Its lack of reaction has made it unique,
that and the way it can magnetize fools:
forty-niners, Midas, the futures mob—
so gung ho, yet always dazzled by it,
like urchins dreaming of gilded pavements.
Locked in a vault, it validates paper.
It’s what the rich cling to when the bubble
bursts, smiling at the rest of us, our mouths
agape, who wonder why what’s left
is fool’s gold, when the real stuff vanishes.
Acquaint yourself with history, the endless
grubby tomes we’ve filled. From the Age
of Gold to the Age of Iron the avalanche
of grief it’s caused would make you think
we had gathered mountains of it
when, if we had managed to find enough,
we could divvy up into shares for all.
So trudge across the moonlit ploughland
with a metal detector, unearthing
hoards of coins so hastily abandoned.
Crack open the mausoleums of men
who died like gods and crawl on hands
and knees and belly into the furthest chambers
of open-sesame caves. Circumvent the man-traps,
wyverns, the wall-eyed Cyclops.
And when you’ve relocated every X
that marks the spot, cart the whole lot back
to a public space: each ingot, trinket,
medal, plate, with every other ounce and scruple.
You will be amazed how little there is.
Reduced to a cube of twenty metres,
you can slip it beneath the Eiffel Tower
or set it up as a glitzy Ka’aba.
The pilgrims will pay to circle round it.
They will never ask where the bodies are.
“Aurea prima sata est aetas”
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1:5
to that distant age
when no one needed
to pay the heavies
and each man’s face
was like an open page
before there was money,
greed and plunder?
The pine trees covering
as yet unfelled,
had never ploughed
water, weighed down
by cargo and propelled
by slaves. Well supplied
at home, why stray
beyond it? A spear
was not required
when wolves were tame
and your neighbours
like you in indolence,
incurious and free.
Back then no
No signage barred
the way. Unwavering,
until that era ended.
The Transferium Wars
There are certain structures
that fall apart when their logic’s
at its limit; and when what might be,
but can’t be, is dreamed up by those
who are bombastic, driven.
There are laws abhorred
by nature, regimes based on fear,
whose fates are pre-determined
when the brave say No
to dogma, tanks and swords.
And in the wake of Armageddon
our sensors glimpsed chimeras
that self-destruct in our world
but still engendered wars
between white-coated alchemists
laying claim to them:
meitnerium, hassium, hahnium,
rutherfordium, seaborgium …
in nanograms invisible
to the unassisted eye.
Achieving more than Adam,
when they chose the names
for matter they’d created,
they howled like dogs prowling
around scattered bones.
The first and lightest
of all the metals,
you have existed
since the beginning
or shortly after
the process started.
Even your name
is like a wisp,
afloat and free
beyond cosmic fallout
and the iron cage
of time in which
A misnomer, surely,
that men have called
you stone, when
you’re soft as butter.
your wounds, you
you keep your balance;
your radiance round.
the surgeon’s knife,
In an age of tweets and trolls,
of wannabes and won’t-bes,
I am pinning my faith
on the future.
I am taking a punt
on a long shot, hoping,
that a copper and tin alloy,
with a hint of nickel
and zinc and even
a dose of arsenic,
will outlast tinsel.
I am squaring up
to reality shows
and reinventing the past
unborn, who will look
at the flotsam
of our days, our pickled
sharks and diamond skulls,
our unmade beds;
staring back in disbelief
at a poem concocted
by surfing the net;
while I, my name in lights,
will sing as long
as words remain
of deathless birds and vases,
the music of the spheres.
It’s what so much of the world consists of
and the metal we’ve used to shape our own
since the Hittites lost an empire and let
the secret loose, their iron-workers in flight,
their foes exultant: the wild hordes
they couldn’t subdue with their cutting edge.
And did metallurgists, their names unknown,
ever dream the future, when they smelted
rock: hematite and siderite, bog ore
and laterite? Pliny thought that iron
made men irascible. Imagining
projectiles, he first implied an arms race.
The bards disdained it from the start, and saw
its reign as the end of the line, a slow
decline into the murk of greed and power,
a desolate pit, where deals are brokered.
Better by far to bask in myths, and place
your faith in rumours of more peaceful days.
Who but a priest or poet imagines
the human race has changed, that we are worse
or any better than we’ve always been?
So give the age a break and don’t despise
the element, that’s made us who we are,
when its ore’s imbued with the strength of steel.
Tensile and elegant, a bridge spanning
wariness can bring together rivals,
teaching them to compromise. There’s nothing
shabby in their trade, if both sides have won;
and when an iron framework scrapes the sky,
catching clouds, it keeps its shape by yielding.
Beneath our ghostly footfall, the earth’s core
is iron. Projecting a field of force,
it fends off harmful rays and keeps the birds
on track. Coursing through our veins, a modest
dose will do no harm and helps to keep us
sanguine. It’s our excuse for a tipple.
David Cooke was born in the UK but his family comes from the West of Ireland. He won a Gregory Award in 1977. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing. A new collection, Work Horses, was published by Ward Wood in 2012. His poems, translations and reviews have appeared widely in the UK, Ireland and beyond in journals such as Agenda, Ambit, The Bow Wow Shop, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Press, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, Magma, The Manhattan Review, The Morning Star, New Walk, The North, Poem, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand. A Murmuration was published in 2015 by Two Rivers Press and After Hours, his latest, has just been published by Cultured Llama Press.