Poems from Turn the Wheel (2003)


“The news that stays news is the modus operandi. . . . bracing, smart,

tight, perfectly greased works, luminous and poignant by turn.  I enjoy

Cope’s stretch from familial to sublime and his consummate poet’s

generous heart.”

—Anne Waldman


“David Cope’s poetry reaches into true silence and from that place within

himself derives its indelible sanity of gothic dreams, direct musicality,

sustained multiple resonance, objectivist heart, vernacular ear. 

His work is a paradox of detached

 lyricism confronting the abysses of his soul.”

—Jim Cohn


Copyright ©2003 by David Cope





Poems from Turn the Wheel were published in Heaven Bone, Big Scream,

Napalm Health Spa, Hazmat, Big Hammer, and Freeman Magazine.   “Tender

Petals for Calm Crossing” appeared in Van Gogh’s Ear:  Poetry for the New

Millennium 2.1 (Committee on Poetry/French Connection, 2003) and in Sins and

Felonies (Ed. G. F. Korreck, Barbaric Yawp, 2007); “Emile at the Crossroad” was

also published in Sins & Felonies..  “Ghazal of the High Plateau” appeared in The

Louisiana Review 4 (Fall-Winter 2004-2005).  “The Rhododendron” accompanied

“A Well-Versed Man,” article by Beth Loechler, Grand Rapids Press, Sunday,

April 9, 2006.  J 1-2.





Poems Included Here:



Gone (as you are)

Ghazal of the High Plateau

Lost Loves

Tender Petals for Calm Crossing

In Silence

Emile at the Crossroad

The dharma at last








I see my parents still

        wailing in the living room Argentina Street,

a grey day, no wind

& out the window traffic flashing past—Aunt Fran's

        husband & son Dutch, my older cousin who'd

filled his room with electronics, a genius at 13, killed,

accident in the Rockies,

& she in a hospital, her arm broken—my first

        memory of lives, faces swept away from my life—

later, when the sun broke thru,

wondering where we go—I was six—


& after that, Dutch's oak furniture arrived,

        his bed to be my bed, his mirror where my face

would stare back, sigh & dream of love—

& Fran, recovered, circled the world alone, sent me

coins from England, Austria, Egypt, Japan,

        mysterious envelopes that arrived in the mail

worlds beyond my suburban sidewalks

& mystery gardens where I'd pause

        before an open rose & lose a day in dreams—


later, her house burned & she escaped

        miraculously, settled & worked in Maryland

as my parents' marriage cracked up,

grandpa died, I raged at fallen love & lost my heart

        until, lost child, I found myself in Sue

& found my father again & heard

        my long-lost grandma's sighs,


                    Fran the oldest child who'd seen more

        & kept herself apart, learned to be alone—

yet after the loss & the fire & the years apart,

        she met her Hale & danced in her 70s like

                    a teenager, a few years without pain—

a few years blooming in the fullness of her womanhood—


who guesses how much we can know even of those

nearest us, how others cope & sing above their suffering?

she'd refuse a funeral, would

        go home to lie with her Hale—

                    these last months

awaiting an end that now comes swiftly—& I, learning of it,

        sit with my sisters & my family, my 50th birthday

stilled in this quiet moment filled with her life,

flocks of birds wheeling in slow motion, hovering around

        the feeder in winter snow—





Gone (as you are)


when the currents push you

        straight into that hairpin turn where

                    slammed sideways around

        the bend two fallen mammoth tree trunks, stripped

                    & bleached, lie along each bank,

branches forcing rushing water into

                    a narrow channel—brake

        & cut thru surging waves, avoid the crash

                    that'd toss you into the roar the

frigid waters, your craft swamped or adrift in

        wild plunging currents—

somehow you're through,

                    the river widens out,

        calm, & you can

sit back as morning sun fills forest & swamp. 

                    ahead, deer wake to your imagin'd silence,

leap for their lives

        through cedar budding kinnickinnic giant firs,

breezes raising whitecaps racing

        toward you, & you await the moment when

the wave line hits & you lift your eyes

        to the new sky where

all the sleepers are finally pushing seaward skyward

        in a mad rush

where the cranes lift themselves & are gone,

        as you are.





Ghazal of The High Plateau


mesmerized on the trip to this high plateau—the barren promontories,

windswept spruce giving way to high scrub & thence to rock outcrops


where marmosets chattered your names to the wind as you sang, half

in your sleep, tales of desert sun & wild waves on faraway November seas—


recalling the fallen hiker, his bandaged legs straddling his giant companion,

weary eyes haggard in stubbled cheeks whose lips whispered only blues—


time passed so quickly you hardly realized you'd arrived, & now, with

news of loved ones dead beyond your grasp & hopes,  you turn to vanished


loves, vanished paths, & find no way, even the path behind you vanished

in clouds & mist, only glimpses of far peaks & guessed-at valleys ahead,


even the cairns indistinguishable in rock scree.  here, there is only one

tiny yellow flower, an unearthly flower, nameless, a crooked flower once


signed to you by a long-dead sage.  this is the sign you were to wait for: 

consider your frail bones, aging in the meat of your boyhood leaping,


those aches in loins that once propelled loves & led to singing heights,

that song which brought you here, that you might sit.  the mists are


the myth of this season; the next path can't be seen with living eyes;

the heart's blind cupid can't fathom the love to come; sit.  even the light


will spill in strange showers over your tired limbs & into your eyes which,

blind until now, will open to the shadows of meadows & peaks still


unknown.  in the dream, deer paths now blazoning broadway,

towers stacked high with grumbling dreams & cell-phoned illusions


melt away, as does the day you were stopped still before prairie-wild

grass, the sun blazing lights & shadows thru waves rolling to the horizon.


old friends return like wild leaves in moonlit valleys, sit & sing in your ear.

the mountain is not the mountain.  inside the vanished waves, beyond


mists & lost paths, songs become pathless riddles in your white hair

& aging eyes, your child-corpse moving on with naked winged feet,


the unearthly flower now a sprig at your ear, as you sing silence at last,

a breath, an ayre floating beyond this air as surely as you yourself were sung.





Lost Loves


old man slim boy

& boy-to-be,

                    I wake in the cold

moon where even

the crickets lie silent & the leaves


        hang in the flooding mist,

black streets silent—

even the midnight

screamers gone to bed at last—


& hear you though lost


singing in my ear, feel your

tender touch as you

        stroke my forehead—


so many gone down

        the lost river, so many waiting

now for you & me to

join them, singing


in some night apart,

        shadow faces alight with

secret fires,

love that floods


even this room if only we

        turn to it, & make it ours. 





Tender Petals for Calm Crossing


along this silent path among cliffs thru terraced green you'll

sing beneath your breath where the poet once dreamed


of his escape thru the clouds, where whole populations fled

to rebuild shattered dreams, hands in the moist earth—


stone masons who shaped the rock attentively, that it might

interlock & honor earth that gave both seed & harvest


in the sweep of seasons—ghosts today, they wander with you,

picking your pockets, to know what dreams you bring


to this place, what breath you leave among these rocks,

what song you gather in your backpack & basket of silence:


here, the lost mother weeping for her child born to minutes

of love before its last breath, the father pouring a lifetime's


devotion thru his hands, his face red with defeated love yet

shining in all the brilliance of that loss—here, the lovers moving


together, their short gasps echoing in a great sigh thru which

another child comes—here, the lost father who could not face


the wreck of his love in his own child's eyes, his sorrow like

a hermit lost in the passes of his own valleys, his heart bursting


with roses he could not bring to his own table—here, warriors

cut down like corn on a day as crisp as this, eyes turning skyward


one last time, up to the light as their blood gushes out on fertile

ground, shining path where arms & legs of the dead clutch


& kick at heaven, vanishing dreams of hungry ghosts.  so

you come, bringing blessings & eyes to flush the tears that


still pool in the world's grief thru all the rages of lost centuries,

all the weeping sisters crying for lovers who never appeared,


all the lost brothers marched thru barbed wire to death's

final anonymity in the last bursts they'd ever hear, minds


turned inward to their mother's cries on the day they forced

their way into this light, compassion now for them all:


that your dream be clear when you come to this pass, I send you

this wish where tender petals turn, open in both darkness and light.





In Silence


                          for Ann Barber


hour after hour

        they waited in the ER,

expecting the onrush


of wounded & maimed—

        yet there were only

                    firefighters with


smoke inhalation,

        cuts & bruises, hour after

hour, the minutes


        ticking away, the dust not

even settled, filling

        the winter garden, the palm


court, where no

        wounded walked nor

rescuers bore the maimed,


        only the silence &

the realization at last

        that none would come


thru the open door,

        beyond the shrieks & sighs

& the endless roar.





Emile at the Crossroad


too many blue hours too many nights in the mirror,

        hiding, running, his eyes now bulging in daily nightmare—

                    the helmeted gunner, machine gun spraying near-naked


bodies, writhing, wrapped in blood mists jugular spray

as they fall, corpses bulldozed into ditches eyes wide

                    in death, & he, standing along a ditch—he, spared to


finish the work—he, looking into the blue faces

        open mouths disappearing beneath a wave of sand,

neighbors, lovers, one hand last to sink beneath—he—


now at a downtown intersection alone with his

        clutch of daisies & one red rose wrapped in green,

                    the anniversary of Heloise's disappearance, she who


had sustained him, her red hair like a fire

        in his brain, her impetuous smile & blue-eyed

                    laughter at his angst, his vain pronouncements—


the candle she'd lit in the window time

        & again to welcome him in during his darkest

                    hours—a brief repast, a tender touch, a moment


shared where they could reach into silence

        & hear the lost songs—now gone forty years,

                    now a dream he clings to, awaiting the signal


to change & let him go, far from the maddened traffic at last.





The dharma at last


longdead in his dream the boys leap

        one by one over the cliff into the wild splash

                    & the singing current—the tow pulling them


        down into green dark & silt where the sunken

trees fell & were pinned as well, great black

        branches looming up in the murk, fish tearing


                    the guts of whitened & bloated corpses as

        their eyes stared, marbled spheres like moons

glowing in the dark.  by night, the water clears, the


        shadow moon reflects off the pale carcasses—

                    & he is awake, panting, the moon shining

        thru his midnight window.  he hears the voices of


thousands singing & weeping as police line up

        & swat batons swat batons swat batons & march

                    march march into the now-screaming singers,


        their ranks breaking—the one-eyed bard chanting

for calm—the ranks all fled, he left alone to sweat on

        a factory floor, in a madhouse swabbing urinals.  now


                    the dreams are all moonlit, no destination

        & yet this weary traveler sings in his passing

steps, careless in the theatre of stars where the dead


        walk with him daily, nightly, old companions

                    urging him to rest as even days grow darker,

        the news ever more ominous.  he must consider


the sleek craft of his final voyages, the turns in his

        last river, the song he will compose to take him

                    beyond his last lay to sing in dreams where


        his companions fled, to learn to walk among

the living like a shadow in the daylight of

        their certainties, waiting for them to leap at last.