Poems by David Cooke (UK)
Published in issue 39 of The Ofi Press
ON MY DAUGHTER’S CONVERSION TO ISLAM
How strange when I, who inherited faith
and kept it like a shabby gift, outgrown,
and then abandoned, see how on your own
you have discovered a different path –
Islam, which in the language you’ve studied
so well and love, I’ve learned has the meaning
surrender. You have seen light shining,
where I must shape my own less certain code.
Your daily prayers and recitation flow
serenely from the prophet’s desert well,
a stream where each resonant syllable
is a pure sound whose music I’ll allow,
noting again with pride the stubborn skill
you show in tracing its delicate script,
a calligraphy that’s now implicit
in all you do, gracing the habitual.
And you showed courage, too, these troubled days
when you set yourself apart, your blazon
a scarf, which for some affronts their reason,
while extremists claim the airwaves.
It was not always so. Beneath the glare
of a Moorish sky I have looked to see
a formal garden, where geometry
and tempered light harmonize with water.
So there we were in Camden, my mother,
my wife and I, on the day of our daughter’s nikah –
when suddenly memories surfaced
and Mum was back on the stamping ground
she’d known just after the war,
a migrant girl discovering life,
blown in from the back of beyond.
Those days austerity seemed a lark,
when all the others from home
had made the journey too –
the men on buildings and roads,
while she and her favourite sister
skivvied in a plush hotel,
kept going by the weekend’s dances,
where they jitterbugged
until they both found husbands.
I thought how with good luck
each life may find its true beginning
as on that day we approached
the flat where another marriage
would soon take place.
When the father welcomed us in
I answered wa aleikum salaam
and, as we moved into separate rooms,
I remembered the Mass
at Swinford, how years ago
the men would sit on the left
and the women filed off to the right.
for Ziyad, Tamim & Rafiq
When the day has come,
you will make a journey
to the city of Mecca.
Each of you a pilgrim
dressed in white,
you will cast the stones
that set you free
from Shaitán, the evil one.
Circling the Ka’aba
you will feel around you
the crowd surging
like a river in spate;
and though it’s a distance
I cannot travel,
the scallop shells
on my school badge
made me a pilgrim too
like those who had tramped
to the far-flung shrine
FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
The creed we’d inherited, it was unambiguous
and always claimed us as its own
in a far-fetched calculus of chances.
Aspersion and charms
were tokens of our election.
And when our foreheads
were smudged with ash, it taught us
the word mortality, like a chapel
I’ve seen in my afterlife
built with cement and bones.
At the age of reason
peccadillos stamped with guilt
could be absolved in a box of whispers,
and purity of thought
reinforced in threadbare rituals,
spreading over our lives
a drab brocade.
Behind it all were generations
who had prayed like us and chanted,
professing faith in our creed.
Sustained by desperation and the certainty
that human ties will cease,
they had sought continuance,
shimmering through isolation.
NOTE: "On My Daughter's Conversion to Islam", "Beginnings" and "Faith of Our Fathers" were first publish in Work Horses, 2012, Ward Wood Publishing.
David Cooke’s 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 and reviews have appeared in journals such as Agenda, The Bow Wow Shop, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Press, The London Magazine, Magma, The Morning Star, New Walk, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, The SHOp and Stand. He has two collections forthcoming: A Murmuration (Two Rivers Press, 2015) and After Hours (Cultured Llama Press 2017).
Image by Hamed Saber.