Poems from Masks of Six Decades (2010)


Copyright © 2010 by David Cope




Poems from Masks of Six Decades appeared in Long Shot:  Beat Bush, Big

Scream, Napalm Health Spa, The Woodstock Journal “October Surprise” Issue,

Chiron Review, Presa, Fresh Grass, and The Litribune.  “Last of my Singing

Fathers” appeared in Rattapallax 12.  “March” appeared in Wildflowers: a

Woodstock mountain poetry journal.  “A Dream of Jerusalem” was included in

Poetry & Sculpture:  Poetry based on the works of Jaume Plensa.





Poems included here:


Masks of Six Decades


Last of My Singing Fathers

As My Mother Lay Waiting

Death, you come


Last Look

Flight to Phoenix

In My Father’s House

A Dream of Jerusalem


Andrey Voznesensky







Masks of Six Decades


shining day boy, sullen gangster, mad child, naked dreamer—

I chronicled blue-collar rages, sorrows, quiet lives, meditated

in boiler rooms & dreamed I’d tamed the dark shapes within—


now I eye them, sleeping, turning, formless, always present:

I no longer trust my own sanity.  my children have risen

to their dreams; I wake to my beating heart & sigh.  wanderer,


I lose myself in sunlight bending thru a vertical shaft of cloud,

rise on what thermals remain to the mountain cave where silence

beckons & the singer folds his arms to rest. strutting corpse,


will I end singing my blindness, visions borne beyond lines close

to the nose, go out dancing naked in Blakean light or rage against

against the night? my father, now quiet at family fest, eyes me,


sighing softly that he must cling to my arm climbing the stair,

patting my hand, curious still that wheel spins within wheel—

& my mother, ghost in a wheelchair trapped in memory loss mid-


sentence, listening uncomprehending as voices wash around her,

asleep in syllables chanted for her, sky changing thru her window—

what nightmares each of them let go down the meandering river


in the long turns of their days, what sighs & rages, ecstasies, lost

hopes to get to this quiet hour, grave dreams still held at bay?

the world will not be moved by words, tho poets would have it so:


we sing our lives out in darkness surrounded by friends if lucky,

as any good man or woman dreams & is no more.  the fault is not

in words, & despair yields no vision upon which to hang bugle,


drums or lyre:  I’d have many loves shaking hips to a wild beat,

solitude within dream, herons gliding upriver thru dawn mists

beyond these eyes & still-beating heart.







mother & child

            shot as they knelt

                        in prayer—powder burns


where the slugs

            entered & tore flesh,

                        blood erupting into dry air—


even as marines

            moved on to machine gun

                        a man, his wife, his daughters,


the blind old man,

            father reading his Koran,

                        the grandmother, mother,



            & uncles.  one survived,

                        playing dead beneath


the body of her

            brother, his blood

                        covering, giving her life. 





Last of My Singing Fathers


            In memoriam Carl Rakosi:



            dead (you might say, not one

                      to mince words)  at last,

            the century gone to bed

with you

Carl, quietly


to be Charles, Churl, free

            man beholden to none—


with laborers

on the street, no

poet sitting on his exquisite ass—


at eighty,

reciting your epic elegy on the decline

            & last days of  your word brother

George Oppen,

you demanded only

            silence from your audience,

reciting lines into the darkness

            that we all breathe

together more deeply

into the unmeasured silence that

            the voice itself

find its own inner rhythm, dissolve—

a heartbeat—

            aged sailor afloat among endless

stars & winds, no regrets, bemused,

            surprised, aware—


you were amused, too,

when Allen Ginsberg gave us

oatmeal & seaweed breakfast

then took a call & castigated his caller

(who would've cut his balls off,

blaming his religion)—

            bright morning across

the kitchen table, bowl of fruit, open door

& breeze among potentillas beyond—


so Carl I salute you

old friend who signed me ally

when we read together,

who later recommended the sephardic poets

            of Spain & touched on

the Jewish Eagle in thought—

            last of my singing fathers—

small wrists, fine eyes, gentle

            touch, yet

                      firm & kind.





As my mother lay waiting for surgery


in hospital gown covered with heated blankets,

twilit morn gave way to dawn, rush hour traffic racing

beyond August's ragged leaves still in this pearl hour.

she looked as one already dead, laid out still,

chin tilted upward, brows & cheeks sculpted alabaster,

the babe asleep within—I dreamed of all those passing

the night awaiting day to come, imagin'd processional

in silent light, & wept in the profound beauty of death,

unseen companion always by my side, patient lover

who brings the skull's eyes into the babe's heart,

whose song is an endless float where does & fawns drink

& lift their eyes to recognize you, whose dewy footfalls

break the strong man & give him his tears, who fills

the silent woman's tongue with words:  even now

my mother opens her eyes, wondering if I too am still

by her side, I dreaming of my own children, of the day

when they'll wait patiently by my side & know this song.





Death, you come


to speak to me thru your mask,

            you touch me thru my mother

                        who now is dying, & think


                        to make me shudder.  I see

            her as a child with all those

dreams a child bears like fresh


flowers in baskets to an aged

            mother, all those songs dancing,

                        dancing in Memory’s too-large


                        ears.  I see the ingenue

            standing at the church door,

triumphant with new husband,


their faces full of light,

            & the agony of divorce,

                        the lost dream, the struggle


                        to provide for innocents

            floundering in pain,

aging woman emerging


alone, gripping that rage

            like a wand, a chalice

                        with bitter dregs for all


                        who cross her.  Death,

            tho you have long sung

parting songs in my ear, I


long ago trimmed

            the twisted root that would’ve

                        strangled me, & see now


                        only an old woman’s

            tears, & I a sorrow child

left to bury a broken


dream, to sit quietly

            by the grave of sorrows

                        & clean out the store-


house that others may

            dream anew & let go

as they too flounder


& find their way

            on the stream where desire

                        could break all to pieces. 







scarecrow sitting up, bony fingers clutching her wetted hospital gown,

rounded shoulders, trembling legs, she seems the death mask of a former

self, round moons of her eyelids alabaster like the eyes of tomb statuary—


she trembles & shakes, startled by my presence,  eyes now wide—alert.

her mouth opens, she struggles to form syllables which fade even as she

mumbles in tongues, hisses, sighs:  “what did you take from my plate?”


there is no plate, only a teacup with teabag, perched above chickenflesh

legs.  her eyes grow large, she now sees me, sees that I am David, not

Charlie, closes her eyes when she talks or looks away, hands grasping


the urine-stained gown.  she will not look me in the eye.  there is little to say,

though she is quick to ask for her walker—I think, perhaps, so she might rise

to use the bathroom. she takes my hand & looks away, but can’t get up.


the fall has made her weak, feeble, forgetful, & the nurse comes & stops

her escape.  she looks at me again & is startled, closes her eyes quickly. 

her breath now labors; the nurse reassures me it’s only Cheyne-Stokes.


I watch her breathing & think of her evasions:  so much pain between

us, I the eldest, “beloved,” whom she once “would have smothered”

while she could, as she brought me from the hospital.  how does one


reach through a veil, through a death mask, through the blind eyes

of a lifetime & somehow find the ghosts, the love that must have lived

once?  at last, leaving, alone, I drive to my next station, dreaming


how we usher out those we love whose love has always had conditions.

I am the sorrow child again, lost in a wide sky where tears cannot show

what the heart cannot fathom, where the heart must indeed be. 





Last Look


the room is silent, empty but

            for the bier.  she lies, sheet

draped over her body—


she is so small in death—


the head tilted back, eyelids,

aquiline nose, cupid’s bow lips, skin

            translucent, alabaster


yet still lovely—we are


in tears. my lips touch her

            forehead goodbye—cold,

heat &  struggle all


gone in the waiting day.





Flight to Phoenix


in seat staring out window at clouds,

I look into my empty hands—

think of his face, my own a mirror

thru which I can see him

& in his, the pattern of my being.


I followed his canoe, early evening, he

looking back as I swam my first long half-mile

as he later followed me up Bright Angel.


how much

sorrow we both contained, how many tears,

            madness we passed

& left, to keep the heart secure.


he was a deliberate hiker thru sage & castled butte,

his camera imaging the mirror of our days:

a fly on yellow cactus flower near walls of vishnu schist,

the son in full stride on switchback below,

the thousand-year handprint in sinagua doorway.





In My Father’s House


we walk thru his rooms, sit where he sat, tell stories—

the wild ride back from Hana, his teenage self scaling

Long’s Peak on the front face where none now climb,

hiking beneath Tahquamenon, vision thru falling water,

the eagles trailing the boat a mile from shore—

the silences are deep, hollow, empty.

sometimes we slip & speak of him in the present.


out his windows the line of browned peaks

rises against the clear sky.

the saguaros are in bloom,

acacia throw out bright petals.


the mirror casts backward thru ancestors

toiling land & turning lathes, scripture ever in their hands—

Quaker faces lit with simple gifts,

always the shadow in the corner of the eye,

the evening dance turning, passing time & light,

beloved who bears one from the dark

wrapped in blankets beneath the still moon.


I am

rapt, shaken, & he

is with me, looking out thru my eyes, his hand

my hand in the garden, cutting, giving life.  yet he

is not here,

a breeze in the acacia, then silence.

how swaddle myself

with blankets long vanished & recall a father’s eye

overlooking my child-sleep?





A Dream of Jerusalem


for Jaume Plensa


if in time the city has been, will be desolate, the scattered bones chirping in dry day,

the woman calls her lover to come away, searches without finding, sings silently

that none may turn to Love until it descends in morning dew and in calling doves.


as bone fragments & ashes swirl in shining waves, sink into dark murk & are gone

one turns in dreams to the child’s eye, the dark circles of bone where the mother’s

vision once stirred—where her cheek met the small hand reaching thru space:


we are creatures made of words rounded by incantation & the great lyric dream,

the fullness of young lovers sharing wine in the moonlit night in the garden, swearing

they’ll not turn to Love until it descends in morning dew and in calling doves.


here, in mountain air & silence before dawn, in the spirit borne of blind sight,

cross-legged, the shofur nearby untouched—in this heart shaped by words there is

a presence that could in a soundless tomb shiver the dark with hammers, sound


the call in waves shimmering in all the wheels turning across the universe & make

seraphs weep.  yet there is the stillness of the word, the child’s mind that turns to

her mother & touches her skin made of words:  words that measure breath to be


shared as tender touch in passing time:  brothers cry out at the prison door, women sigh

in their last dank beds, boys turned men shoulder rifles behind dusty tanks & blood

is the cry thru a thousand cities.  here there is silence; here light & form where words


bring the lovers together, here the dream of soft bodies moving together, the dream

at once the child’s cry & the mother’s last gasp exhaled in fierce sunset as if

none may turn to Love until it descends in morning dew and in calling doves—


here the desolate city, deserted temple, the lost tribe:  here the dream wrapped in words

that round the breath in silent air: here the ashes that once were man, the bright dream

& endless night, here sun disc’s eternal round  in silence, unheard music of spheres:


let the woman call thru the city & on the mountain for her lover, and if she searches

without finding, she may hear the scattered bones chirping in the dry day & sing silently

that none may turn to Love until it descends in morning dew and in calling doves.







white dawnlight thru my windows, thru fronds of cycad & spathphylum

fierce light after months of storm & sigh, turning from death to death—


now foreclosures—gruff men once hipsters or marines hair trimmed back

after thirty years, pushing mowers snowblowers shooting hoops with kids


thin women with long hair & hard wise eyes, tough women at the mailbox,

all gone after long decades, houses gone dark, curtainless windows, empty


driveway—fat cats disappear with millions after shanking the economy,

thousands tramping streets, fruitless, families coming apart nowhere to go.


after painting ceiling where roof leak burst thru last summer, I sit alone

silently & listen, tender moments passing, ephemeral yet precious after


so much death & sorrow.  In my dream, we scatter roses on the river in July

where last year we spread our mother's ashes, just upstream from her old


bedroom, near moraine bank where I once risked all to save a drowning dog,

clambering across ice & falling in myself, later feted on evening news—


the procession of the dead, everyday dia de muertos, mother father mentor

brother father of a friend now racing thru my brains, their fragile memory


all that remains—easily scattered, lost, erased to all in deadline & routine:

thus this fierce light thru fronds raising my eye to this day, this touch. 





Andrey Voznesensky


            who could begin

as Goya

eyes ripped out bomb craters

            bodies hanging like cracked bells

in a burned landscape

voiceless in the stunned silence—


who could continue thru such

shattered architecture

            where even corpses dance

as vapor, in a cry

present yet silent

among a generation without grandfathers—


the burned ends

of fingers grip the pen in agony yet


a darkmotherscream

            begging you

to bring lilies of the valley to your


            while time allows—


Andrey, calm voyage now

among the silent stars. your song

            echoes still

in the sunlit evening where we


peace for those who remain.