David Cooke’s reveries on Malta

David Cooke’s reveries on Malta


Knights of Malta

Knights of Malta


Before these islands acquired their history,
a mythology of creeds and sieges,
there was a dream of flesh in stone –

Let’s call her Melitensis,
as handsome as only a woman might be
who lies at ease with ampleness.

Her children are scattered.
Her days are a pampered twilight –
until at length she floats away

beyond the intricate ruins of temples,
beyond disfigurement and urban sprawl,
to reach the furthest island,

a stepping stone to where,
each day, the light comes good
that paints her lemony limestone dwelling

and where the air
in the evening is a distillation of herbs
and unfamiliar flowers.

for Ian Parks

High on its promontory the Grand Master’s city
seems to be carved from living rock,
its curtain walls rising from undressed sandstone
that heaves them clear of water.

Secured against past enemies,
their wind-scoured surfaces are embattled now
against mere blow-ins, the indigent shrubs
and bushes that cling improbably to crevices

in a wilderness of hewn stone –
the riddled maze of limestone blocks
where lizards and heat-crazed insects
pursue inscrutable wars.

Etched on sky that’s buffed
by a soft drift of cloud, the finer detail dazzles –
the teetering balconies of citizens,
the arcaded gardens, where visitors share

in a view across the harbour
that draws its line against unruly surges,
its creeks divided between dry docks, silos,
and the yachts whose crews unwind raucously

beyond the founder’s pious gaze –
his vision of strength graced by geometric streets,
palaces, the baroque churches,
where true believers sing praises to Alla.


Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear


A shabby and uncherishable growth,
it is at first unrecognised and scarcely noticed
as you make a roadside halt, your visitor’s eye
lured by distant iconic vistas. And so,

inveigled always beyond mere details,
you appraise each photo op, framing,
say, the Silent City raised up against the sky
on self-absorbed strategic heights;

or lose yourself in contemplation,
gazing through the Azure Window,
its accidental rock a masterpiece
shaped by the weather’s bag of tricks –

a monument to impermanence
where, returning, you can see at your feet
the evidence of countless tiny deaths
that went to form the island,

remembering, too, that the citadel
was built on fear. And later at the tourists’
market, jostled by crowds and trapped,
you sample the liquor of the prickly pear –

sweetish and pink, a shot of fire
laced with recognition, for now you’ll see it
everywhere in spiked mittens
scrabbling over a drystone wall,

or the breeze block ruins of an outhouse.
Unprepossessing, thuggish,
it hoards its life and moisture in the fibrous
tangle of an impenetrable heart.





A salt-hardened vernacular fetched
from who knows where by raiders,
their sights fixed on the main chance –

or a language as sedimentary
as the islands where it thrives,
the impacted layers of influence

bringing forth a growth
that’s tough as the prickly pear
and bloody-mindedly

survives diaspora –
remembering the words
of Joseph, our guide,

who had made his stash in Australia:
Sure, we all know English,
but I couldn’t speak it to my sons.

And, as each semitic day
begins or ends with Roman greetings:
bonġu, bonswa,

a language hinting
at reconciliation –
like Aristotle absorbed by Ibn Sina,

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David Cooke is a UK poet who won a Gregory Award in 1977 and published his first collection, Brueghel’s Dancers in 1984. His retrospective collection, In the Distance, was published in 2011 by Night Publishing and a collection of more recent pieces, Work Horses, was published published in 2012 by Ward Wood Publishing. His poems, translations and reviews have appeared in journals around the world.

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