in the pale blue ring of Ocean,
the Argonauts’ numinous world

opens out on page one
its hazy chart of possibilities.
Their rigging creaked

a simple anthem,
a music for In the Beginning.
Their tentative course

across a land-locked sea,
filled with storms
and whispers, is doused

in strange atonal light,
their imaginings
buoyed by ignorance.

Others followed, each quest
afloat on eloquence,
until the unknown

shrank to mare nostrum,
these pages of slabbed imperium,
where coinage spread

like a new politeness
that brought with it suavity,
comfort; decent vintage,

and a service of Samian ware;
those self-regarding
schools of rhetoric,

their verse composed
in the bland key of dominance –
yet frontiers

remained, where Varus
lost his legions,
and pale tribes thrived,

who knew no more
than he did whose wild blood
warmed those fields of ice

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Poetry in this post: © David Cooke
Published with the permission of David Cooke