Poetry Blog by David Cooke
Robert Haigh on Ascendants (11 days ago)
The clanking compound of the brewery
– where Dad did casual shifts,
when building work was scarce –
is buried now beneath the floors
of a multi-storey car park
and chat that drifts across
from cappuccino pavements.
Born to a scant inheritance
of rushy Sligo acres, my dad was bred
like his brothers to follow the work,
sending remittances home
from London, Readi...
Monday 14th September 2020 6:53 pm
i.m. John and James Cooke
They are on parade in perfect step
– my father and my father's brother –
strolling down a street in Dublin
where a breeze is freshening
and the nineteen-fifties
are loitering round the corner;
and even if I’ve no way
of asking either how they spent
the day, or what claim
each felt he'd a right to make
on an open-handed future,
they are still sharp in Sunday ...
Saturday 12th September 2020 7:15 pm
Sunday 6th September 2020 11:49 am
For a week now you have felt uneasy,
noticing signs. With skies even brighter
than those you dreamed of, you sensed a frenzy
in the crazed speck you crushed on a worktop.
Mapping imaginary lines across
your kitchen’s granary tiles, they have sent out
explorers – hewers and drawers – to probe
your landscape of leakage and spills.
Tracking down their base to a crac...
Wednesday 24th June 2020 9:43 am
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 s...
Tuesday 23rd June 2020 9:46 am
Through a side gate, whose unassuming frame
is draped in swags of pale wisteria
like hairstyles worn by Victorian girls,
I return to a half-remembered space,
its neat enclosure more clearly defined
by flint walls than the past will ever be;
and where parched lawns, diminished and threadbare
in the unseasonable heat, mark out
a territory that can’t now be repossessed –...
Sunday 21st June 2020 9:26 am
Take a modest length of pipe, making sure
it’s clean and true, and try to blow through it.
In that way you’ll get a sense of how
it was for Pan, when he played his Blues
for Syrinx on a lonely riverbank.
But if you wish to get beyond the wind
in the reeds and shivering leaves
you’ll need to choose some decent brass
that’s resonant, tough, and flexible,
buffing it ...
Tuesday 9th June 2020 9:16 am
It wasn’t the music that drew him,
not at first, but the shape it made
on a stand and the way it took
the light, staring back at him
from the pawnshop window.
And so he decided then and there
he’d learn to play it, taking
for granted his gift and the right
he’d have to cradle it
once he had mastered the keys.
Those first uncertain months
it honked and squ...
Monday 8th June 2020 9:13 am
at the back of the bus,
Sarah could swear
like one of the boys –
her mouth as foul
as any sailor’s.
across the octaves,
was like a horn
with bop’s elite.
One step ahead
of the changes,
she harnessed time
as if she owned it
Saturday 6th June 2020 8:35 am
to accept his place
the violoncello politely
for a bow-tied
only the bass
like a holy roller,
Friday 5th June 2020 7:29 am
Praised to the skies
by a musicologist
he had done
was play the blues,
he took time off
to clear his head.
a padded loft
or a tumbledown
in the Lower
he blew his sax
come rain or shine
way up on the Bridge.
Thursday 4th June 2020 9:49 am
after Frank O'Hara
I never did read the news, though I don’t suppose
it made a splash in the Post or Herald Tribune–
with maybe just a line or two
among the baseball stats, divorces,
and the marches picking up
deep down in the Cotton States.
And I couldn’t tell you a thing I did
on a day as ordinary as any other
in a year, like others, distinguished
Wednesday 3rd June 2020 9:13 am
In San Quentin prison the psychos,
thieves and junkies exchange
desolate tales, and each one’s
a variation on a theme
that ends the same. Breathing in
and breathing out
to keep his panic at bay,
the man with the sax
is no exception when he tells his
in a different way.
Reinventing where he’s been,
one shimmering note
at a time, the way ahead’s unclear.
Tuesday 2nd June 2020 8:30 am
Feeling no urge
to ransack harmony
or play more notes
when a few were enough
as waves that wash
the Cape Verde Islands –
he hunched down
over the keys
and dug in deep
until, at last,
he made out
his old man’s features,
and smoking, as ever,
his rank cheroot.
Monday 1st June 2020 9:09 am
As over and over the same chords churn
your notes pour forth in spate –
sheets of sound erupting till harmony
is wrenched awry; and when you sweated
smack to cleanse your system,
you were hell-bent on an afterlife,
a body refreshed, believing.
You could call it Love, but sombre,
that force that drives you on.
Hearing you now, I feel reproved
for all the...
Saturday 30th May 2020 9:29 am
Your barest whisper at first suffices,
expanding slowly to an arc of sound;
each reticent phrase the horn releases
freights the air as a theme is found.
In dapper suits, expensive shoes,
you stand, your back half-turned to a crowd,
giving no more than what you’re paid for –
the music you make and time.
Friday 29th May 2020 8:46 am
I remembered someone saying
– with first-name familiarity
but too young to have known him –
Miles would never
have stooped to a moonwalk.
Looking back through a nicotine haze
to the husky chic of the fifties
and then beyond, I might have added
or a Bojangles shuffle.
The first time he played in Paris
the habitués of St Germain
queued up to see him bac...
Thursday 28th May 2020 8:31 am
I can see you sitting outside the Reno
where the Mob’s tight hold makes dollars spin.
You are scuffling the dust, then homing in
whenever Lester launches his solo.
Or I see you breathe at the music's source
through a taped and battered alto. Through scale
after scale you soar, egotistical,
obsessive, chasing sounds no ears endorse.
Later on the hipsters hailed you...
Wednesday 27th May 2020 10:19 am
la petite phrase Proust
Back home and married
after our year abroad,
the heat was on all summer
as mortgage rates
and temperatures soared.
Recording it now,
the memory’s triggered
by the music a DJ plays –
which happens to be
George Benson’s Breezin’,
the track that eased me
into jazz, clocking on
in the council yard
to get one step ahead.
Monday 25th May 2020 8:44 am
I surf and click, then raise his complex shade,
the presence and the poundage of a man
who took care of business, transcending his name
along the road between White Station,
Mississippi, and the juke joints of Chicago.
A diminutive screen contains him,
as he expounds the meaning of the blues –
a patriarch and mason, who had grasped his letters
like thorns, until his la...
Sunday 24th May 2020 9:44 am
for Joni Mitchell
Cactus Tree was our song, the one
that lit a flame, when I heard you sing
and taped you, bruised and plaintive,
on John Peel’s Top Gear. Straight off
your gift possessed me, too young
in sixty-eight for you to even notice
how I tagged along: the one face
in the entourage who really got you
and realized that other men
would leave you wa...
Saturday 23rd May 2020 10:49 am
When I couldn’t keep up with the cost of music,
I found a solution: the second-hand
reel-to-reel I picked up at a snip –
a Philips most likely or maybe a Grundig,
some brand I thought would last.
Its clickety counter gave no insight
into the digital age. It couldn’t remember
or shuffle a thing. Pre-CD and pre-cassette,
it lacked a remote or any inkli...
Friday 22nd May 2020 10:44 am
In the Shangri-La of San Francisco
they called it The Summer of Love,
tuning in and dropping out
to a soundtrack of spacey guitars.
Bookish, shy, and too young
for a droopy moustache and sideburns,
I was hothoused instead by Hayes
for the maths I was taking early,
but got a hint of something else
in Scott Mckenzie’s anthem.
Against her better ...
Thursday 21st May 2020 8:24 am
To get past the door to the Top Rank
disco every Saturday afternoon
you needed a suit, so mine
was a lifeless grey, a cast-off,
with narrow lapels that even then
I knew had never been fashionable.
Once in, you were lost to darkness,
until your eyes adjusted,
bumping around the outer tables,
where you searched for mates
who talked big and smoked,
nursing Pepsi ...
Wednesday 20th May 2020 9:44 am
In the picture-perfect scenery of Challes-les-Eaux
in seventy-five, locked in private darkness,
I played your lost indefinable music
on a tired loop of tape: Solid Air –
its title track an elegy for a friend you couldn’t save,
while you were destined to survive.
With a brawler’s zest for living,
you absorbed the booze and heartbreak.
When I heard...
Tuesday 19th May 2020 9:06 am
The King of the Delta Blues
The hellhounds always trailed him –
for that’s the drift of legends.
Fuelling spooks with shots
of malt, he wailed out blues
across the Delta.
Between us now the record
crackles bleakly, his scratchy voice,
a conjured ghost, sings clear
as barrelhouse belles who fleeced him
strut across my sight.
In the rattling dives he p...
Monday 18th May 2020 8:53 am
Your father could hold a congregation
in the palms of his hands raised to heaven;
and when he spoke of Daniel
at prayer in the lion’s den his words
were a song. His wayward daughter,
with your gift, like his God-given,
were you a sinner or sinned against
the first time you weakened?
It takes you years to find an answer
and years to find a voice
beyond polished ...
Sunday 17th May 2020 9:09 am
for Peter Robinson
I was listening to Dylan’s Time Out of Mind,
his late renewal after wasted years
– all simmer and wry despair –
to find that maybe he was rated again.
The voice was a wreck on a burnished track,
the songs a palimpsest of antique blues.
In the end the words will come
if they have to, like music that’s ghosted
by echoes stored in a phonograph’...
Saturday 16th May 2020 9:01 am
They were matter-of-fact and mercantile,
their deities stockpiled in lumber rooms,
containers, or the air-conditioned acres
of a state-of-the-art clockwork hangar.
Too good to clear away, they laid them up,
just in case, alongside incense and charms,
the stacks of cheap libationary bowls.
It didn’t take that much – distant thunder,
a tremor, or the rumours of a quarrel
Sunday 15th March 2020 10:50 am
'joyful, slandered bird'
Caught in the moment,
there is no way of knowing
who might have blinked first –
the old man or his visitant,
the bright, crested
ambivalent bird. A few
implying a workspace,
the room is otherwise
the reciprocal stare
of two survivors.
The eyes of one are stoical,
Saturday 4th January 2020 10:12 am