Groundwork X

Published in de revizor, #2-3, 2007 (Netherlands), in English and Dutch.

Groundwork X
(In memorium: MJK, 1937-2006)

You sleep well, dreaming of sea gulls
and lost love. The tundra you’d walk.
Or desert, the world, rock, scrub,
rock, scrub. Dawn, the bright sun.

And the woman who stumbles to the cliff-edge
where last no one saw her husband
taken by the night sea, rod and tackle
all taken by the sea somewhere, somewhere.

And under the sun now she finds
among rock and scrub, somewhere
a flat stone, here, for the marker.
This is where the soul won’t exist.

Where it doesn’t exist, never existed
now under the sun, she bent over
packing the useless cairn
and the blind son beside her

black shoes scuffed by rock scrub,
who won’t wander an arm away
who turns his face to the sun
who knows no soul exists

even as he cannot see it;
but all is effect, the people
all ciphers, fractious effects
of themselves. And the useless cairn

that no one will visit
that no one will remember
except in a stranger’s thoughts
briefly as he drives by

the mountain road that snakes away into wealth
the small petrol station
years ago in that big car
that ran so lean it was legend.

A tundra to walk. Your father.
In dream you dream of your father.
The heart. Infarction.
A mound, a plank marker, the misspelt name:

Hussein Khussein Kozain Kosain

Flowers already like harbour lights
dwindling. At dawn, the bright sun.
Telephone. Port city. Outside
silent a dredger on its rounds

channelling the shallow bay
and the one last pelican
the one last palm tree
a dinghy that lifts from the sand bank

as the tide slowly swells.
The tide asks its own questions:
who. is. who. is. who. is.
the stranger at this shore?


As his heart explodes explodes
your mother by his side,
palm on his forehead.
He’s sorry, he’s sorry, so sorry, he says

and slips away…
lone dinghy unmoored, empty.
Rust at the prow-bracket,
the oar-locks the oar-locks gone.

And you are always somewhere else:
a cornfield brown as earth and the heart,
a room over a bay, dream state,
a free state always somewhere else

not in the hole with your brother
to stay the force, the dead weight
as bearers feed the corpse the corpse the body down.
The body that is now gone

in a sad cemetery, once forgotten
town by which you drift
strange as any foreign tongue.


Who is the woman who raves
across rock and scrub, rock and scrub?
Who the son in black, not you
but a stranger at her side, pointing, here?

A stretch of strange stone, grey-
bleached lichen. And the white-
capped sea moiled like the heart.
Who, who, who? Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo

the owl the owl that rare strange owl
the cool stand of pine
your father turns and hushes you and points
but the bird dropping

already from the branch

the brief free-fall
then slow down slow down the hushed wing
the soft, slow beat… flap.

The bird gone.
The bird is gone
like him

all gone with his firm embrace
rasp of stubble, hands
rough from the oil and grease
the birthmark on his back:

like a map of Africa… Gone.

© Rustum Kozain, 2007


5 Responses to Groundwork X

  1. […] “Groundwork X” by Rustum Kozain […]

  2. Rupert says:

    Old friend, namasté. You with your porcupine hide, your rages and despairs. May you shed all this pain but retain all the exquisite inspiration to which it gave rise.

  3. Rethabile says:

    Powerful stuff. Arousing lullaby. I enjoyed this very much. Keep bringing them on…

  4. […] Kozain keeps a blog on BOOK SA, and a more substantial website called “Groundwork” at, which features, alongside much else, new work. (I recommend in particular that readers make themselves familiar with the long poem “Groundwork X”.) […]

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