Appropriating the Land
We did dams, brown roads with middle-
mannetjies and suppressed
ant hills. We introduced fiddle-
wood for its autumn-stressed
hues and the way its falling petals
sounded like rain. We did
chip geysers, Blair toilets, landfills...
We mapped grid after grid.
We erected bossy warnings
with words like “forbidden”
and “only”. We blue-pencilled springs,
used an ancient midden
to support a retaining wall,
re-named utshani. We did
Napier Avenue, Town Hall…
planning grid after grid.
We wrote poems about sunsets,
jacarandas, blue skies,
the dispositions of our pets,
and the fish eagle’s cries.
We wrote about bitter longing,
sometimes florid, sometimes terse –
metaphors and symbols thronging,
verse after verse after verse.
Sonnet with a Limp
A million slaughtered doves fell from the sky,
soft-thudding, all around us – you
swaddled in Grandpa’s shirt, stiffening, I
turning away from the thin blue
memory of your last reproachful look,
your death-nest of leaves like smashed beer
bottles, and the way the firmament shook
with plummeting birds.
My hands smear
the distance so that my eyes can close in
on the hole you dug – harrying
things that scuttle – in anticipation
of this ashen day. Thus I sing
beloved pet, Louis, of doves falling,
grief, and disembodied voices calling.
The Sickening of Luke Warm
[This is a poetry kit. You can rearrange it to take the form of Philip Larkin’s “Aubade”]
Luke’s tragedy, it’s plain enough to see, since haven’t you and haven’t I been there? – was his fondness for Christianity, which taught him how to hope, how to despair. “The hope of everlasting life, denied me hope of selflessness on earth,” he cried. I might as well have been a Hamlet clowning, or Jesus with his paradoxes (boxes inside boxes inside boxes); I who witnessed Ophelia drowning. “And you can write down this,” poor Luke then said, “write down that what I witnessed was a birth and not a … I don’t deny that she was dead when they packed her, putrid, in the earth, sprinkled with pansies, violets, and rue; too many courtiers, mourners too few … my birth, you understand; rebirth, I mean.” Heraclitus and his paradoxes (boxes inside boxes inside boxes). Everlasting life’s not worth a bean unless it’s Jack’s, ’cos then there’s still a risk. Don’t look at me, I merely write it down, serpent reader, eyes like a basilisk. It’s Claudius, not I, who wears the crown. All that is, I write, neither hot nor cold, my Dear John, neither timorous nor bold. “As I was saying, I wanted to be devoted to my fellow human being, unreflecting, engrossed, not foreseeing; so I renounced my immortality.” The rest is silence, but for one thing more: Luke’s comedy, like yours old friend, and mine, and whoever makes the beds at Elsinor, is diabolical and divine. There’ll still be hope, and still there’ll be despair, whoever runs her fingers through your hair. But when the spirit vomits Luke Warm out, Old Possum and his paradoxes (boxes inside boxes inside boxes), he’ll get to his feet, shake himself, and shout: “No hope have I of everlasting life – most selfish, mean, ungenerous hope of all. I give my purse to my enemy’s wife – put that in your pipe and smoke it, Paul! I risk my life for a stranger drowning; risk my morals for a villain clowning. I am philanthropic, altruistic… when I’m humbled I’m humbled, exalted, exalted…” at which point poor Luke faltered, fell forward… falling… the fall… and was sick…