That river, that river
For Sean Africa
Then there’s one moment I’m doing everything:
dusting books, shelving them.
On the stereo
Bob Marley, slow and sad:
‘Johnny was a good man,
never did a thing wrong.’
and Melancholia is my name.
And I’m floating down a river,
down that river,
down that river,
sifting through a pile of chapbooks,
then regret, regret.
I tell you, Regret is my name.
And Desolate my heart’s.
A funeral programme,
the photograph of an old friend,
his hint of a jowl
like mine too now in age.
I look for him now
down that river, that river,
paging the thin programme:
the pallbearers’ names ring in long friendship
from home, into the church,
out of the church;
names who are still here to bear you
and me through the estranging decades.
But then there are only pages of hymns,
thin, inconsequential hymns
in the new, awkward poetry, or no poetry:
‘Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale.’
What kind of God will respond
to His own absence in the mirror we hold to Him?
When God Himself is inconsequential?
As this funeral programme now is
with its inconsequential notes
scribbled in my own inconsequential hand:
‘Thunder rolling over the Boland’
and whispers overheard from schoolchildren,
or, no, it was from a friend: ‘Juffrou is ook hier.’
Juffrou is ook hier. Five syllables
and a life of consequence,
full of chalkboards and class registers,
the dedicated Juffrou who worries
about the children, all the children,
and the slowest among them,
whether they’ve eaten, whether there’s trouble
at home and in your heart again.
Juffrou is ook hier.
In that moment comes a life
more full than any poetry
or the prose of the anthropologist;
a poetry of consequence more than any god’s ken
and which is solace to all my names,
a raft down that river,
that river, that river.
Who knows how strong that river,
that river that took you in?
Meneer Africa, of solace
to the schoolchildren
who knew your care
and who now stand by the river,
thunder rolling in over the Boland,
rain over the warm earth
and up in the mountains
more water over rock,
more rivers gathering strength.
(from Groundwork, Kwelabooks/Snailpress, 2012)