David Cooke











for Martin


They were always there at the edge
of the town, an unhoused presence
we drove past on shopping-days
and Sundays in the beat-up Morris Minor
our grandfather steered,
erratically, down the empty roads
across the terrain of our fosterage.

We knew from him we couldn’t trust
a tinker, who would steal both eyes
from out of your head, and feared
the coarse importunate features
of the women scrounging in the street,
imagining curses they’d utter
as soon as our backs were turned.

Alongside a ditch lined by trees,
their camp was a smoky shambles
of wagons, pots, and drab tarpaulins
stretched into makeshift tents,
their stringy dogs and muddy-hued
small children roaming at will all day,
while the horses stood at ease.

Out late one night in our teens,
with no lift home, my brother and I
walked past them, making our way
along an unlit road. The night
country-dark, a black sky welded
to earth, our ears were suddenly filled
with the yelps of their dogs, untethered.

Panicked, we stood directionless
till one of the men came over
to leash them, his coaxing voice
like a neighbour’s as he asked
which part we were from, our visiting
accent sounding alien to us
in the shock of re-established quiet.



David Cooke won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published  Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984, but then stopped writing for  twenty years. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing.  A new collection, Work Horses , from which this poem was taken will be forthcoming this month from Ward Wood Publishing. 






One comment

  1. Looking forward to this exciting new volume from David Cooke. Ward Wood have gone a great job.

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