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  David Cope
David Cope
David Cope was Grand Rapids Poet Laureate from 2011-2014. He studied under Robert Hayden at the University of Michigan, and later received an M.A. from Western Michigan University. He has taught Shakespeare, Drama, and Creative Writing at GRCC for decades. Allen Ginsberg once wrote of Cope's work that he has been "much absorbed in David Cope's poetry as necessary continuation of lucid grounded sane objectivism in poetry following the visually solid practice of Charles Reznikoff & William Carlos Williams. . . . In this area of phanopoeiac 'focus,' David Cope has made the largest body of such work that I know of among poets of his own generation." He is the author of seven books, the latest Masks of Six Decades (2010), and has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1988) and a Pushcart Prize (1977). He is editor of Song of the Owashtanong: Grand Rapids Poetry in the 21st Century (Ridgeway, 2013), and editor/publisher of Big Scream / Nada Press, which is celebrating 40 years of continuous publication in 2014. Cope has been a visiting poet at Naropa University on several occasions, and was instrumental in the writing and editing of "A Declaration of Interdependence," featured in Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School. The David Cope Papers are at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library.

The dharma at last

David Cope
longdead in his dream the boys leap
one by one over the cliff into the wild splash
& the singing current—the tow pulling them

down into green dark & silt where the sunken
trees fell & were pinned as well, great black
branches looming up in the murk, fish tearing

the guts of whitened & bloated corpses as
their eyes stared, marbled spheres like moons
glowing in the dark. by night, the water clears, the

shadow moon reflects off the pale carcasses—
& he is awake, panting, the moon shining
thru his midnight window. he hears the voices of

thousands singing & weeping as police line up
& swat batons swat batons swat batons & march
march march into the now-screaming singers,

their ranks breaking—the one-eyed bard chanting
for calm—the ranks all fled, he left alone to sweat on
a factory floor, in a madhouse swabbing urinals. now

the dreams are all moonlit, no destination
& yet this weary traveler sings in his passing
steps, careless in the theatre of stars where the dead

walk with him daily, nightly, old companions
urging him to rest as even days grow darker,
the news ever more ominous. he must consider

the sleek craft of his final voyages, the turns in his
last river, the song he will compose to take him
beyond his last lay to sing in dreams where

his companions fled, to learn to walk among
the living like a shadow in the daylight of
their certainties, waiting for them to leap at last.

AP Wire Story: "Janitors at Risk"

For years I breathed spray paint, toluol, methanol,
xylene & hi-lo fumes under roaring fans
in the factory,

then coal dust in aging boiler rooms, pulled
hot clinkers & breathed the fumes,

diatomaceous earth, muriatic acid & chlorine vapors
6 years at Lincoln Pool, breathed asbestos
in boiler rooms,

in tunnels & mechanical rooms across the city,
inhaled chlordane, wood dust, germicide fumes,
stone cleaners,

boric acid dust, ammonia vapors—almost my whole
adult life—exposed myself daily to
shit, piss,

vomit, mucus, hair, congealed sweat, menstrual blood,
as every janitor does. Today, meetings to
save the planet

fill auditoria as janitors wheel chemicals for the
air conditioning right past
the door where

the speakers have worked themselves into a righteous
frenzy! O sacred soil, I knew you
when as a child

I sang in your treetops & dove from cliffs to meet
the river god face to face: I toss a handful
over my shoulder

& plant these seeds to keep this dream safe.

The Job

years later, he'd disgorge monthly:
searching swamps & paddies for the dead,
eyes in treetops for snipers,
he'd reach thru muck & gassy water
in tropical heat:
skin slid from arms like sausage casings,
arms & legs pulled loose from bloated bellies—
swollen eyes popped open, white with decay.

(get the dogtags &
drop the stinking meat into a body bag—
try to forget anxious parents,
the highschool sweetheart now in college,
her perfumed letters,
his radio flyer buckskin fantasies, hip shake watusi
& all those dreams of panting love—
tally 'em up).

he couldn't explain
to his girlfriends how even in their
most intimate moments that death smell
would come to him—he'd
run shrieking into the light,
shaking, his tongue a babble
of dead men's names.
even here, among
the laughter of friends, he'd need
you—to hold his shaking hands,
again & again, trapped in that dream.

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