Poems from Fragments from the Stars (1990)


“His poems seem made of vivid details he saw out of

corner of his eye—precise sketches, concise form.”

—Allen Ginsberg


“Cope renders the particulars of each scene with a

striking intensity . . . full of insight and feeling.”

—George Drury


Copyright ©1990 by David Cope




Poems from Fragments from the Stars  were published in Big Scream, The Underground Forest, We, Action, Lactuca, Big Fireproof Box, Big Hammer, Black Swan Review, Quick Brown Fox, Nada Poems, and the Grand Rapids College Review.   “Blowout in Fast Traffic” appeared in Bombay Gin.  “New Moon” was published in Long Shot 7.




Poems included here:


Industrial Clinic

Killings to Be Made in Soybean Futures

Blowout in Fast Traffic

Jane Marie

New Moon

The New Foot

The Invisible Keys

Tiananmen Square Sequence








Industrial Clinic


the man on crutches,

  leg muscles ripped pushing a heavy load—

the woman, teeth clenched,

hand curling & twitching, too many hours

   polishing pins—

the grandfather, wrist bound into a stump

   where his hand once was—

the woman, barely more than a girl,

   her foot a gauze ball, flesh pierced

   a week before by a punching ram—

all look up

as a dust-covered boy in hard hat comes in

wringing his hands,


his arm & groaning, blood spraying out

   across the floor—

the nurses meet him there & usher him quickly

to a room where the doctor’s waiting.

here comes the janitor with his mop.

someone sighs.  their eyes follow the mop.





Killings to Be Made in Soybean Futures


                                    oldtimer swigs & shades his eyes,


                                    my tractor's paid for, but

                                    what a way to end my years farming—

                                                how many families

                                                already packing up?

                                    how many men out behind their barns

                                    staring into their own shotgun barrels?

                                    giant dustclouds

                                    roll off his discs & wheels,

                                    last time he'll cultivate these rows,

                                    hopeful shoots

                                    withered in less than a month.

                                    distant heatwaves rise,

                                    distort the hill, the farmhouse,

                                    the line of trees beyond.





Blowout in Fast Traffic


            limping home

on a beat spare—


bright streetlights

on this deserted street:


the lone pedestrian’s

swinging his umbrella.


workers in the old factory

lean across the break table,

laughing, in the window,


as I pass,

far from the fast road now.


the shops’re all closed:


            moon above,

& faintly,

the scattered stars. 





Jane Marie


under my hand,

moist forehead—

Sue looks up—


the doctors cut

thru flesh wall,

fat layer—


still deeper—

their gloves redden

with her blood—


she is purely

calm, her calm

becoming mine


& now the doctor’s

hand enters her



the aide pushes,


a blue head appears


wrinkled, angrily

drawing breath—

a howl


as the whole

blue body appears,

cut & clamp,


weigh & check

& suck out nostrils,

hand her to


the father, me,

who sits amazed

as blue flesh turns


slowly pink,

Sue’s hand reaching

to touch.





New Moon



as my baby sleeps


roses & poppies

fill her dream.


new moon,

train whistles


around the bend,

toxic wastes


from Dow

shipped south:


O, the lantern

in the brakeman's hand!


my hair is greying

quickly now;


after barren years

this child's


an unexpected



hard to keep

one's mind intact


& calm.

bombers fly above


defending "us."

if we are


breathing here

in twenty years,


what masks

will we wear?





The New Foot


the door slammed;

cane tapping,


tapping, he works

his way down


the ramp, one hand

against the wall—


men at the table

look up from coffee,


fish stories, tales of

bowling glory.


he stares at the door

20 feet beyond them


where he’ll hang his

coat & tool pouch,


then looks down at

his new leg & foot, his


cane, & slowly hobbles

across the room.


heads turned back

to table & talk: 


he shuffles

slowly—no more walker,


nor pinned pantleg,

nor therapy, for him.





The Invisible Keys


dead, old John, premiere piano player,

found sitting up on his toilet after

3 days not answering his bell:

yellowing sheet music, old records,

unpaid bills

piled on his dresser;

clock radio blaring the latest hits,

the morning news;

government checks stuffed in the mailbox,


no relatives, no claims for his things,

landlord to arrange his funeral.




spot on

the sax,

he’s on his knees making that thing


just above the heads of the dancers

who’re humping it,

sea of heads jumping in the dark,

smoke haze up in the lights &

            now it’s John’s turn,

bass thumping

raw nerves underground raging river,

            he lights into those

high keys, staccato—

fingers flying faster & faster,

sweat dripping off his eyebrows,

crashing cymbal & snares & high hat


& now that guitar coming in

sweet & low,

trying to take it

even the bouncers at the door

look in,

            the dancers

stop dead to watch or

collapse into their seats, exhausted,

take it babe—

            that guitar

out front all alone

burning away sadness & anger, unpaid bills

& careless loves,

burning a bright new fire

to get them all to that coming dawn,

burning all desire


            leaving them





at last.




that old tune’s floating up

    in a dingy hallway

one bare bulb hanging


     & those keys’re

rolling, waves under fast fingers—

    & two floors up

a woman sobs alone on rumpled sheets


    shattered glass

on the floor, picture on her pillow—

     two lovers

in white, with a red rose—


     hearing those notes

again, she’ll rise & look out at

     the empty street,

streetlights going off in the


     lavender dawn,

& she’ll remember an embrace, a

     tender moment

in a room like this, & sighing,


     wipe her eyes

& fix her hair, who knows who

      might turn up today,

toes still tapping to that old song. 





Tiananmen Square Sequence



Tiananmen Square


the Chinese student revolt

has sent all the western analysts

scurrying to their Sunday talk shows:


optimistic dreams about Miss Liberty

whose lamp shines over a polluted harbor

where little men & women race for


more & bigger better lives &

new!  improved!  ways of making cold

hard cash, avoiding above all any


talk of breath & death.

these students have open eyes.

may they sit, & hear the silence. 



Spider Writhing in Lamplight


close the book; turn off the lamp.

you, too, may find light in the dark

& see the thread you hang on.



The Avenue of Eternal Peace


bullets spray; bodies’re carried off.

troops advance from east & west

toward the portrait of Mao

where the students man barricades

with rocks & broken bottles.

     we wait, & listen for dispatches

bringing what news can get out:

                        once, we too dreamed

we’d sing our way to peace:

brothers, sisters,

I send this slender prayer for you.



The Apology


the lips & cheecks now quiver

in the white light,

in the white room.

the body is bent forward

on a chair, against a wall

facing its accusers:

soldiers with machine guns.

the eyes face the floor.

& now, from the lips & tongue,

abjectly, the apology.







skull & shell in rock where

            the delicate tracery of nerves once

                        shot the gap thru living meat,

bone digit that once pointed out

            stars or tenderly touched clitoris &

                        birth canal in moments where

their eyes drank each other in

            & their skin was singing flame—


O song!  rise out of that

            dead mouth now!  bright babe!

                        leap thru those jaws

into white air again!  spinning seasons,

            oceans, rivers, rocks & tides &

                        still dawn where one leaf floated

by the boy’s dangling feet, who rose &

            looked back once & walked away—


tonight a brother’s greatest gift

            to brother is letting the goddess star

                        guide that dark sail beyond

any horizon for the knowing:  that gift

            is tears, yet here’s the heart

                        where kindness is more than kind &

kin is bond for breaking.  farewell!

            keep watch from that other shore,

            we’re coming. 







today, overcast but promising


            springy step

on the green earth:


     open the door.

     your time is now.


the passage isn’t simple

but for those who will



                        what your father

& mother suffered,

what you suffered,

     is past.


no promises!  wake!

                                    the heart

has a proper place.

if you’d be clear,

                 be calm.

child, young man,

hard laborer,

                    sage, old fool,


make it what you will.

will to make it well.


your hands,

for tender touch.


                           your ear & eye,

for compassion,

will see & hear

                           what’s needed:


freely bend your will.