Old Poems


make haste to help me

between thumb and forefinger
is web, intrigue, the not knowing
space between
direction and manipulation

I point to the ocean, the earth
dripping in sea, the leviathan
whose hard rind
cannot bear the air, breathes

between memory and histories
of the long-forgotten dragon
whose flame smokes
with the unforgiven god’s chalice

held high, worships, the deep
meaning of war, duplicity
collateral,
the chimneys of revolution

enslaves the class, less now,
the fields abandoned
to pied crows
picking poppies in Flanders

blood pocking history again
and me looking for happiness
at sunset
welcoming this evensong
27 June 2009

Promenade

A perfect day needs nothing
of this poet. It is poetry
without device, observed within:
no second glance lingers,
yet unspent, breathes in,
exhales. Today turns:
sets, rises, rolls out season.

South disconnects north,
meridians, great circles, compass rose
spins this morning with the ebb:
half moon hung, the dipping horizon,
I turn to return, course to recourse,
all encompassed: black rocks musselled.

Lumps of ocean tear loose, fling
against the shale shallow reef,
shatter there. Crowded kelp submerge
to wave drowned fingers to my gasp
and photograph. Silence locks
memory and weather. The blow
and suck of whale calf in the offing,
wallowing in swollen time.
25 October 2008
(Published in Carapace 73)

Response and Choir

Praise be the Lord

There, a stallion stamps
and shivers, the smell
of cash and coin calls
hound and spaniel to war.
The ports Cinque,
five sprats, spit heads, reviews,
top-gallants mutiny,
ensigns half-grogged,
flagged by the half Nelson
England expects,
the scope, the eye,
her red roast rump and
dusky maidenhead, whose
price redoubles every dog.

Amen

Now, the cat of nine lives
held aloft by van Tromp’s besom,
sweeps the City from the offing,
Tower and Gherkin knee-deep
in ebbing currents. See the eye watch
instruments of policy. Euphemisms,
graffiti embankments:
St Mary Axe, cocky steel.
William tells Swiss his story,
re a chocolate box boy shot
by his shy locked father,
apple-pie to his eyeball.

Amen

The gnome changes the account,
customs and excises the pound,
his flesh, his erection in a privy
council, his cracked god exiled,
hanged, drawn, quartered,
by sovereigns, crowns, penny
farthings.

Amen

Beardsley’s oriental lady
and cat walk naked
through the Albert Hall,
can’t buy love,
can’t buy loaves,
unnoticed by concert-goers.

Amen

Who chats in French letters
about sheet music, talks shit,
eats cake in High Holborn,
examines her fingernails
by a crucifix
illuminated by St Paul
bombed and snorting to himself,
his hand on a boy’s thigh
the other tugging in a tuft
of manhood by the groove?

Amen

Thames’ last sturgeon eggs on,
but needs no urging
nor knows no virgin.
Cleopatra tattoos her arse,
Belfast considered breaking and entry.

The Lord’s Name be praised
Amen, Amen, Amen


September 2008

Special Relativity
for Keith G

I

Light travels at 299,792.458 kilometres per second.
Light travels 25.9 billion kilometres per day and
9.45 trillion kilometres per year.
Beyond the sun, the next nearest star is 4.22 light years distant:
Proxima Centauri is 39.88 trillion kilometres away.

If I build a space craft that accelerates to 1 million kilometres
per hour, it would travel 8.76 billion kilometres per year
and arrive in orbit around Proxima Centauri 4552.5 years later.

Proxima Centauri is very close. The Milky Way, our galaxy,
has a diameter of about 100,000 light years. My space ship
would take more than 107 million years to cross the Milky Way.

If Christ ascended into heaven at the speed of light,
he is barely 2% across the galaxy now.

II

If I compress the universe, so
Proxima Centauri scales to 39.88 kilometres
distant, sê maar Klapmuts se wêreld,
then, at the Heerengracht where I stand,

Gulliver, the sun is a tiny pebble less than
a millimetre in diameter. The Earth
a mote one and a half centimetres distant,
and my shadow covers all.
June 2008

New Poem at Sunset

no hush

precedes dusk the sun
sets the earth turns humming
the endless variation on
a theme a monotone
renewed recapitulated
the angelus

deep in the sorrow of
knowing nothing of

but the fading
light eyes shielded shutters
cockeyed waiting for the subsiding
moment as waves suck at
the corona of the coast the litoral
grief of tethered ships
in the offing sigh
in a kelp swelled
sea waiting

as always
for the moment and
chronometer the last star
measures as it ticks
across the face of the quick and
the dead

here
she clears her voice gulls
scream from the hotel
battlements and the famous
sip vermouth with the skewered
olive laugh at a new joke which will
rust in the ozone grown chill by
the autumn sea and flowers drawn
in on the palette’s dawning
where the cormorant
dries akimbo

and she grasps my hand as
old as a memory of stone
27 April 2008
(Published in New Coin Volume 44 Number 1)


Painting

I envy the painter, her tools,
the jar of many brushes,
the rag of many colours
its own parable.

The squeezed tubes: Yellow Ochre,
Lemon Yellow, Rosso Primario,
Alizarin Crimson, Deep Vermilion,
Cadmium Orange, Raw Sienna.

The working palette’s Celeste,
Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue,
Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber,
Lamp Black, Titanium White.

The texture of new canvas
waiting on the first mark:
the superficial foundation
of form or meaning

stretched to musing.
The blank page of my poem
beneath the poise of pencil
held above paper, the unlike pole.

The hidden gateway opens
at unknown times:
The poet closes his eyes
to see, the artist vigilant.

Is that sigh or half caught
breath, a thought arriving
from a beyond where comets
are, and goblins?
29 March 2k8
(Published in Carapace 69)


Namib

A country of flowers decomposes
to bedrock. Vegetable and animal
barely tolerated: each aspect etched
in contours of face. Each voice

an echo of light desiccated,
thorned, coagulated in the gullet
of its thirst where a cobra sheds
at the skin and bone riverbed.

There the old season miscarries
on a scarred and rusted mountain
where no gods have been seen
in forty years. And silent still.

So, the setting sun bleeds
into the desert dunes and the night
comes from a far place,
a sea lost in its shallows.

29 September 2k7
(Published in Carapace 67)


Texts of an Old Monk

The old monk in his cell
contemplates shadows.
How life interrupts the light,
draws eyes to itself.
Would not perfect darkness
bring reflection & revelation?

He sips tea. The old monk
has already prayed this
morning, but his conversation
with God continues. Silence often
interrupts the dialogue:
he waits patiently.

The old monk leans on his rake,
shakes his head. This morning,
the snails have come back
to the lettuce. Pray to God
of all creation: he nods,
bends to his task.

Deep in his cowl, the old monk
lifts pen from manuscript.
Reflects on birds of prey:
how the hawk balances
on unseen air & view.
Closes his eyes, as in prayer.

He sits under the cloisters
watching the rain.
The old monk never tires of this.
Its peace is his.
It possesses him as God does.
Later, it will fall on his tomb.

(For Howard H on his sixty second birthday.)
19 May 2k7



Written in confusion


You sleep now or I dream
of silences and distances.
A gust claps the curtains and subsides,
exhales, the house breathes in,
shifts, creates new myths.

The kettle boils loudly
in the kitchened quiet, enough
to wake the dead: hot
green tea sipped slowly
over memories of tomorrow,

looking back at these lines
from another space. Where starlings
feast on figs, leap to wing
as one when I pass.
Would I do harm? To nobody.

Intent is another matter.
The world is always promising,
turning its face to best advantage.
What do I mean - to fly
to the stars like a god?

Still, I hear the edge to your words:
a steel honed to cut, dissect
meaning from my bones:
sharpened now by my abrasive
tongue that few find palatable.

So I rumble, stumble on stump
and verge by this broken road:
head for horizon and coast
where the gulls are and the sea
sighs lustily to call me to account.
1 March 2k7

House Blessing

So, the house breathes
in its airs. Wait –
I see the turn of the light,
the melody reaching
from the belly of the dancer.

Soon, the rain falls
from the last of the night –
beyond, a solitary star
reflects in the eye of the goddess
as she raises the chalice
to her lips.

Listen, the god speaks
and the words fall like snow
silently on the emptiness.
Listen, the great eagle
of the kloof calls for itself,
and the stream falls
to its measure.
10 December 2k6

Office Limericks

There once was a fine fellow named Gordon
Who had a way with words ad nauseam.
There is little doubt,
When Gordon's about,
That meaning is sometimes quite Freudian.

There is an old fellow called Keith,
who still has a lot of his teeth,
and even when quite bleak
or his tongue in his cheek,
offers neither laurel nor wreath.

Yet another young man called Mark,
well known for his unhampered spark,
has let it be known
with fire and brimstone,
that he's got the ball and the park.

A pretty young mother called Sally
(find her in the kitchen or galley)
is well know for a laugh
she learnt in her new bath
on seeing herself in the uncanny.

We have two old men called Johan
who believe, when all said and done,
that smoking is no sin
(this said with a big grin):
best leave the old dog with the bone.

We have also two young men called Jacques
who have learned how to whistle and bark,
the one is a joker
the other a stoker
but you can't tell which in the dark.

You wouldn't believe it of old Carmy
(as if she had been in the Army)
that she was trained by her parrot
I'm told with both stick and carrot
And that's why she's really quite barmy.

Our resident diplomat Joe
is locally called a fine "O".
It's not that he chats
or eats dogs and cats
but he frightens the children ho-ho.

Our old and esteemed colleague Robin
whose manner excludes any gobbing,
is early to bed.
It's reliably said
that his wife's never been heard sobbing.

Our nearly departed Anna Marie
who is seeking relief in Sydney,
we are hoping will find
her extraordinary mind
is more than a match in Aussie.

There is a young man called Alasdair
who seems to have lost all his hair.
He's in love with his car
(forget the boudoir)
and I have seen him play solitaire.

What more can I add about Karin
when she's said how much and how far in?
Her command of the language
could easily discourage
a sailor from taking up farming.

The worst nightmare of bankers is Paul -
they've been seen leaving town in a pall.
He'll let the phone ring,
just one tinger-ling,
and the banker is ready to crawl.

There is a young man called Anfred
whose name rhymes with co-ed and hotbed.
Both his parents confused
how a name can be used
to make suggestions that go to his head.

And last but not least is our Anne
who dresses with wondrous élan.
But it's the work with our figures
and the accounts that she jiggers
that sets her apart from mere man.

It's impossible to forget van der Merwe
with those stories that go on forever.
I doubt if they're true
(mind you, he is a Roux)
and you know of Mannetjies, the centre.

I nearly forgot our Melissa
who sits by the door (you can't miss her).
According to Greek myth
she's a nymph not a smith,
by Zeus she's divine, oh yes sir.

The new guy's name is Francois
who has neither gadgets nor toys.
I'm sure we'll find out
his complexes about
minor irritations of logic and noise.

What would we do without Ewa
who is defeated by grime not ever?
I heard her once say
when too far away
a joke, not dirty, much cleaner.

There is a nice old man called Hugh
who tirelessly stirs up the stew.
It's not that he's hungry
or habitually grumpy,
he's just waiting for dinner for two.

There is a company called Axiom
of people whose firm equilibrium
is a matter of fact
and even of tact,
when either in sleep or delirium.

I hear that the season of good will
often leads to a nasty old spill
if you allow in a draught
without a tight shaft,
like Jill who rolled down the hill.

I know you were expecting Santa
or some other even better enchanter,
a fairy godmother perhaps
to dance on your laps
wearing little but a promise or scanter.

There is a young man called Ronnie
who assures me it wasn't the money
that attracted him here
when searching for beer
and a life without strife or comedy.
November & December 2k6

Poets and Painters

Beyond the last star
a boy looks over the edge
of the universe.

What is that? he asks
God, pointing.
That is my dream, son.

Would you like a cup of tea?
God asks.
The boy shakes his head.

And a cookie?
God persists.
The boy shakes his head.

God sighs. Has seen it all
before and after.
It's not a dream, says the boy.

It's a kind of painting,
I think.
God nods.

When did you make it?
It's not finished, says God,
and not yet begun.

That's nonsense, says the boy.
That's life, says God,
and my dream.

Perhaps you need help, says the boy,
or a friend?
A painter would be best.

Or a poet, says God,
poets have also lost their way.
Poets and painters, sighs God.
29 July 2k6
(Published in Carapace 69)


Van Gogh's Right Ear
[For Mike Cope on his birthday]

God heard nothing, saw nothing, did nothing
for potato eaters. I too may sing,
paint angels on the ceiling of my skull,
whittle totems until my blade is dull:

God hears nothing new in the depths of space.
The universe is just a pulse in time
(I think - knowing nothing, God knows) or lace
of life stretched rainbow thin. Now here's a rhyme:

God sees nothing new in the morning light.
My best reflections are a partial view
that hide revelation, and peace, from sight.
If this surmise is not error, or true,

God does nothing ever to change my life
by prayer or bargain or pointed knife.
26 March 2k6
(Published in Carapace 58)


Nevertheless

Nevertheless
yesterday's road brought me
here home to you. Small town
manners & flies stirring
air hot with boredom, nobody
speaks. I leave,
pass a grey town.

Nevertheless
at day's rim we bid
farewell. See night emerge
from light. Hear a last gull
roost on the beached dinghy,
nod at parting,
tuck her cocked eye.

Nevertheless:
clouds come conceived
in waters south, there reborn,
carried over pilchard breathing sea
to weep on a crying city
bleeding in its last spittle.

Nevertheless
the song is sung.
No words coin silences
of that last note.
Distant thunder announces.
In the bay, a ketch reaches.
I would speak but for poetry.

Nevertheless:
music flows from his fingers.
Each note threaded by silence
so brief I cannot hear it.
Melody shines from his eyes,
closed by visions & miracles.

Nevertheless:
I turn the page,
read on. The poem has wings,
earthbound. Would soar
like a voice, now inarticulated.
Below blow newspapers, litter
every margin.

25 March 2k6


Likewise

Likewise assumptions of love.
Its essence unspoken,
unspeakable awe,
calculus of galaxies
hung in nebulous mystery,
spider's web dewlit dawn
jaws.

Likewise legends of love.
Chemistry dull-witted,
mechanics & biology straining
to explain trajectories of faith.
Or longing for psychiatric self.
Or God.

Likewise longing has meaning.
It is to taste.
To touch nippledesire.
It is to rest darkeyes
on lightcheek.
To hear heart's joybeat.
To walk on firemountain.

Likewise the stubborn
caricature, painted murals,
the walled city hears
distant trumpet trembling
while cartoons entrain,
leave town in carriages
of graffiti.

Likewise this traffic in words,
this currency to represent
value or truth or emotion.
I hear it: will not believe
my ears. Long for the music
of gulls at sea.

17 February 2k6


Words of Water

A poet spoke the first word,
and the word was good.
He was well-pleased.
She spoke the second word and, quickly,
the third. And the words were good.
He was well-pleased.
Soon followed the fourth word,
the fifth, and the heavens opened,
words fell like rain,
like the voice of God.
He was well-pleased.

Puddles of words formed,
sought each other in dialogue,
formed little streams of words,
dammed in conversations.
He was well-pleased.
A river formed from words,
fell headlong over a cliff
of adjectives into a lake
of reflection and meditation.
He was well-pleased.

There, tadpoles wriggled like verbs
and the fish breathed words.
All the words that ever were,
were in that lake.
He was well-pleased.
The lake overflowed with words.
A new river formed and tumbled
over the cataracts of meaning,
passed the plains of grammar.
He was well-pleased.

So it was all words come to the sea
and are there still.
The poet gives none new.
He is well-pleased.
Now, words blow from the sea
like leaves in autumn,
and the poet sees them return
and uses words to cleanse her thoughts.
He is well-pleased.

Or, in the late night when the words
are frozen to the pane of her view,
the poet takes a glass,
lets words quench her throat.
He is well-pleased.
The poet uses the words given,
re-uses them, the same words.
For all words are as old
as the day the poet first spoke.
He is well-pleased.

Even the poet's tears are words
that return to the sea.
And as she weeps words
seep into the soil,
collect wisdom there.
He is well-pleased.
This is the truth of the poet.
She alone knows the taste
of words.

17 February 2k6


Herring Gulls

They wheel and scream around the block like cogs
that knit and lock one disconnected flight,
yet tied to earth and death as much as dogs
whose masters give titbits, or say they might.

They shit where they please as much as those dogs
whose owners now scoop, or pretend they're trees.
I see them as beautiful demagogues,
which they're not, who will fall like autumn leaves.

The herring gulls pivot in dialogue.
Do dispute, rancour, unrelenting shrieks
belie their singular grey monologue
of flight, the cutting-edge of yellow beaks?

A billion years of surf dispute this reef,
both herring gull, and man, without relief.
20 July 2k5
(Published in Poetry in Performance 34)


People's Assembly

Fifty years ago this day I was barely nine,
snotty as any boy playing in the garden
of his childhood. All the world was event,
as it remains, but I knew none of it.

I knew freedom, but not of it. I knew
peace, but played at war. My hunger
leaned on a full belly, and I drank
in the universe. The stars knew me.

Children are our prayers given life.
How much our ancestors suffered
for us, the children of their faith.
What sacrifice of blood and deed

bled on the pavements of poverty
in the simple heroics of living the truth
on the battlefield of fear.
Hate is a savage emotion. It kills

without reason. Murder, suicide, family
killings, faction fighting, civil war.
Yes, mothers and children come within
hate's compass. It has no morality.

Nine years later, a young man, I stood
here in Saldanha, at this very place.
In the service of the state of hate,
of fear, of arrogance, of ignorance.

Uniformed in my understanding, narrowed
to vision so petty, so near-sighted.
I was the prisoner who shackled himself
and swallowed the key. Then begged freedom.

Freedom is not a place. You can be imprisoned
in a palace, in the mountains, in your mind.
Free, in a prison cell. Philosophers know
the key - love unlocks all doors.

I read the Freedom Charter yesterday.
Who wrote with such compassion? Who
opened her heart? Who forgave his enemy?
What does it mean to ask for peace?

These are not terms of surrender.
These are the embraces, the tears,
of brothers and sisters who wish joy
and happiness. Who love other people.

Are there men and women who fear
freedom? Yes, there are. We all do.
For with freedom come many challenges.
The charter seeks to share those burdens

within the law where the hands of democracy
lift the veil of fear and hatred
to reveal forgiveness, compassion,
and the love that surpasses human understanding.

Let me thank those brave people
who sacrificed so much so often
to enable us to stand together today
alive, and happy to be here.

26 June 2k5


last poem for you

you sent me the saddest lines that I save
of poetry, mountain, your deep blue cave

although the blood and salt on those wet lips
recalls both blueberry sea and small ships

but no thatched cottage invited me home
rather its master, a dog and her bone

are more welcome than me at this front door
that is a barrier and threshold no more

I would have waited at doom's scarlet edge
by the black lake and the loitering sedge

if you had not seen me with your blue eyes,
refused my hand, chosen sham, shunned sunrise

I suppose the oracle was right who said
you would never leave your comfortable bed

4 May 2k5


For Tatu

And here confusion. The painted
peach, an icon of nature matured in oil
and steel as if rain were falling
in vats steeped against the hill
and vines. Crystal fruit,
baskets of bougainvillea and breaded
brie chosen by the oddity of painter
and piano. Who could write
with empty head and eyes
of light and love
the odour of her body?
10 April 2k5
(Published in Carapace 65)


Then the music

Then the music. A single note touches
my temple and holds me. I see
light here and shadow beyond
an ancient time where
stones of fire ring my hands.
There the taste of you cracks
an eggshell air – that fractured calm,
that moment, that endless movement,
timeless as the breathing sea
and the waters of the moons
of Cancer. I am nowhere. A gate
closes. The garden opens and the earth
lifts me. I touch your face
with eyes of infinite
blindness. As if you are
of the galaxies and this night.
All I am is not me. All
I bear are traces of an ancient
path. I take one step and listen
to the silence of your heart.

25 March 2k5


[A white scar of surf]

A white scar of surf divides Africa
and Atlantic peopled by long fingered
kelp sighing with the surge. (The granite faced
lion shows a drying cormorant.) Higher,
beyond the mark of tide and time, small dogs
and women on long leads promenade the front.
Their senses tuned, as if by accident,
engaged by the sweaty man as he jogs.
Above, the voyeur of the apartment
block, in his indentured view a savant
of good taste, considers the abundant
flesh to feed his appetite – so, content.
Beyond, the ancient mountain has seen it
all, is not moved, and does not care a bit.

27 February 2005



Lion’s Head Blue

Below, the blueberry sea, the island
imprisoned in the bay ever hopeful.
Above, the eye-blue sky, the goddess manned
and measured by desire ever sensual.

And here? Here I sit on my sandstone rock
as if riding a lion by his mane.
And I see and I hear rushing surf shock
the shore. And does she remember my name?

Or the mountain she wears, always as blue
as her eyes, mystical, mysterious, bright.
I pray to her here, as if she were you,
ask her to grace me, and hold me tonight.

Then you call. As I know you always do.
We speak in tongues of love. Understand too.

21 February 2005



Alive at last

I am privileged
to live today, to see
what I see with new vision, unblinded
at last. To climb the old mountain, to wander
among eyries – little changed
in all humanity - a new man,
my brothers and sisters.
Renewed, empowered, rejoined
to Africa.

I am privileged
to hear the voice of Africa rising
from the dust. To hear its song, to sing
its harmonies, to be found in the music,
my brothers and sisters, of you.
Long was I deaf to the rooivalk’s cry
before you woke my
unhearing.

I am privileged
to breathe your essence, to draw in
the aroma of Africa in the wild honey air.
To smell the reality kept from me,
my brothers and sisters, by sham
and fear. To inspire the unscented
truth.

I am privileged
to taste freedom, its bitterness
and sweet anticipations. The flavour
of Africa, simple, direct. To savour
the release of inhibition,
to open new prospects, my brother,
yet untasted.

I am privileged
to touch your hand, my sister,
to feel the warmth of Africa
welcome me home. To feel
your strength infuse me, protect me
from my fears, return my honour
to me, find the man in me,
untouched.

And regrets? Just one. That, in another sense,
I will not live long enough,
my brothers and sisters.
to see the Black Eagle soar.

10 February 2005



Graceless

From the beginning, in suckled infancy
of dream, when I knew neither you
nor the secret you will reveal,
but knew, as if of a state of grace,
of a perfect pool
welling out of blue mountains
holding me in its embrace.

Longing comes secretly (Gorecki’s 3rd).
Song infusing me until,
as melody lifts, I see.
And where was discord, light,
beyond lines of surf,
beats on shores of old dismays.
Now its beauty incises.

By night listening, voices
as moonlit stars drift
through hope. As if no epoch,
no geography stands watch.
And whatever I do -
bent to storm and cold night -
that love breaks.

15 January 2005



Grace

You came to me at night,
a light among lights, so
I did not see you
at first. As if an uncharted
galaxy, beyond all vision
and knowledge, yet alive
and living as here from the beginning,
began to emerge from the dust
of time and space.

As my own knowledge, so inadequate
to the prerequisite understanding,
became aware of something
else, someone else. As a source
of light began to warm me, and I
began to unfold, to reveal myself
as I never had. And to glow within,
and to shine with my own light.
That light shows me
you. It is your blue eyes that wake
me, that draw me in to drown me,
but I breathe you.
Inhabit you. Infuse you,
as separable as
ocean and ocean.

And I hear your voice
for the first time. Feel you
touch my hair as a child touches
the surface of the pond
in the still blue forest. And I call
for you. And you answer.

And you taste me, my salt sea
tears purged of bitterness,
and kiss this man’s eyes,
restore his vision, open his heart,
clear his head, find his honour
intact deep within,
not lost afterall.

16 October 2004



Disgrace

And you taste me, my salt sea
tears embittered, infused
with you now drying to stone
cold heart. Now exposed now
revealed now lost now unknown
unknowing misunderstanding not
alive not dead nowhere not here
not.

17 November 2004



[There was once a poet most copious]

There was once a poet most copious
Who left other poets delirious,
Yet the wealth of his rhyme
Did not earn him a dime,
But he did, in the end, entertain us.

13 October 2004




[If I touch your hand as a child]

If I touch your hand as a child
touches the surface of the pond
in the still blue forest, would you hear
the music of tears? Would you hear
my song echo? Would you feel the whisper
of my breath in the cool green air?

Would you listen to my voice caress
your hair and lift your chin towards
the moon? Would you see me fly
in the arms of the trees
calling for you? Would you call?

Would you see my face in the deep
forest pool? Would you touch
your tongue with one finger
and taste me?

19 September 2004
(Published in Carapace 54)


wakening

then the melody of it fervent
now restrained to call me
to call me from sleep
to the green of it
until I hear her softly distant

nearing as if distracted
someone else somebody who
I once knew her muted voice
familiar nursery jingles
wrinkled laughter at matins

dawn light beckons the green
of the day and lost stars hide
old moon distant dogs bark
echoes of mountainside
blue to blue of liquid sky

her lips touch my forehead
fragrant fingertip smile
welcomes the day the green
of it this moment
beyond living it

10 August 2004
(Published in Carapace 61)


As you like it

from clay from ash I am born incomplete
straining from red earth as if now flightless
then unsatcheled but burdened with conceit
such gravity of youth and restlessness

breath of lovers’ love touches my blue lips
to hope in rising shadows of black night
clouded and unspoken aboard grey ships
that ride out this keen east wind and lose sight

no sense of right or wrong ignites in me
consequences and worded sentences
that inflame passion spent and now to be
contained by embered old acceptances

which now evoke a spate of childish gloom
to make an ocean of this last small room

21 April 2004



Bobbejaanskakklip

The grey sentinel stood watch here, and set
his rank-mark stone-high and stark - he himself
to savour. I neither saw nor smelt it
(despite the nagging flies), with me myself
lost in musing on the trail, and so failed
to heed his signal. My hand found his turd
unseen and recoiled – pulse-blind sense prevailed
enough to keep my balance - curse unheard.
What surprised me most was the primate smell.
It wasn’t human, nor dog: different, but
somehow familiar, as if to compel
me to recognise self in the bigot.
I often pass that same rock by the trail,
reminded of a common, ancient, male.

2 March 2004



Bobbejaanskakklip Haiku
(for Mike Cope)


Distracted in time
man connects to ancestors
by bobbejaan stool.

7 March 2004



Lost Star

In this morning’s early sun some lost star,
a tear of night caught by a simple leaf,
suspended in surface tension so near
to light sparkles with prescient sight as if
hanging there for my private orison.
It mirrors in me this old reflection:
should I touch the drop and so douse its fire?
Nothing else will spare it the sun’s bright pyre;
while I am pressed to resume my way
by the angle of the hour. Should I pay
heed to a reserve never to disturb
order in the universe? I belong
with nature or God and, so without curb,
take the lost star on the tip of my tongue.

24 September 2003
(Published in Carapace 46, Performance in Poetry 32)


Seed

He could but dream, but to dream
is not enough. He needs her,
and the more he thinks about it
the more the idea embodies the dream,
drawing sense into sensation. The smell
of her, her look, as he sees her, her
body, visualises, feels his eyes
tasting her sweat, hears her
voice, touches her hair, curves
to her nape, draws down the line
of her spine, splits her
silent as moonlight.

He feels himself lengthen
imperceptibly, as though awakening
to stretch languidly, thickening,
lifting. He stands, stretches, releases
a tension, opens her mind’s eye. Does she
smile? He steps out of his clothes.

Leans down on his weight,
weightless, sees her, lifts,
knows her want. It is time, but time
stops. The bell-ringer deaf to all
but the south wind, a single note soundless,
sightless except his sight of her,
far, near. His senses
dulled, honed, numbed, exquisite.

The seminal drop, clear, a lens,
intense as though uprising, like lava.
Promises, memories urge. He sees her
naked, giving, given herself. Him obsidian,
flushes, his length smooth, releases
the tempo, regular, chastened, now hurried,
hot. He touches her, innermost warmth cuts.

He cannot wait, waits. Eyes close. He is deaf.
She whispers, holds. He cannot breathe.
Gripped, he breathes. The force
is he himself, the essence he must pass,
welling up, unreasoning, sought, unsought,
imperative, immediate, selfish. A strand
of life, knotted white, to share with her,
in her, joined.

He cries, subsides, rootless.

13 September 2003



Code

Write computer programs for a living,
but poems for a life.

5 June 2003


Ugh!

It’s part of Hugh!

14 May 2003



No Recollection

Last night Jupiter held sway in Cancer
as I drove through the mist with my mother,
half-listening, but needing an answer
to old questions, not news of my brother.
Then she tells me all the letters are lost!
Kept them, she says, all these years in a trunk.
They tell of their love and what the war cost.
Waiting to hear. Whether the ship was sunk.
Dear John in the night. Or the sniper’s round.
Are not these letters, as the warp and weft
to the fabric that is me, mine profound?
They are gone: no recollection is left.
This morning Venus rose bright in Pisces
unperturbed in the mist and memories.

21 April 2003



Holy Trinity, Kalk Bay

I find the silent centuries echo
my faith despite the charity I see
here beyond the choir. Is my want ego?
Yet across the bay the sea reminds me
to think of you in that other still place.
Does it have three moons and a purple sun,
and are my fantasies and quickened pace
the allusion to meaning now undone?
And the peace there? Does it surpass human
understanding, the life everlasting?
All these questions, yet I seek no omen
beyond the stained glass and my reflecting.
For on the breaking reef, within earshot,
I once near anticipated your lot.

19 April 2003



Last Sunday Morning

For a month or two now swallows have swooped
over the West Peak before the long flight
north. Last Sunday morning they’d gone. Eloped
to nest in Suffolk perhaps, as Tom might
have done, were it necessary I guess.
Only the other day he too was here
for three weeks in the sun, and to impress
his happy girl with cool surf and iced beer.
I know it’s a metaphor, the big bird
that gives us power to fly to and fro
at a price, of course. It remains absurd
though to see him board the aircraft and go
across the world as if a trivial thing.
Him and the swallows who both take, and bring.

7 April 2003




Time, Gentlemen, Please

Poor sight slowed you down of course, not by
much though - let me quickly add. (In your view,
the sun’s noon pause briefly flags the mainly
naval order of a day. And with due
respect to long-held tradition, pink gin
is the very oil to stir fires - nor still
tales of far Assam.) Thus the signal gun
to the practised tot, spilt with easy skill.
Then the sigh, smacked lip, and proffered health.
In the old days you would draw on your pipe,
relight it, then bang the briar on the hearth.
I always loved the wafted warm ripe
odour of fine tobacco, the nice tin.
That smell, so other at your plain coffin.

2 April 2003


Crosswords

Could your mind, alert to any quicksand,
rich, deep, not resolve replaying the same
old game? As if you had no other hand
such as mine to predicate a new claim.
(Sold in some old and god-forsaken land,
we might have found common ground to battle
on.) Or, give this one more moment’s thought, had
reason ordered our intellect to tell
dawn from night in our fogged family head,
season, and son, might have built in subtle,
firm yet welcome ways, affection: no, love.
On the puzzle and its cryptic meaning,
I’m in awe at the time you wasted. You’ve
long known it’s a hole, and not worth mining.

29 March 2003



Hannibal Sky

Thunderstorm, in the distance now, crowding
the horizon – held restless and unfanned -
grey. As though mustered soldiers, now marching,
countermarch the seared and eagled land
where no drum nor trumpet note yet echoes.
A sudden glint, perhaps of naked steel,
lights the sun to catch the eye, barely shows
how they form and turn this way. Now they wheel
and rumble as circling birds beat quickly
to aeries stark against the tumbling height.
And pressing forward, grumbling, heavily,
stampede with sjambok-cracks and tusks of light,
Salvos of rain and hail beat ever west
to refresh Africa’s burnt umber breast.

23 March 2003



Last Impressions

Does a dead man walking look about, draw
in, in every sense, last impressions?
And do his eyes shine with what he last saw,
as do the black star’s last bright emissions
flare with singular white intensity
before that last dark infinite moment?
When I consider that awful city
where sometime I must go, having been sent
from this place, this time of beauty and grace,
and how I still squander every sense,
waste my time here in anger, turn my face
from love and loving. As if these hills, whence
cometh my help, have no larger meaning.
As if time, once spent, has some redeeming.

11 March 2003



Stubborn Cuss

I know you won at school - cups at cricket,
rugger, track and field, History, English
and Latin prizes. You swept the board yet
were occupied less by the need to wish
me success and more by odious remarks
that put down my second place, third, or worse.
Did you perhaps think disparagement sparks
redoubled effort? In my case your curse
reinforced in me implacable
desires to have my way however long
that road, however rough, impassable,
weathered, bitter and cruel. To sing my song
to my tune, to avoid first place at all
costs – no win, no Damascus road, no Paul.

5 March 2003




View in Mind

The mountain still before dawn, cool clear blue
and the painted sky lifted by swallows.
They set off upward now pace for pace, two
men bending to the high trail. One follows
the other leads to find and mark the way
known, unknown. We pass bontebok who pause,
hear the chorus of the beckoning day
across the Precambrian cliffs and shores.
Why do I so often misunderstand
time; lose my sense of place and presence; see
nothing while passing right there, close at hand,
the plain truths un-distracted, and free?
The sight from the summit reveals the view,
the insight always refreshingly new.

27 February 2003


Playstation Seven

Are these the days of peace we seek
To replace by war? In the name
Of what high ideal - turn your cheek –
Will we look back upon? (The same
Worn language and corrupted tongue.)
Is it really possible that men
Choose hell from hell and leave unsung
The birds and breeze of moor and fen?
War is not Playstation Seven.
This is simply not Duke Nukem.
Blood and shit are people broken,
Maimed, burned, blinded, dead – ours, and them.
The game they would play comes to naught
When most of us are never bought.

13 February 2003




The Old Calligrapher

I
The old calligrapher takes tea
with his brother, a great samurai.
The geisha looks from one to the other;
two arts, one master, no fear.

II
A fisherman sits mending nets
by his boat, drawing on his pipe.
The old calligrapher smiles,
his thoughts caught briefly.

October 2002
(Published in Carapace 43)



Rite of Birth

On this day each year
I celebrate the rite of birth.
The gate of energy to the passage
Of life. Opening the matter
Of light to mark the space
And time conceived
That positions it. But tells
Nothing of that other day,
The exit that I pass each year.
The toll that reveals the meaning
Unknown to me, yet known
And regular as any Ides.

18 July 2002




Clerihew #69

Pieter Marais, our PM
Is a man, I swear, per diem,
Who snaps brassiere cords
Of ladies (I believe not of lords).

17 May 2002



Outeniqua Choo Choo

We leave Knysna slowly,
gliding away without haste,
gracefully, cheerily,
smiling, waving, laughing, feeling
good. Like especially blessed
children.

Just because
it’s an old steam train.

And we are on it.

18 March 1998




The System

We feed greed
and starve
the hungry.

And we blame
the system.

9 September 1997



Feast

If we could but share
our feast
as the beggar does
his fast,

there would be no
famine.

28 May 1997






Who Cares
[For Gail]


She looks out across the abyss
of disability where, below,
the grunts and growls
and snap and hiss
of madness,
echo with sapping clarity -
and far away,
on the bridge over revulsion
and despair, suspended
by the precarious threads
of hope and fear, tread
the surgeon and the saint.

Who cares?

9 November 1996



Cappuccino

Nothing beats the cappuccino
under a yellow umbrella.

Or the pretty woman
who noticed
me.

27 March 1996



Stops

Touwsrivier,
Bantams,
Memorial,
Pieter Meintjies,
Tweedside,
Konstabel,
Quarry,
Jan de Boers,
Draai,
Maatjiesfontein -

Karoo milestones.

We stop -
taste the wild
honey
air.

25 March 1996


The Bookshop

Voices murmur
as a mountain stream,
sensual.

Space, time,
silence.

Thoughts.

25 March 1996



Kliphard

I found a stone, a black stone
in the veldt at Maatjiesfontein,
shaped by a man
two thousand
centuries
before men
built pyramids.

Kliphard.

25 March 1996



Hug-me-tight-tamaties

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see.
My Ma, my Pa, my Sussie
en me.
My Bro kom later -
dielaas lammetjie -
Ekis sho daarva
becos dey givim
die voorletters, PS.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see
warrie hawe soennie baai
warrie snoek word opgelaai
vanaf skuite wiff names like
Marion Dawn en Star ovve Sea.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see
meddie geur va sout
en seaweed,
red lead en sawdust,
ennie blood en gutsa mackerel.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see
warrie kranse anwoot gee
warrie kabeljou en steenbras,
yellowtail en red roman
wa koud-stil lê, kou op rottang
oppie bakkie se voorskoot.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see
warrie ou man staan
teenie son ennie muur
wiff rotting teef
en suippie vaatjie leeg.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see.
Das niks dramaties
behalwe tamaties
ennie wind wat waai
ennie see.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see.
Dis gister tien jaa
Maadie visse hy kla ammeka
om sy stem te lat hoor
teen branne en boer.

I come from Kalk Bay
da byrrie see.
My Ma, my Pa, my Sussie
en me.
Emmy Bro ok – shame.

23rd March 1996 (revised for WC Parliament 28th May 2004)



Nor my tears

At some distant
time I will look back
beyond regret,
and remember how
I have forgotten
what this moment is.

Just as the dew
cannot bear the morning sun.

Nor my tears.

21 May 1995



Sarsen

Glacial Saracen stone
stands a nomad
beside the cultivated
imagination of England.

Marks the way
to Avebury, signpost
of the sun, desecrated
and revered.

13 August 1994




Ebb and Flow

It was good to doze
by the dark
cool river.

Across the valley,
in among yellow-woods,
coarse cries of scarlet-
winged Louries
echo reflections
of peace.

That time has gone
now.

8 August 1994


New Boss

I’m a virgin
to my new boss.

Yup - I know
what’s going to happen.

8 August 1994



Omphalos

I bear the scar
of life as flesh of the flesh
of my mother. Life
everlasting to the last

syllable of meaning. Tell me,
Lilith, of your umbilicus.

3 August 1994



Memories of Africa

God bless Africa

Memories of Africa beat
in the heart
of darkness.

Ancient gods
of my father,
reviled.

Who revealed
faith?

Ancient spirit
of my search,
extinguished.

Who found
hope?

Guide her Rulers

Memories of Africa beat
in the heart
of darkness.

Ancient kings
of man,
entombed.

Who robs
graves?

Ancient justice,
cheated.

Who brings
wisdom?


Guard her Children


Memories of Africa beat
in the heart
of darkness.

Ancient bosom
suckles my child,
decapitated.

Who knows
terror?

Ancient womb
of my humanity,
raped.

Who cares
for me?

And give her Peace

Memories of Africa beat
in the heart
of darkness.

And bring me light.

1 August 1994




Cameo

The photograph inside
your brooch
is of me.

But you don’t know
I know.

1 August 1994




Grace

If I could find
Grace, I would ask her
this.

What do you want
of me, now that I have waited
so long?

But she only smiles.

31 July 1994



Mask

Come let us speak
of things of which we know
not. And listen to the sounds
of light and the love
of stones.

Bring to me your soul
and I will show you
mine. Pitiless as
a jewel.

Bring to me your body
and I will show you
mine. Heartless as
an empire.

Bring to me your mind
and I will show you
ridicule. Without
understanding.

Bring to me your hopes
and I will show you
comedy. Without
laughter.

Bring to me your fears
and I will show you
darkness. And
ice.

Bring to me your love
and I will show you
mine. Brief as
peace.

Bring to me your hate
and I will show you
mine. Mathematically
precise.

But when I come
to thee, O God,
it is face to face.

30 July 1994




Listening to Embers, Mute

I lie beneath the world
between light and dust,
listening.

Only the moon
across the sea
shows where I am.

Evening stars rise
as embers
on mountains of night.

Nobody
mourns the day.

Midnight echoes -
shooting stars fall
toward dawn.

21 July 1994



Whispers

You smile
with the universe,
and you cry.

You touch me
with laughter in the dark.

You are my poetry,
my music, my love.

I sit here
smoking, waiting
for you to come home.

1974



The Last Omnibus

O Snub-Nosed Chariot!
O Warm Warrior Of Weary Winter!
O Grimy Green Fiend! Display Yourself
Now! Procrastinate
No Longer! Be Not Offended By
Time’s Impositions – Such Is Our Lot!
Come! Unbind Me From This
Requested Sentinel! Carry Me Off
In Your Tiered Belly! Now
Growl Your Greeting And
Take Me Home!

December 1974




3 a.m.

The man beneath the moon
kicks a stone.

He laughs.

The stone rattles along the track
and the field divides before him
silently.

Which path is this?
The one to the mountains? He laughs
again, and his tears
echo in the mist.

3rd April 1974




Nightlife

She awaits the black,
crow-black, cold
night of secrets in her
little house. Alone
there she can dream and
does, in her suspicious
midnight.

Her dreams awakening
senses well-secured
and fancies fitted to her
age. Playing without
pity, she will solicit
games from helpless
memories. Fondly she
gathers from the cut-
glass cabinet of time,
those treasures of deceit
and dusted despair - such
clandestine wealth
as she must keep hidden beyond
the sunset.

Each horror, each
wonder, she will happily
toy. And the silhouettes
marionette before the blank
walls of fate. But
her audience - a million souls
old - does not laugh.

December 1973


Genesis

Hah! In the countryside of my soul –
for I am English, cultivated and blush perennially,
an autumn leaf in a red square –
this quiet beck recalls glaciers
of puritan genesis. But now I am switched on
as a traffic light and my life
is an optimistic floorboard.

Hah! On the quayside of my dreams,
on the mathematical tangents of my desires,
I sleep. Consciousness is a trip-wire
and time the lever of my universe.
Tonight I sleep soundlessly
as the midnight movie. Like a spinning top,
I weep.

Hah! In the boardroom of my neuroses,
in the canteen of my decisions, I lie
awake. I am restless, a sleeping dog.
I am a slot-machine at the railway station
of disease, it laughs at me. Possession
is the DMZ of my sexuality and the comedy
of meaning is a black hole.

Hah! Gathered in the pen of my inspiration,
seeping from the glue of my apathy,
I am Torricellian, vacated.
I am a molecule of devotion, but the matrix
of my wardrobe is hypocrisy. The centre point
of my charity is calculation, and my generosity
is an advertisement.

Hah! Between the sheets of my manifestos,
and the wisdom of my fingernails,
is the sole of a rubber stamp. My heart is a radio station.
My voice is a computer print-out. My hands
illustrate contours of ignorance. The wine cellar
of my hatred is security. I believe
in Nebuchadnezzar.

1973