Poems from Coming Home


“D.C.’s intensive clear details always a pleasure . . .

very solid clear human texts.”


—Robert Creeley


Copyright ©1993 by David Cope




Poems from Coming Home appeared in Vajradhatu Sun, Lame Duck, Big Scream, Headcheck Number Four, Big Hammer, Napalm Health Spa, Heaven Bone, The Grand Rapids Press, Lactuca, and Indefinite Space.  “The Lovers Sleep” was published in Sins & Felonies (Ed. G. F. Korreck.  Barbaric Yawp, 2007).





Poems included here:


The Return

Pointing It Up

Fireball in the Clouds

In Fitful Sleep

Below the Headlines

Ghazal for the Coming Spring

Pacific Sundown

Each Wound Became a Voodoo Mouth

Catching Nothing

Poem Beginning with a Line by Pound

The Lovers Sleep

The Abandoned City

Midsummer Night





The Return


the silent winds whirl under condor’s wing,

up valleys where bison calves leap

& coyotes prowl, around redwoods &

up concrete canyons, among Wall Street pillars,

past saxophones wailing on 42nd Street,

around the lovers in red-trimmed peasant black

reclining on grass above the sunlit spray

of Paterson Falls, beyond the still-racing

baseball players.  millenia pass in falling

water, whole families walk away from homes

where they grew, a woman wipes her eyes

at the edge of her husband’s newly dug grave:

many nights I’ve walked these dreams away,

lovers & friends returning in winds at dawn.





Pointing It Up


the whole city

spread below, he perches

on his scaffold


pressing mortar

into cracks, turning

his trowel with care:


eyes so intent

on his work, he’s unaware

the wind is rippling


thru his shirt.





Fireball in the Clouds


the soft snow floats thru

tight-packed buds & flaming

stems.  shadows gesture


& talk of ecology.  bits of brain,

strands of veins cling to their

words, unseen.


spectres glide in corridors,

            line up at windows & whisper about

                        the weather—phones ring,


secretaries coo & yakk—a red mist

            descends & settles over every-

                        thing, unseen.  protestors


& flag wavers shout in rivers of

            blood & oil that also engulf taxis,

                        hydrants, passing buses—


hands raised to flaming clouds,

            a drunken man stumbles & reels

            into the gutter, empty yellow


eyes & open mouth facing fireball heaven.

            peace, peace, a million cry—

                        grenades & flags parading from


open mouths.  soldiers at briefings

            describe mass murder in surgical

                        terms, blue-eyed innocents parade


with flags at the Super Bowl as

            gassed Kurds & blasted Iraqis

                        mingle in the silent screams


that rend tender springtime’s

            sleeping buds.  O fleeting doves,

                        O soft snow, O delicate


curve of wild berry, O sleeping babe

            bombed with dreams, what briefings

                        await you in the nether world? 





In Fitful Sleep


legions of bleeding men

drag themselves in line,


armless, blue-black faces

powder-burned & mutilated,


ragged hanging cheeks

& ripped flesh march &


march with eyes once

Johnny’s now hanging


in their sockets, march

with Bible thumpers &


ancient vets trotting out

flags & angry speeches,


march, young rambos

split from cheek to crotch,


march, arab bashers &

Hussein mashers, march


into the breach, into the

breach—where the god waits


in the center of the fire—

O cringe & tears of mothers


& fathers again, again

anguish of women & young men,


march for oil, march for

flags, march for Hussein,


march for Bush, march for

God, march for right,


march for money, march for

smoke of burning bodies,







Below the Headlines


below the photo of Cheney & Powell

grinning with a Bart Simpson statuette,


a surgeon in Baghdad amputates

children's legs & arms by candlelight,


no anesthetic; takes blood from one

to give to another, praying the unknown


types are right.  the procession continues:

old & young men, bomb-battered women


with babes, faces ripped by shrapnel.

some die for lack of medicine,


clean water, some from the cold night

filled with sirens & bombs & wailing.





Ghazal for the Coming Spring


broken men march with bleeding ears,

guns trained on their backs, glistening. 


here tanks & launchers burned, masses of

corpses flew & fell, ripped & stinking: 


here graves mass—open jaws & sockets

of skulls tell no hero’s story nor sing


where blood ran into sand & sank,

where rain & shamal remake the land daily: 


passing caravans tell & retell a silken

story & pilgrimage sums a lifetime’s hope.


women of Kuwait wail & shriek for lost love

& burning wellheads blacken the sky;


across the world, old men dream in

starlit silence among lilacs budding early. 





Pacific Sundown


across from Sheraton & ShangriLa

& New Belle Vue Bistro where ties & skirts

in shades promenade & raise glasses

to contract, deal, & faithful love,

homeless old & young slump on benches—

rusted carts, pans & clothes, backpacks,

bags, an old blanket shook free of dust

laid beneath oleanders & palms in the deep

Pacific evening.  children with old women’s eyes

stare at every passing shade.  old man,

face & hands a web of lines, sings to himself

& claps, & claps.  waves race onshore

yet none swim now:  millions foul

their own bright blue waters where

native & european once looked out

to marvel in the fading day.  





Each Wound Became a Voodoo Mouth


breathing fire.  the acquitted officer grinned—

hands that crippled a defenseless King

waved in departing.  gunblasts & fire followed.

she could see the flames from her office window,

carried a pistol in her glove compartment.

Koreans opened their shop to looters,

praying it wouldn’t burn.  King pled for calm.

white kids on 90210 partied on in the angst

of wealth:  who’d get whom in the all-white

swimming pool?  faces dripped blood,

scalps laid bare:  fire—fire—

from the hold of the sinking slaver,

escaping slaves still dragging chains

broke free, no common language but anger—

their bonfires rose on the alien shore.





Catching Nothing


thru the tentflap, with Anne,

            half-asleep, distant rumbling

                        thunder coming on fast—


last night

I wandered in circles staring up—

            stars thru dark branches,

owls calling

valley to valley—


I dreamed of you, waking after

            102 years of dreaming

                        enclosed in flesh,

            gone the dark way now—

visions of puritanical

            ancestors passed, Wiltshire

                        to Delaware machinists,

the dinosaur bone collector,

efficient & ambitious,

            whose skull is now some

            professor’s paperweight—

& my grandpa, wandering


thru his fruit trees—


the thunder’s closer now, now

torrents of water crash thru

            dark branches;

the rain’s steady, flood heavy—

rivers spring up in pathways to camp—

thunder hammers

the earth, which

trembles, shakes beneath us!

lightning arcs

            thru camp past the tent, again!


we speak in high voices to be heard—

what branches above us might shatter,

crashing thru our skulls to earth?           

we lean to the open flap to know

the splendor of the torrent.


            in dreams my father

sails out of a starry night

past rocks

& wrecks where

bones are washed & sink in sand—

            along Marquette’s

last route to Illinois, who

            died bringing words

to confuse natives who knew

            well enough the spirits

that speak for earth & water.


my father ages at the wheel—

hands grow gnarled, winds cut

great lines

in his face, yet

his eyes flash as he closes

            on the dawn,

his genoa full of wind as he

            plunges thru heavy seas—

later, becalmed, he sings

            an incantation for the

beckoning dead

that he might move calmly toward their rest.


            the morning after

            is calm, cloudy—

fishermen wade in the swollen river,

            casting & casting &

            catching nothing.


            the silent heron is still.


move out across the open plain toward

the lake, where they lower their heads

            & lap the still water,

ears alert

in this intense silence—



our hearts beat like

hammers now, sending out waves of sound

            over & over—

the breath

is a wind that

stirs up all the world.





Poem Beginning with a Line by Pound


            State of the Union, 1992


the enormous tragedy of the dream

cries out in the bent shoulders

of the peasant women of Moscow,

in the rough hands passing over

the brows of wrinkled toothless men

waiting in breadless lines.

Hitachi closes its California plants:

Mexicans will build wide-screen TVs

for a dollar a day.  laid-off workers

may wait in unemployment lines where

the eyes & hands of mothers turn

to skinny children at their feet.

"those who aim at the rich usually

hit the poor":  this wisdom comes

thru a boardroom smirk to a rising

rhythm of stuffed shirt applause.





The Lovers Sleep


all winter, the wind carries loam aloft from the stripped land;

the lovers sink further into sleep, the moon rises over

frozen furrows & lines of lights race across the vast prairie

where no man sings alone by his dying fire among constellations.

when stars fall, the caged shaman sings, his guards hearing only

silence.  the millenium approaches in a raging human flood,

the swarming intellect polluting its own skull, cradle of dreams

where fields might blossom to meadows in singing silence.

the unruly master bangs away in the chest, summoning

blood & obedient hands to turn the wheel on which a sparrow

hangs & sings; tomorrow the shriveled finger points within.

so the lovers sleep, locked together beyond their spinning songs

in a dream where light rises to light continually.





The Abandoned City


if we sit long enough, will our love grow wise? 

the roman mottos tumble from facades & crash.  

where statesmen argued the language of law,

cedars split paving stones & broken pillars crumble.

atop the giant boulder, a maple's single thick root

grips granite all the way to soil below, where

we stand amazed.  lovers go to sing their love

hand in hand, passing a drunken cursing hulk

who pitches headlong toward a red-faced hooker—

she shrieks, pushing trash cans in his path,

her mouth a red circle of moaning terror.

O air pregnant with mouths opening like new petals,

O silence humming with coos & shrieks,

O rays revving cells in a single juniper needle!





Midsummer Night


thru vast yellow wheatfields & green corn stretching

            beyond treelines at the horizon,

nuclear power lines hum in forcefields from

tower to tower—farmers herd cows

to the troughs as I pass, lost among distant

friends in crisis.  the evening

breeze is soft, the light rich & yellow.

            home, my children race among spruce

& pine, fairies in a midsummer night’s dream,

            blessings in a sea of sadness.  here,

someone’s put a door on the old grange house,

            raised a frame for a room to be

attached, boarded windows that last week were

            open to the careless winds.

rotted boards are piled by the road, where

            two girls are walking hand in hand,

arms swinging, their smiles only for each other.

            half moon above—already passions turn

like seasons—love, hold your shaky course.