David Cooke


The magpie on the gallows
has seen it all, but now
remembers nothing;

the bright beads
of his eyes swivelling

from one catastrophe
to another. And this
is what, so far,

has kept him alive
as he hops to a roadkill,
or swoops next

to a glut of carnage
in quiet fields where mist
has smothered

whisps of smoke,
the faint groans of horse
or trampled pikeman.

Untroubled by claims
that dynasties make,
he senses vaguely

that life is good,
as they do also
who dance beneath him,

their day’s work done,
seizing the moment
in a loose circle

of movement and song.
Uninvolved and unthreatened
the scavenger spares them

his briefest glance
before returning
to that wider view

of the valley
and mountains
his lofty perch affords him,

who soon will stretch
his wings and then,
unnoticed, sail away.



They are returning home across the snow,
three men and their dogs, who must have set out
early. Shouldering pikes, they make their way
past the people who are tending a fire.
Unaware of the details my eyes seek,
they move on slowly through derelict trees.

Hunched silhouettes, their faces are hidden,
yet smart in a wind that flattens the flames.
Above their heads the network of branches
has unravelled to a pattern of nerves
rubbed raw in deadening cold. At their heels
a skinny pack slouches towards its straw.

The famished landscape expands beyond them
where they hear, perhaps, the cries of skaters
ferried across through a chilly distance.
The figures below, excited, breathless,
are unconcerned with the ultimate plan –
my abstract joy in a clear perspective.

Imperceptibly daylight fades away
as birds come down to roost. My eye sweeps up
to salient peaks that now, like some fort
abandoned, are holding out in a waste
of sky, and there only a magpie flies,
viewing the scene that Bruegel invented.


DAVID COOKE won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984, but then stopped writing for twenty years. A retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published last year by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, has just been published by Ward Wood Publishing. He has published poetry, translations and reviews in many journals such as Ambit, Agenda, The Bow Wow Shop, Critical Quarterly, The London Magazine, Magma, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp, Stand and The Use of English.


Read more by David Cooke:

4 poems at Peony Moon