N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 3 :   S p e c i a l   E d i t i o n

L o n g   P o e m   M a s t e r p i e c e s   o f   t h e   P o s t b e a t s







Photograph of David Cope by Allen Ginsberg, 1995.



River Rouge

after Charles Sheeler’s painting


Charles Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1932. Oil on canvas, 20 × 24 1/8 in. (50.8 × 61.3 cm).

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


Faces in Shadow


toxic clouds roil & pass above—

specks land

                        in the unseen housewife’s

fluttering washlines,

in the nostrils of the workers—


here, the machine itself, “functional

            architecture” half-distorted barns,

half featureless rectangles—

the river, reflecting this

ochre & brown geometry,

the treeless land—


yet nowhere in this landscape do we see

the armies of workers marching

thru the doors at dawn,

chatter & coffee & taking in

            the enveloping roar of the machines,



eating them alive, the

mad labor of the assembly line, the men

sweating, pulling, turning,

teasing out parts and forms

            forcing out Ford’s cars

robotic in

                        dizzying line, ears


gone deaf in the noise,

bosses above

counting down every movement,

measuring time, 

measuring the men themselves to see what more

they could squeeze

            from blood & bone.


Beyond the shadow


My dad grew up in the D,

his dad a mechanical engineer

redesigning high speed


pipe turns at Con Ed,

his childhood neighborhood

            raising three to be trans-


national corporate officers—

            by day a wild flight of kids

jumping off roofs, racing


            thru back alleys—by night,

families cowering in basements

as Feds & the Purple Gang


shot it out a block away.

            he’d dream back dancing

whole groups of friends


swinging at the Grande to

the Duke & Goodman,

            & there was the


“Battle of the Overpass,”

where Ford’s goons battered

Walter Reuther until


his skull bled, the workers

“sticking to the union

            ‘til the day they’d die”—


& as a young married man

            he’d lock my mother in

                        braving machine guns


            at intersections to get

to his job working on

            bell housings of Sherman tanks


                        during the race riots of

            ’43—Hitler still rampant,

first islands pacific at last.


The Scythe of Time


My grandma died at Eloise Asylum

now a phantom ruin—still standing,


empty halls, paint peeling,

a fading stone in the cemetery.


I was born at Women’s Hospital

& saw Ted Williams hit one into


the center field upper deck at

Briggs, Kaline hitless that day.


Later Janis Joplin played the Grande,

the Stones drove ‘em crazy at Olympia—


Motown rose with muscle cars

on the Reuther, the riots of ’67—then


burned out years & neighborhoods,

ruined homes & blocks, the Rouge itself


become a relic of another time—

ghost world of shades chewed up


in the scythe, Time itself become

a tale buried in the lost villages


of Anishnabek & voyageurs

filled with the light of the forest,


who fell in love with this

land of waters.

& I come back & dream my grandfather


toiling in his garden, my dad a boy

again, his dream of the D & those men


who sang these streets & turned

lathes & worked the lines, hopeful.




["River Rouge" has appeared in Big Scream 52, Big Hammer 16, and it is scheduled for print in The Wayne Literary Review. Used by permission of the author.]




David Cope was born in Detroit on 13 January 1948, and grew up on the banks of the Thornapple River in Western Michigan. He studied under Robert Hayden at the University of Michigan, where he mourned the deaths of childhood friends in Vietnam, became involved with the anti-war movement, witnessed Allen Ginsberg's 1969 Moratorium Day reading at Hill Auditorium and the massive police bludgeoning of demonstrators on the night of the Chicago Seven conviction. In 1974, he founded Nada Press and Big Scream magazine, a homemade poetry journal which has published over 200 poets and which Allen Ginsberg described as his favorite small-press mag. His books of poetry are Quiet Lives (1983), On The Bridge (1986), Fragment from the Stars (1990), Coming Home (1993), Silences for Love (1998), Turn the Wheel (2003), and Mask of Six Decades (2010). David’s manuscripts, correspondence, and other papers are permanently archived at the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan. In 2011, Cope was named to a three-year term as poet laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2013, Poet Laureate Cope edited the historic first anthology of Grand Rapids poetry, Song of the Owashtanong: Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century.