Allan Cooper by Frédéric Gayer
Just to whet your appetite. These are brand new poems by Allan Cooper. One of them — “I Have My Silence” — will be published in his imminent collection Everything We’ve Loved Comes Back to Find Us to be published by Gaspereau Press in April.
How often they’ve come back to me
in the tall house of summer
like the scent of the evening primrose
rising from the earth
men and women who worked the fields
and woods and kitchens,
who dreamed and loved and despaired
the same as we do, who held new infants
in their arms and rocked them
by oil light burning down
to a small flame, the rhythms
of their conversations
gone out further now
than any star we will ever see.
My grandfather opens
the woodshed door, a pail
in his hand, walking to the fields
where he will dig the new potatoes
before the heavy rains. My grandmother–
who at eighty taught me how
to clean the spring head
where the water flowed from bedrock–
is singing to me through my fever, her voice
mingling with the sound of the brook.
I swear my small body rose above the house
and looked down on the black roof,
the winglike shadows cast across the lawn
as if someone would come and carry me
away, and maybe they almost did.
When my fever broke, I could feel the damp
cloth on my forehead, replaced again
and again throughout the night.
I could hear my grandparents
talking low in the kitchen. It’s good
when they come back to find us, hold us,
guide us. They loved us unconditionally.
Someone places a hand on my forehead,
then their footsteps fading down the hall
as I drift in the sound of the running spring,
the deep sleep of boyhood.
GLENN GOULD PLAYING
My moods are more or less inversely related to the clarity of the sky
Glenn Gould, in large rimmed glasses, is stooped low over the
like a rider on a horse. His face is what music looks like
when it takes on a human form. His fingers are ten reins guiding
eighty-eight of them, low notes as if rising from Hades,
high notes like the feminine tone of spring.
His hands change positions, the right playing the low notes
like fox sparrows suddenly arriving in spring, the sounds
that a human heart makes when it’s totally in love with the
Glenn Gould is playing, and he seems a little unsteady in the
his chair a bit rickety, as if it might fall at any moment;
but it doesn’t, and he hovers so close to the keys he can taste
coaxing the flavour and fragrance from each note. Now he’s
singing to the keys,
like a monk saying prayers, and the notes move faster,
almost too fast for us to follow;
it’s as if the piano could resonate at a certain frequency
and suddenly implode, the strings collapsing on the sound board,
the sound board falling through the wooden frame…
Things grow softer. These are notes we’ve heard before, but never
feathery, like a father singing to a child, the last words we’ll say
an entire barren field suddenly filled with volunteer poplars.
The notes begin to chase each other. They are waves breaking
on the shore of Lake Superior, thousands of neutrinos moving
through our bodies
at once. It’s a Bach fugue, and the sound is like losing yourself in
for the first time, the sound of cells dividing, and you’re nameless
as you were the moment you were born.
Glenn Gould is playing, and for the black horse of the piano
there is only one rider, and for that rider
there is only the light drawn from the gloom
and darkness clinging to the edges of the light.
THE SNAIL AND THE ROSE
Is there a symbiotic relationship between these pale yellow-
green snails and the old Irish roses? This one has climbed over
three feet up a stem which is guarded by thorns that would
pierce my finger if I grasped it. The snail is about the size of a
quarter, although there’s no money in this snail’s life. He lives for
free, as most things do on this planet. I’ve seen them before,
clinging to a leaf, or making their way up through a wild jungle
More and more it is the quiet things around me that give me
pleasure. If this snail makes any music, or has a voice, I can’t hear
it. He lives in the heaven of his day, carrying his house on his
When he dies the house will be left behind a little while, like
the spinsters’ house with grey clapboard, the dolls in the cedar
chest still waiting for the whisper of a child.
THE APPLE TREE
—in memory of Galway Kinnell
One afternoon in the 1940s, in summer,
a car from the Boston States or the Carolinas
or the tip of the Florida Keys
drove by this gravel bank,
and someone opened a car window
and threw out an apple core, that landed
precisely here, and one dark brown
seed, the oval of a water shrew’s eye, took root
and began to grow, at first a thin, small question,
then a wiry, almost defiant voice…
Its thick, squat trunk is as shaggy as a Shetland pony,
wild as those Zen Buddhist monks
who sit quietly, cross-legged,
In late May or early June
the blossoms begin to open from taut buds,
at first a rosy pink, then
a rich whiteness blending in,
like cream poured into a china bowl.
And when the rain falls, the leaves
make a tapping sound,
like someone knocking lightly
at a door, someone who has
come a long way to be here, now,
in this world; someone rich
with the odour of spring, pungent
as wet earth, the first blades
of new grass, the smell of bark,
like an old keeper of small horses.
And an old woman, rich in perfume
that carries with it
rosewater to an altar
where the earth is worshipped,
and the transformation that will happen
when a winged one comes near
and enters a blossom…
A grandmother, who loved Evening in Paris,
gathered apples from the wild trees each fall
and carried them in buckets or bowls
to her steaming autumn kitchen;
she made apple sauce, apple
pies, apple strudel, apple crisp,
and baked apples in brown sugar,
where nothing is wasted.
So many wild trees at the side of the road,
in ditches, in sudden meadows and clearings,
growing from stone walls, cellar holes,
through ribs and femurs
gathered back by the earth.
And for every ancient tree that
falls, another takes its place,
and another, in the long lineage
of trees, one ring at a time, one
blossoming and fading at a time.
Apples ripen, and the deer come,
and some stand on their hind
legs like men reaching up
into the highest branches for
the sweetest and most coveted apples,
which have been kissed by the sky.
Old apple trees that, if they were love poems
would be both male and female, male and male,
or two young girls holding hands beneath the branches
as the rain comes down
on a day that will never end for them.
A day when the blossoms were ready
to fall, and high up
in the branches
three dozen cedar waxwings in a row,
and as one petal fell
it was taken in the beak of the nearest bird
and passed to the next,
and the next, male to male,
male to female, until it reached
the last waxwing at the end
of the branch, and she ate it…
Not one thing is wasted,
not one petal or word, like these words
that I pass to you now: compassion,
care, tenderness, hope, joy,
forgiveness; and love, that final word
at the end of our branch, the end of our rope,
that stubborn word we carry with us,
tough as a seed, the best for last.
I HAVE MY SILENCE
I’ve lived a good time.
Not as long as a saguaro cactus
or a sequoia, but a good time.
One second can last a thousand years.
And no amount of study or joy can prepare us
for the ecstasy that Rumi and Mirabai felt.
I’ve seen and felt things
and remained silent.
I’ve watched the fox sparrows migrating in fall
and kept quiet, although inside
I’ve felt a wing rising,
moving out across the waters.
The last thing I like to do
at the end of the day
is walk out and greet the dusk.
I say nothing.
But I might just show
this multi-coloured coat
like Joseph’s, woven from everything
I’ve ever loved. Can you see it?
I’ve lived a good time.
I have work to do. I have my silence
as the sky does
every morning when the sun breaks over the hills.
Allan Cooper has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard, with Harry Thurston. He received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1993, and has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He has also been short-listed three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Allan intermittently publishes the poetry magazine Germination, and runs the poetry publishing house Owl’s Head Press from his home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy.
It was an opportune moment when I scrolled downward and found Evening Primrose. It was opportune for my friend who had just phoned me from Cape Breton saying she must get hearing aids. Being blind is bad enough a struggle for her in her later years after struggling with the ravages of type 1 diabetes since childhood. Now she fears the loss of never hearing her grandchildren’s voices. Wishing she could talk to or hear her parents long gone, and she is seriously missing he comfort of their voices.
I read her the poem. The hand on the forehead was a comfort, even as the sound of the footsteps faded down the hallway. I left the two words “of boyhood” off the end to include Barbara’s deep sleep of childhood.
She loved and was, and is inspired by your work, Alan.
I will be reading more to her soon and hope she hears it well as she did today.