Poems from Silences for Love (1998)


“Beyond having a marvelous eye, his mastery of phrasing at times

seems to peel the skin from his subjects.  The poems become trans-

cendent when they begin to dwell on his favorite subject—the

human gesture.”

—James Ruggia


Copyright ©1998 by David Cope




Poems from Silences for Love were published in Shambala Sun, Napalm Health

Spa, Big Scream, The Cafe Review, Big Fish, Long Shot, and The Ann Arbor

Poetry Forum.   for allen” appeared in Sunflowers & Locomotives:  Songs for

Allen.  “The Rhododendron” appeared in Hazmat Review 4.2:  The Beat Issue.

“The Rhododendron” and “Two Hearted River” appeared in Sins & Felonies (Ed.

G. F. Korreck.  Barbaric Yawp, 2007). ”Not as You Were” and “Three Dreams on

the Road” appeared in The Wayne Literary Review (Fall 1995).   “The Job” was

published in Big Hammer 4. “no time to feel” was published in The Brooklyn

Review 15.  “Sirens & Flashing Lights Stop” appeared in Poems for the Nation:  A

Collection of Contemporary Political Poems (Eds. Ginsberg, Clausen, Katz.

Open Media/Seven Stories, 2000) and in Working Words:  The Literature of

Work, Class & Art. (Ed. M. L. Liebler.  Coffee House, 2010).





Poems included here:


Twenty Below

Not as You Were

The Cranes

Three Dreams on the Road

The Job

Two-Hearted River

no time to feel

Alba:  The Sailors

Two Women Dream Together

for allen

The Rhododendron






Twenty Below


frozen dead

            with a yellow traffic light flashing


in the sirenless night where shadows

            quake & race off or disappear

                        on the empty sidewalk

where rotgut bottles &

yesterday's papers, butts & cast-off condoms

                        freeze-float, gutter ice flotsam

            in the white night where backfire

echoes bark

in the ear-snapping street & bar windows

            ice over in the smoking room where

shadows sway across floors to

skin thump jazz horn wailing to guitars in flames

& drunks spill onto the street, hot for love

            in warm rooms, hot for soft skin

moving in candlelight dawn,

            hot for swelling sighs, holding on

for love cries in silence, fumbling

            for car keys with

suddenly frigid fingers, squinting into

the keyhole as the singer

            within cries once more for love,

for love, even as

            their feet stumble over

the blanketed lump on the sidewalk,

            frozen dead—





Not As You Were


your lips blue, face laved with

            undertaker’s paste,

relatives in denial & the priest

            handing us his

sunday morning pitch, but


onstage at the Reptile House

            tossing pages

to the floor, burning their words,

            your voice afire

with a new generation’s news, or


hopeful with a new love despite

            the crashing

litany behind, & leaping into

            an old poet’s

arms after months of silence—


sing on, sweet boy, in dreams.





The Cranes


silence, no stars in this black night:  the sleeper’s own face

stares back at him, empty-eyed, pale & blue, thru flashlit water.

ravens wheel toward the highway where black uniforms

sweep red-stained glass across the concrete in the headlights

of tow-trucks.  angry drivers howl & thump dashboards,

hissing to be on their way.  high on the mountain, a woman

carries a flame thru razored granite, near the dark summit.

radio clank of boots, boots, boots—a gallery:  mouths of

the century’s great politicians, their bright teeth, red gums,

tongues spitting syllables—for grasping fame, a hundred

thousand torsos split, skulls crushed,  the famous last words

hissed to a brother as fire arcs down from above.  clatter of

ribs played like vibes—flames sear even the highest tree—

cranes fly in line, leaving the lake, scudding west thru dawn.   





Three Dreams on the Road


            shining in sunlight,

lines of cars roar into Detroit,

                        jockeying for

the open lane in the hot high haze,

punch it—

            a face in tears stares out

a back seat window as we pass.


serbian ugolino

            chews on moslem necks

as diplomats scurry from

            capital to capital—

crowds of ghosts hiss & whisper

in endless elevators—

            infants crowd ashore

suffocating in their first breaths.


                        cries under your

open window—laughter

            gaggles down the alley,

                        closet sorrows

in a thousand suit-&-tie smiles—

ancient crow eyes, the old man

collapsed on the street:

            dream lights’ once-infant

eyes for love wink & fade

in a young nurse’s cradling arms.





The Job


years later, he’d disgorge monthly:

searching swamps & paddies for the dead,

            eyes in treetops for snipers,

he’d reach thru muck & gassy water

in tropical heat:

skin slid from arms like sausage casings,

arms & legs pulled loose from bloated bellies—

swollen eyes popped open, white with decay.


            (get the dogtags &

drop the stinking meat into a body bag—

try to forget anxious parents,

the highschool sweetheart now in college,

            her perfumed letters,

his radio flyer buckskin fantasies, hip shake watusi

& all those dreams of panting love—

            tallyem up). 


            he couldn’t explain

to his girlfriends how even in their

most intimate moments that death smell

would come to him—he’d

            run shrieking into the light,

shaking, his tongue a babble

of dead men’s names.

                        even here, among

the laughter of friends, he’d need

youto hold his shaking hands,

again & again, trapped in that dream. 





Two Hearted River


eyes like ravens over road kill

            fingers flashing in reeling zebcos

                        the fishermen can’t grasp


that some come for

            the water itself, tannin-red

near shore but so clearly a black mirror

where no face appears—


            or for lichen-rotted balsam firs

lying like corpses across the flow stacked

            with flotsam & foam, feathers

& bones, the fallen gathered

            to spin in currents siphoned


& spat down where the portagers put in

            with a quiet rush

as cranes hang almost still in the turning

            sky above—yet


                                    even the heart 

            cannot fathom what stillness

rests in this plunge, why men

            sing together like choirboys &


stop the gunnel rush &

            lay the paddles down in the

whipping breeze where scarred pines bend

            thru storm & sigh & rainbow’s end—


            nor is it clear what draws one to

the mouth even as the last ice flows frozen

            in winter’s roaring surge break free


in great chunks, leaving

            the churned sand of November’s waves

again among agates below—


            even the dramas of rescue at sea,

the poignancy of a captain’s last

transmission, retold around


a kitchen stove in Paradise or Mackinac

                        by old salts now retired

to muse thru waning years

with stormy Mondays & the names of the dead


            cannot pierce thru this water

                        to the lost bottom

or read the runes in the lights of the waves.




     no time to feel


my own death flashing past in roaring freight train blizzard winds,

to see lovers friends my kids’ eyes fast-forward life scenes passing—


all these cars ahead in ditch & overturn pile-ups cop lights spinning

up & down the lanes, new arrivals fishtailing slamming brakes—


& suddenly I’m in it, hit the brakes, slide sideways 50 mph past

two cars out of control, their drivers’ eyes wide & terrified—


I pass in unreal slow motion, turning, turning, hills & fields &

faroff lake, farmhouse & barn half-glimpsed thru raging snow—


spin the wheel & miraculously come to dead stop, facing south:

a woman stands knee-deep in snow, quaking hands wiping her eyes,


her car overturned in the ditch, cops racing toward her.  rear view:

others’re bearing down on me, they too sliding out of control—


time to move—hands shaking, tapedeck shine a light blues elegy

filling my survivor’s ears—get up to speed & breathe that sigh at last.





Alba:  The Sailors


moon gone down, 3 a.m. starscape where loveboys wandered

hand in hand now obscured in luminous grey light & the silence

of pre-dawn breezes swelling the curtains as one boy sleeps

& his lover leans above, watching the sailors hoisting bag after bag

into the bright light of the cabins, adjusting line & tackle,

slapping each other, prancing on docks as the horizon brightens,

still no sun yet already the dawn waves fill far out with sails headed

out & away, no destination but dreams in the fogbanks far north

or in island romances spun by singers in late night reverie.

leaning to the window, he looks down at his stirring companion,

dark eyes & lips opening to caresses in first light, & yet he is

at once far away, looking backward at the receding shore,

bright day already rising to meet dawn’s first rolling breakers. 





Two Women Dream Together,


staring straight at you, the first seated on a red chaise playing

soft guitar blues, turning to sing into her young companion’s ear,

she leaning languorously, biting into a nectarine as the boy

brings them their drinks.  beyond, an old man dances quietly,

hanging his head, his wrinkled teats flapping in time to the balls

of his feet as they bounce & slide across the bare floor.  thru

the window, the rich yellow light of sundown shines with dust, &

far away one can hear hollow cries, summons to prayer echoing

away centuries & kingdoms.  the script for the song remains

unwritten as the woman throws herself into her play, her young

& old companions now frenzied, dancing nakedly together.

here the cacti blooms flash up like evening’s white fire &

by dawn hummingbirds will suck the hanging fuchsia’s nectar. 





for allen


    that summer in the mansion on the hill: 

you & Peter in spacious kitchen

            fretting over chicken soup, seaweed, Tibetan tea,

the nightly readings—Chris Ide & I dashing thru

halls & rooms upstairs in our underwear, chasing each other

    giggling rowdies rolling across beds,

wandering in basement perusing huge library,

singing old Kerouacky Catullus Kit Smart

    & Shakespeare’s sonnets aloud together—

    you upstairs all night answering mail yakking long

distance scribbling surprised by visitors

    as I lay in the next room & watched the million stars

            fill the night over the flatirons, singing myself to sleep—


or that time in your apartment twelfth street I come

    to read in your Brooklyn series—

racing to work to class to plane Laguardia taxi-dash

downtown in bright springtime exhausted—Steve showing

    videos you at wailing wall & old Reznikoff

            our shared love introduced by George Oppen,

    steely-voiced compassion my reentry

into New York—gefilte fish, Peter & the Wolf

after everybody cleared out, you & I soft reunion,

    both drained in crazed worklives, both sleeping

20 hours waking together Saturday evening going out

    bite to eat at Christine’s:  NY Times, cabbage soup,

chocolate cake—a Danish family recognized you,

sent their kid over for autograph, you yakking

    & drawing elaborate skull & stars & flowers personal

greeting with final pen flourish for their bright eyes—

friendly, welcoming the parents their first time in America


or that summer where you’d injured thigh, lay naked

    on floor your apartment Boulder as

young girl massaged pain spots, relaxed nerves

   & we sprawled around you,

            singing Campion & Dowland,

Steve as director who

gave us parts bass baritone tenor singing

            again & again crooning to find

                        the shared voices in the dream—

    poets coming & going, staying a time,

always singing, singing deep into the Elizabethan night

            as Boulder's sirens shrieked

                        & traffic flashed beyond—


& in later years, both too busy, yet your call sped me to

            buddhist retreat Yankee Springs

    only 20 minutes from my home—

two afternoons scribbling notes together in lodge

    as Gelek spun the word thru Gun Lake sunset—

or meeting backstage after Howl  & Kaddish Ann Arbor,

too tired to speak, no need to yakk, comfortable merely

    to sit an hour in each other’s silent presence as

            stage hands gathered props & instruments—

your kiss disappearing into the night your hand waving

            pulling away—

& now, calling each of us before the press releases go out

    generous gesture even dying

passing burden & light from Walt thru Williams you & Jack

    thru those who remain

            to new nippled generations

struggling even now to be born.





The Rhododendron


for Suzy—“let’s be famous lovers”


            sunlight thru an open door,

                        crimson blooms swelling to burst:

who can say

            what love is?  you take a friend

in hand & roar down blind road after blind road

wandering thru private rooms

            in each other’s hearts, sailing thru whole histories

of pain & rage to find a quiet morning,

dew on the laurel leaves.  love is not

            in the eyes, in the heart, in the entryways

& hotspots of flesh, in heavy breathing—love cannot be

contained in soft arias

            whispered at dawn—it is neither two together

            nor apart:  the eye

is in the hand, the heart in the eye,

            the song exhaled & inhaled

                        & suddenly your dreams fill rooms where others

pace & sing softly of what you were—

                        O love,

steady rain on the city of the dead,

            teardrop on a granite peak, clear day,

                        angel ghosts circling

            the flowering black oak in every long-gone summer

night full of thunder,

            sunlight thru an open door,

                        crimson blooms swelling to burst.