Poetry Blog by David Cooke

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The dog-days scorch Bordeaux. Behind closed doors

at his desk he sits, charting norms through a sea

of print. As reason discovers the laws

that define the natural good, history

is a realm he surveys, its changing customs,

till day lies buried in a stack of tomes.


And all around his own domain prospers.

His ordered vines, absorbing light, ripen,

grow fat in that calm hi...

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Work Horses

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...

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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 ...

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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...

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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 s...

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The Forbury Gardens

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 –


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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 ...

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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...

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Playing cards

at the back of the bus,

Sarah could swear

like one of the boys –

her mouth as foul

as any sailor’s.

Scatting hard

across the octaves,

her voice

was like a horn

swapping licks

with bop’s elite.

One step ahead

of the changes,

she harnessed time

as if she owned it

in pitch-perfect




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Never willing

to accept his place

or stroke

the violoncello politely

for a bow-tied


only the bass

could match

his ego.

Swaying, possessed,

like a holy roller,

he goaded

his band

and slapped

the strings

to imprecation,


and holler.

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Praised to the skies

by a musicologist

when all

he had done

was play the blues,

he took time off

to clear his head.


a padded loft

or a tumbledown


in the Lower

East Side

of crowded


he blew his sax

come rain or shine

way up on the Bridge.

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The Day Herbie Died

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

by vario...

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The Way Art Pepper Tells It

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.

Stuck ...

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Horace Silver

Feeling no urge

to ransack harmony

or play more notes

when a few were enough

– burnished

and buoyant

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,

smiling back


and smoking, as ever,

his rank cheroot.


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For John Coltrane

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...

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Miles Davis

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.


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Miles Davis in Paris

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...

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An Elegy for Charlie Parker

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...

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Chasin' the Breeze

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.



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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...

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The Way We Were

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...

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Getting It Taped

For Martin


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...

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A New Shirt

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 ...

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When Smokey Sings

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 ...

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John Martyn

i.m. 1948-2009


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...

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For Robert Johnson

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...

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Aretha Franklin

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 ...

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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’...

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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


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Staring at a Hoopoe

'joyful, slandered bird'

Eugenio Montale


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

scattered objects

implying a workspace,

the room is otherwise

unfocused beyond

the reciprocal stare

of two survivors.

The eyes of one are stoical,


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