THE FOLLOWING poems are from Helen Moffett’s forthcoming debut volume of poetry, Strange Fruit, published by Modjaji Books (manifesto). Strange Fruit will be launched, together with three other volumes of poetry, at the Cape Town Book Fair on Sunday, 14 June at 5.30 to 6.30 pm at the DALRO space in the Exhibition Hall. Thank you to Helen Moffett and to Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books for granting permission to publish the poems. Copyright remains with the author and the publisher.
A wintergreen afternoon in the Overberg:
the bust of a woman on a shelf of dam-water
her frizzed halo electrified by four o’ clock sun –
one hand holds a plastic bag aloft
the other threshes, garnering from
the raft of slippery porpoise blooms
upon which she rests her stolid breasts.
Loving me must be like visiting the Balkans.
I’m told it’s lovely there; seen the pictures
of pastoral valleys, dappled woods
secluded inlets of blue dispersing islands;
all dotted with bridges, quaint villages
and monasteries of antique masonry
speaking eloquently of culture and craft.
But a flak jacket and tin hat are advised;
over some innocent hill you’ll find,
without warning, a site where violation
has soaked into the earth, something
has been razed, horror still haunts,
with shrapnel and tank-traps in the lulling grass.
And the history – the history: no matter
how hard you try, you’ll never quite grasp
why one sniping shot triggers a world war.
The penis is an amphibious creature;
mostly it lives on dry land,
but given the chance, it slips
joyously back into a moister
environment, where it grows
gills of glee, glides in this
primordial clime, this balmy
tropical sea, swimming
in ambergris and musk,
slithering through humid clasp
and pulse, leaping
higher, diving deeper:
in its element.
This is my lot: to see pregnant women,
mothers with babies everywhere,
families, parents with orbiting children,
the parade never seems to stop.
So envy and I are very old friends:
I have the upper hand – mostly –
although the odd shaft runs me through.
But the clammy agony subsides in the end,
I don’t go careening down the street,
screaming, hissing, stabbing at eyes with nails:
instead, I attend baby showers and christenings
armed with thoughtful gifts and tasteful hats;
I congratulate, dispense adorable booties,
make casseroles and allowances too.
This is my dubious gift, the compensatory coin
the bad fairy left behind when cursing me:
the capacity to contain without spilling
the viridian bile. Others are quite safe from it,
especially you, poor forked thing, a man –
wombless, childless: you have nothing I want.
© Helen Moffett, 2009
© Modjaji Books, 2009