Having been encouraged to do so by a few kind souls, I have decided to reserve one small corner of The HIgh Window for some of my own poems. This is particularly timely as my sixth collection, Reel to Reel, has just been published by Dempsey and Windle. I will continue with further brief selections in each quarterly issue.
David Cooke: Four Poems from Reel to Reel
GETTING IT TAPED
When I couldn’t keep up with the cost of music,
I found a solution: the second-hand
reel-to-reel I picked up at a snip –
a Philips most likely or maybe a Grundig,
some brand I thought would last.
Its clickety counter gave no insight
into the digital age. It couldn’t remember
or shuffle a thing. Pre-CD and pre-cassette,
it lacked a remote or any inkling
of the bells and whistles to come.
To make a start you wound the tape
onto the empty spool, then let it
run to take the slack. Engaging
its five sturdy controls
required decisive pressure.
And once you’d hooked it up to the radio,
you only had the space of a song
to change your mind and reset it,
ready for the next one, your dithering clunks
recorded in that seamless stream.
So I gave up on Pick of the Pops
and ‘Fluff’, its pop-picking deejay,
but left it purring quietly to the John Peel show,
his musical taste consistent,
his mumbles, yeah, laid back.
A NEW SHIRT
In the Shangri-La of San Francisco
they called it The Summer of Love,
tuning in and dropping out
to a soundtrack of spacey guitars.
Bookish, shy, and too young
for a droopy moustache and sideburns,
I was hothoused instead by Hayes
for the maths I was taking early,
but got a hint of something else
in Scott Mckenzie’s anthem.
Against her better judgment,
my mother allowed me to pick a shirt.
– A bright yellow shocker
with a floppy, extravagant collar,
it didn’t survive the first lesson
before they sent me home
to dream on at the back of the bus
of topless Haight-Ashbury girls,
whose painted bodies sway
to airborne waves of music.
FREEMAN STREET, GRIMSBY
Location! Location! Location! It’s a mantra
the upwardly mobile intone,
who have set up shop elsewhere –
catchpenny merchants with tricks up sleeves,
purveyors of pleasures and deals.
On a street where ripples of boom
and bust have long since subsided
beneath the tide of failure
the footfall of ‘three day millionaires’
kept all the rest in business.
Awaiting turns to land their catches,
trawlers rode at anchor, backed up
beyond the docks. Their crews staggering
ashore to re-establish land legs
lost them again in pubs
where men now washed up at forty
nurse disconsolate pints;
while workless youths hang out,
honing their skills with cues
in a room above the Scope shop.
Marks and Sparks pulled out, leaving
a space filled by Mad Harry’s
discount store that held its own for a while,
until it went the way
of Tony’s Textiles, the Polski Sklep.
Along this windy channel
nothing much survives beyond its lower
reaches, where Asda thrives like a final
outpost. There’s a place that fixes hoovers;
an Alpha course that fixes souls.
From time to time – like a twinge
of conscience – there’s talk
of schemes, regeneration: but who throws
good money after bad? Everything Must Go!
the sign says, when it’s already gone.
LE PETIT JULIEN
He is pissing his life away
– this wayward child
with the face of a cherub,
his back tensed in an effort
to further his arc
of spangled water
toward the basin’s
rim, until one day
his trajectory rises
takes flight, his stream
onto the pavement
and down along the gutter …
Meanwhile he’s the age
when all’s forgiven,
in spite of those
who’ve seen it before –
how once indulged
the child is ruined,
his features blank,
his eyes dilated, staring,
out of it, across the shambles
of each wasted day.