Michael Cope

Following is a bumper selection of poetry by Michael Cope. For more on and by the poet, see his website. Thank you to Michael Cope for granting permission to use his poems on Groundwork; copyright to all poems remains with him.

The Corporation is the State

A cozy chatty little scene:
Our Leader and this guy.
They talk and laugh as though they were
on a lovers high.

The Corporation is the State,
The State, the Corporation
A doubled warp that’s woven through
the fabric of the nation.

The natural world can go to hell;
The poor can starve and die.
They do their deal today, and they
are on a lovers high.

The Corporation is the State,
The State, the Corporation
A doubled warp that’s woven through
the fabric of the nation.

On Fire
In memory of WG Sebald

One year and four days ago
I began to write what I
Had hoped would turn into
An extended meditation
On fire. For this purpose
I began to gather materials,
Images, writings, articles
And above all scientific
Studies which touched on
Flame, and whatever is wrought
By burning. Here a skull
Glowed in the heart of a furnace
In a Danish crematorium,
The radiant gas streaming
From the socket of its
Right eye like a jet of
Vision, even as the dome
Of the skull cracked and burst;
All seen through a small
Doorway set in the bricks
Of the side of the kiln,
Through which those who
Tended the cremations
Could observe the process
Of dissolution into ash.
Another picture, showing a
Clutter of objects from within
The burned bodies, that, dulled
But still recognizable as steel,
Had survived the furnace,
Which I was assured reached
Temperatures above a thousand degrees:
Steel hip-joints, four or five
Pairs of forceps, springs, coils,
An item resembling a screwdriver
And one the size and shape
Of a horse-shoe, along with
Assorted scrap-metal of unknowable
Purpose, all presumably
A part of those technologies
Which we use to extend
Or add comfort to our lives, as though
Those here burnt had first been given
Into the hands of watchmakers.


In particular, I sought images
And writings which, I thought,
Might shed light on that great
Conflagration which is our order,
And by means of which we have
Contrived, not only to have
At our command hot water,
Light, cooked food, and all
Domestic niceties, but also
To so disrupt the processes
Of renewal which, like the invisible
Hands of angels, support and
Sustain our living world that,
As my investigations made clear,
We have rendered all thought
Of their continuation untenable.


On a certain morning I was
On my way to the city and,
Like so many of the motorists
Around me, alone in the car.
The traffic flowed freely until
Wynberg Hill, where it moved
So slowly as to seem stationary.
There the early morning sunlight
Shone yellow and optimistic
On the cars as they broke free
From the avenue of tall dark pines.
The air was cold and clear, and the
Emissions from all the idling
Motor-cars’ exhausts were visible
In the form of an illuminated mist
That rose to about the height
Of the car roofs before dissipating,
Wreathing all the traffic in my view.
I was seeing the smoke of a
Large number of fires, and these fires
Extended as far as I could see,
And further, out of sight down
The road and, in my imagination
As well as fact, along all the
Other roads in the city, and
Ultimately all other roads.
I could also hear the burning
In the form of a low bass-note,
Varying and merging with the
Background and the almost
Unnoticeable scent of it, too,
Became strong in my nose.


It was around this time, also,
That I fell into dejection
And found myself unable to
Carry on my work, and although
The gestures, postures and procedures
Of my ancient trade still rose
In my body, my heart was
Elsewhere, or absent, and all
Was blurred or dulled, and
Although my love for my children
Was undimmed, yet I could
See for them no future, so that
When I was with them I was
As it were a deceiver, and
If I could present a simulacrum
Of geniality with others,
All the time the railways, refineries,
Factories, power-stations, airports,
Mills, pits, lamps, stoves and hearths
With their attendant flames and
The greater conflagration that
Wrapped the entire world in an
Invisible furnace did not leave me,
And such was my restlessness
That I abandoned myself to
The internet where all the world’s
Horror was visible as banality,
Or else stared at nothing
While my place of work filled with
Dust and blown papers, and
Each twinge and ache in my body
Seemed a sign of mortal illness
And my debts were unpaid
And the telephone or the doorbell
Was a threat of debt collectors
Or some other intrusion beyond my
Capacity. And it is still so with me.


Julia seeks radiance, air, and the
Illuminated mind, so that she
Switches on the lights in any
Room that hints at twilight,
Leaving them to burn until sleep,
And I have come to see the lights
As uncannily steady flames,
Separated from their smoke
In space, but connected to it
By wires and machines, all of which
Themselves required considerable
Combustion in their manufacture
Before they could take their
Place in the burning web.
Thus in my mind as in fact,
The fire, contained, controlled
And directed, burns in every
Detail of our lives perpetually,
Whether casting light onto
The pages of some book,
Heating our bath or urging
Our vehicles forward over
The asphalt roads that connect us
To other sites of its expression,
And by day, when Julia is at work
I move through our rooms
A somnambulist or deep sea diver
With leaden boots, turning off
The lights, lowering the blinds,
Ensuring that the doors
Are locked, the shutters bolted.


Franz Huppertz showed me how
Gold melts in a crucible, his master
Showed him, transmitting from
Body to body the feel of the melt
Sloppy in its fired clay bowl,
The glowing borax, the smell
Of oil as the metal pours, cooling
From yellow to red, the crink crink
Of the cooling glaze, the hiss
Of boiling as the ingot drops
Into water, the smiting with a
Hammer, the shaping and forming
Reaching back in time, and forward
To the golden ring, love-token
Or sign of greed; the old trade
Is with me now, burning and
Melting. Dust settles on the tools
That will not ring in these hands.


Much of the cave is riven
With the trenches and channels
Of excavation, some of them
Crumbling, almost collapsing.
Near the front of the space is a
Deep pit, reaching in places
Right down to bedrock, over
Four metres below the surface
Where I stand on a sandy
Rubber mat. One may not enter
The hole, but can stand on the edge
And look down. At the bottom
Is a patch of ash the size
Of a burnt bush. This ash is
A million years or older,
Smirched with a layer of
Fine red dust born in on
The wind that blows from the north.
All organic remains have
Altered, flowed, intermingled and
Been absorbed, but the ash,
Its aptitude for change drawn
From it and expressed as flame,
Has stayed the same. Here,
Condensed and fixed, the ancient
Remains of the particular genius
Of my species have lain while
The people, animals small and large,
Owls, swallows, insects, mites,
Germs, and all the other living
Inhabitants have passed through,
Flickering in my mind: bright flashes
On a silver screen caused by light
Passing through scratches in a film.
To see the past in the present’s ash
Is to stare into the flame, there is
No future save in burning. The
World rolls on, a ball of lava
Crusted with stone. The smoke
Rises and rises without surcease.


You who read this, do not look
Into the fire. Walk by the river,
Watch the waves repeat and repeat
On the shore. Go home and love
Your children. Pour water on
Your hands, roll in the dewed
Grass. Eat fruits and seeds. Leave
The flames, turn and walk
Towards the dusk, wipe tears
With dry hands. Make music, sing
Together. Talk and laugh in the dark.

[See a video rendition of ‘On Fire’ on YouTube and more Michael Cope videos here.]

We watch the signs

We watch the signs in numbness and regret.
Midwinter summer, chaos in the year,
And still our money’s on the outside bet.

Why this unease? We know that some upset
Will switch our fortunes, now at full career.
We watch the signs in numbness and regret:

The hurricanes, the polar ice in sweat,
The rising heat, the changing atmosphere,
And still our money’s on the outside bet….

Oh, if our stumbling nag would only get
A move on… But it won’t. Let’s have a beer
And watch the signs, in numbness and regret.

It isn’t over till the end, and yet
It’s over long before. Hopes disappear,
And still our money’s on the outside bet.

By now they’ve reached the final straight, and yet
We look away, while at the edges, clear,
We note the signs in numbness and regret.
And still our money’s on the outside bet.


Grain needed earth to plant out grass:
whatever grew where it must go,
went. Grain came to pass
with sickle, plough and hoe.

Grain was good: it needed meat
and blood to ensure the surge
from the lightless earth. The wheat
could feel the sharp deaths urge

its growth. The good grain
came like seed from the ground,
poured upward in a rain
of gift and sighing wind.

Then it set store for lean
times, built itself a shack:
a prickly fence to keep the keen
persistent wild from moving back.

Now the fence is everywhere
surrounding the green grain.
Still in the details, there
the wild creeps in again.

The wild is the air that moves,
the weeds, the bowing grass.
With sickle, blade and blood
Grain comes to pass.

Late Rain

The rain always comes over the mountain
unless it’s licked in by freak winds.
This year it’s late again. The slopes
are cinders. In the night the flames
were six stories high. Ash in the eyes.

Beating rhythms from a car
at walking pace; we go between
the breakers and the railway tracks,
greyed-out graffiti on the rocks.

The fisher-people on the path carry sticks of kelp,
their faces sour with drink. A man who goes
at the rear has a fishing knife folded backward
in his hand; he sees me see the blade and smiles.


The bloke at the gate has a crumpled note
I give him peaches, turn my back
on his declared status (positive)
and go inside. He must be comforted
by the new stadium. I have no time.

Bring me my machine-gun, I’ve been raped,
bring on the rabble, make a strutting vow:
sex-toy lap-dance, freedom-jig misshaped;
we struggle for our suited pleasures now.

The lights are out and there’s shit
in the lake. Nevertheless the sun
illuminates the stretched-out clouds,
makes the waves breathe lime and
gold, backlights the children as they play.


The rain, if it comes, crosses the pass
from the North. The wind is cold but dry
this year. Port Jackson willows poke
out among the ash, in living green.

The Stream

How tenderly the stream flows
among the numberless blossoms
whose heads dip and weave
in the tepid east wind, how warm
the insect tune, and multitude
the ripe green grasses, rank on rank
through which it runs, carrying
the sky in its light rippled glass.

On either side the land smoothly rises
to farther painted rocks where
trails of all animals smaller than sheep
cross and re-cross in the pale sand,
plenitude of traces marking the
discrete silences of the owl-dark
paths. How easy it would be to
cross with one step this final brook.

On the other bank the shades go,
their forms stretched long or reduced
by the sun. They pace in line,
the men with strong calves,
the women’s breasts free in air.
A child walks with them, another
is carried high on the shoulders
of her father. At every moment
they dissolve to nothing, flake
away. Soon their thousand years
shall return to smooth stone.

How quickly the rain will cease
and the stream go back to sand,
the blooms wither to dust
in the wind, the diligent ants
bringing in their stores curl up
to be blown away, the shades
on the other shore dissolve to light;
and how lightly we will cross over,
with a single pace, our children
beside us or on our backs.



1. Anyone

Those who knew the way of the land
and tracked the sense wherever it went
are hooked to the water-pump, tied by the hand –
their stories are lost and their potion is spent.
When the last hectare has been fenced and bound
to ownership, and the animals told
where to go, and killed if they don’t,
and it’s all understood and it’s all written down,
there won’t be anyway left to go,
there won’t be anyone left to see,
there won’t be anyhow left to show,
there won’t be anywhere left to be.
When it’s all used up and we’re thrown to the crows
there won’t be anyone left who knows.

2. Wonderwerk

They did not arrive (were always there).
The place was good. The plants who knew the sun’s
long rule hoarded food for them and everywhere
the herds, the troops, the prides, the packs, the ones
who were the spirit of the place, the flame
that moved like moon and stars, went on hard hoof
or flew or crawled or snaked like streams, became
friend food foe word walls hearth bed roof.
The place was good, its waters rare and sweet,
its stones flaked edges sharp enough for reed
or scraping hide from beast, separating meat
from gristled bone. The cave was space and seed,
gave fire, gave birth, gave time, was room to sing
the long song, the hillside song, the echoing.

3. animals

living contingently in the wild like animals
eating what could be found like animals
seeing the exact growth of plants like animals
fearing the night and predation like animals

communicating with sound like animals
cloud rain sun stars moon like animals
using tools from the system like animals
stone sand grass underfoot like animals

collecting pretty things like animals
living with family like animals
fight court rut remember like animals
tell tales make tools light fires recall forms like animals

walk everywhere use ochre sing sing sing like animals
you and me same hands feet sense senses place animals

4. Engravings

The slope moves downhill to the water, planed and grooved
in the rules of flow, the slow ice grinding stone on stone
endlessly, cold after cold, until the land broke and moved
apart. The floor remains, formed as growth forms bone.
There is no such thing as time: it’s a concept we hold
to handle change. A floor is marked by hard water seeking
the way downwards. It is not ‘smoothed’ or ‘old’ –
things transform. The backs of writhing snakes making
free with rain found a river, danced in waves, the aeons
roiling, high and low water. They called. People came
to the serpents to mark the cyclic flow, chipping with stones
the periods of their passing: pattern on pattern, the same
nested in the same, flow in flow, and in the flow
soft skin apprehending; water, sunlight, reeds, ripple, now.

5. Mind Place

The human mind was woven in this place:
thread was spun from rain, fire, stone and wind.
On the loom of these trees, this system, these
corms, grasses, animals, it was set as twine.

They wove it with what came to hand: blood, sex,
calls, signs, traces of the feet of beasts
wound with food, stars, long or sudden death,
stitched-in spirits and explanations, facts and gods,
changes, invariants and differences.

They were slow and everyday. Their getting through
was itself the warp and weft, back and forth
as the world changed for a million years.
When it was made they took it everywhere
until there was no place where it was not.

6. Ancestors at Wonderwerk

The line of them is long. They tread
on my heart. They walk through my bones.
Their feet pass through my ribs. My head
is as air to them. They walk on stones
beneath me and their limbs are slick with rain.
It is the rain that sent them and their tread
comes on and on. They carry sticks and pain,
skins and bones, and they, the living dead,
walk through my heart. They tread on it as though
I were not there. They are not here for me
but for the fire from the cave, below
the aeons of dust – below, where it burns free
of change. This is why they come. They go
through my heart to the ash hearth below.

[More information on Ghaap, here. And buy Ghaap here.]

One Response to Michael Cope

  1. […] Read more… Cats: Misc Tags: Misc, Rustum Kozain […]

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