For W.

30 December 2014, 8:22 am

For W.

1. Ohio, 1994

When the shutter clicked, you jumped back
and hated me for that one moment
you had glanced into my camera,
as if my shutter had fallen
like a guillotine
through parts of you.

I should have known. Weeks before,
smoking outside after class,
we both mauled Gary Snyder
for playing the vegetarian
shaman astride the turtle back
of his American mountain.

Somewhere down a parent’s line,
you said and looked earthwards
at your toecaps pawing grey
Midwestern gravel. Somewhere
down the line, native blood pushes
at your insides. As if you had said

too much, you looked over my shoulder,
shook your head and blew smoke
through pursed lips at the stars and stripes,
its rope sounding the flagpole.
Native, you said again and reached back
to smooth your ponytail.

Then you lifted your sleeve
and showed me the tattoo:
inked thickly inside a circle,
a brave’s head; and dangling
from his stiffly banded ponytail,
two feathers breaching the ring.

2. Cape Town, 1995

Now, reading again of Wounded Knee,
the Trail of Tears, I test
names by my tongue: Oglala Sioux,
Lakota Sioux, many Sioux;
difficult ones: Wampanoag,
Kwakiutl; the easier Mohawk,

Iroquois, Shawnee. And I measure
the distance and proximity
from Choctaw to Xhosa, Arawak
to Hawequas; probe velum and palate,
wondering how names here might sound
if you curled your tongue

around Goringhaiqua, Khoi-Khoi
and tasted the many trails of tears
of all of us, the salt lick of wounds,
the many long lines that lead,
always, from pox to romance,
from colony to the encircling museum.


(from This Carting Life, Kwelabooks/Snailpress)

Christmas Eve

23 December 2014, 8:43 am

Christmas Eve

Almost all is ruin –
the Mozart fugue that fails
its promise
of deliberate consolation,

the unending ticker and swish
of a sprinkler outside,
and the roads angry
with traffic

in last-minute errands
as the year breaks again,
breaks again
into its manifold terrors –

Christmas Eve and its solitudes
for the holy and the damned;
and the thin disguise the lonely wear
as if shirked by God

or shirked by friends
who vanish to gods
in small towns
where the earth’s bounty lies:

jungle, waterfall, placid lake.
But the earth is weary.
The thin earth
will admit it’s lonely

as it makes the jagged cliff its own,
the arid plain,
its bare spaces
where some still go.


(from Groundwork, Kwela/Snailpress, 2012)

Father Crow

17 December 2014, 2:31 pm

Father Crow

I have been a
tock bird
a tick crow
black tock crow
clawed tick
to your tock
shoulders tick
talons tock
rung round tick
collar bones
hung tick
sit ridden
as you tock
walk the earth tick
trying tock
to be one thing
with it tock
master tick
of the valleys tock
and the hills tick
ridden tock
waves tick
and the jet streams
and beyond the tick
like a tock
firebird tick
crossing tock
skies tick
and me clung
claw in you
crow-beak tock
drilling tick
like a jack pump
clock tick
in your head

This carting life

15 December 2014, 5:34 pm

This carting life

I met History once, but he ain’t recognize me.
– Derek Walcott, ‘The Schooner Flight’

On pilgrimage down damp steps, deep inside
the British Museum, among boxes stocked
roof-high, I rummage. And sniff like a dog
and pause, snout snuffling for my nearest quarry,
for the tacks to my own, final shit.

Which box fell from Father’s cart
knocking about through the Karoo, farm to farm
as he tendered his art to anyone
who’d pay him a bauble or some jot of tripe
for shearing a sheep, planting a split pole?

In regulation tatters, did we children
skulk behind Mother as Father would
talk over terms of trade with the farmer
or foreman: yes, you may pitch there
draw water here; firewood you find yourself?

Did we all pitch in? Unpack and pile
box and sack and pole? And Father swore
and hammered, tied all into a bigger box,
our pitching home for a few days
until we had to cart it off again?

Did I search for the giant spiders
tempered overnight into tangles of dead wood,
their many legs that make good kindling
shadowed like webs under gutless bodies?
Did I drag back bundles, scoring long lines

that led to our fire at night?
And how then we did dream. Learning to play
the bow, did I pluck at hamstrung song, coddling
my instrument? And the others rocked?
Swinging his dregs out in a dark arc

did Father cough and rise, and from his box
fetch shears, a jar of used, black oil
and a heavy lump wrapped in greased cloth;
then, hands trembling as if it were our saving
charm, bare the ever-dwindling whetstone?

While my string thrummed, stopped, quivered again,
like the incomplete tongues troubling in me,
was the slap and slick of stone on iron
Father’s reluctant percussion?
Did he sing? And Mother too? The young ones

staring at the flame and coal? And I fixed
on the stars to try hold the course of my string?
Was this how sleep stalked us, as song rung
in our cambering heads, the children
soon propping each other, then carried

to bed down in the smells of smoke and sand,
of gods and people, burled like kooigras?
And we did sleep until dawn brought the clang
of cup and shears strung to Father’s waist
as, stooping, out he went to work?

Did I later take him shards of potbread
spread with fat? Kneeling on the spine
of a sheep, did he withhold his shears, look up
and say the sheep are nearly done, tonight
we roast tripe, but tell Mother to pack

we go north tomorrow, yes we go north …?

Did we then lose the box, when we left?
Fallen from the cart over some unbidden bump?
Or with wind in our heads did we forget
the box, a lone tombstone among footprints,
the tools a rattle of charms, like bones,

like runes without which we were turned
from farm to enclosed farm? But north,
always north we trekked,
until we hung from the cracked lip
of a vast, somnolent desert?

And did we stray there many days?
Did we turn south again and, hungry
at the first fence, did Father unroll
his bow and quiver,
long forgot?


But all that came later. And somewhere
in these many cunning passages must lie
a box that holds our shears and whetstone.
For now, I reach for the nearest box.
It shifts and pitches in my hands
as unknown weights rollick unbound inside.

I steady it and place it down, kneel
and blow at the dust. Then wait for history
to settle around me. Is this box my own
making? To hoard a craft predating carts
and shears? Or did I roll into it

among others tossed too like bones?
Predicting life running, wandering, skulking?
And death? And after death
enclosure in boxes? And kept from
boxed-in earth and sky?

Did we see it coming? And now can do
nothing but roll and bump our heads?
And stare visionless, with sockets
hollowed by science and filled with baubles,
at our own lives our interrogators?

My lips drawn but caught in mid-cry
as I screamed not for help but yearned
the province of the mantis? Stalled
in prayer, cut off from grace?
Because in supplication we refused

the first fences that already ran
from sun-up to where night pummelled the sky?
And kept our arrows trained on cattle?
Belly-slow after a feast,
could we not run fast enough? And sought

to meld with moon, rock, inadequate shrub?
Close to the ground, did we hear the hooves
drum, the horsemen, the dedicants of prophecy?
Did we crouch and wait
for seven muskets hanging from the clouds

like unequivocal fingers of some foreign god?
And then lead balls did prod us
to silence for the real work
of bayonets punching stars in our bodies?
Stagnant stars that in days would turn blue?

Blue stars by whose unsounded frequencies
vultures would tack on course, dip into
cartwheels and circle unseen above us,
to triangulate the closest hopping distance
so that in feast they may unburden the earth?

By then our disremembered bodies
asserting their span of land only
by the reach of that temporary smell
of bloat? All this unseen by us boxed-in
heads, heading for port?

How we did feel the thrum of blades
on our necks. Like gods run amok
under the skin, the madness that sings
before the first nick; as the nick promises
the first inch opening, and so on,

unzipping further as bayonets sawed
through our necks. Was I alive still?
Even as in their cold ecstasy stars
untimely had spangled my body like some pox?
And I did feel and smell the hand

that tilted my jaw and had not charity?
Did I scream then and it was cut
out of me, stopped short of godhead? And how
did they negotiate vertebrae, cartilage?
And did a bookbinder, fingers adept

at pampering vellum, tuck flaps of neck-skin
under our jaws, sealing thus the servants
of the praying mantis in their foreheads?
Our souls now caught as recompense
for some flank of beef just-begotten?


Is this then the infirm box I stall before
and play at wiping gloves of dust
from me, as an intercom intones
closing time: five minutes to go
before I’m enclosed in the museum?

Will I leave this box unopened too,
heads unrolled onto my lap, and break
into a brisk walk into damp London?
And will a drizzle soon clot the dust
on my clothes as I run for shelter,

fugitively wiping at my knees and elbows?

(from This Carting Life, Kwela/Snailpress, 2005)


1 December 2014, 7:40 pm


Every now and then foreigners
come across the plain
stop for shade
speak through an interpreter
to the assenting chief.

They go look at the school
speak to the principal
see the children.

A boy, older, shows them
the scar like a long lunar crater
below his knee
the girl the large mangled star
in the crook of her elbow –

landmines, guns, machete, spear.

The principal smiles or laughs.

She was lucky, he says,
her father was killed
but her wounds, and her mother’s
were not so serious.

The girl rubs lightly at her temple
looking up her eyes searching
the foreigners’ for their concern
for their reason to stop here
like they would

for antelope or elephant.

They wipe their brows with worry
hand out notepads and pens
and do their bit
praising the chief’s “cosy” hut

then climb their 4x4s
gunning, gunning the engines
away from their charitable incomprehension
back to a house
on Complicity Street.


13 November 2014, 11:20 am


Millions murmuring
at the foot of the mountain
sand in the teeth
heads weeping
in the heart foreboding

the hosannas
like wind whipping at the robes
at the sheep
goats of bone and skin
uddesr shriveled like a gnarl of wood
under which the asp

the children, the children
wait can’t wait
for adulthood
for the strength

to hold a weapon of God
a scythe
a pike

the screaming wind hosannas
and the burning tribulation of the bombs

sanctify, oh sanctify
for Zion our battleships
our jets that bring forth righteousness

sanctify for us our science
of war
of precsion bombs

guide our drones to trespass
even as no one trspasses against us

break on the rack for us
the wretch
who dare speak his name
who cry for bread
in the name of Gof

the same true one god one love god
of difference and indifference

as the rivers run dry
the sea, the sea withdraws
its manifold blessings
and also its curse
that brought me to these shores

count now the men, the warriors
who grapple with the idea
then fall to violence for God
who will raze the cities
rape the women
smash the children

scar the earth with incendiary will

hunt their inner chimerical mosntrs
until the animals disappear

count now the bison, the whale
count lion and tiger
the birds of the air
count all these
count the rhinoceros, if it still lives

multiply by curses
by praise song
the earnest hosannas
entreaties that this time God
my God
we vanquish the other God

then divide, divide and subtract
subtract and remainder
the weeping the wailing the gnashing of teeth
the lamentations of the lamentations

from the slave-ship’s hold
from the ovens of Auschwitz
from the children’s workhouse
from the steppes of Russia, the plains of the Americas,
the man on the rack in holy inquisition
the woman stoned

for the sanctifying fire in her loins

remainder the lamentations
the lamentations of the lamentations

of every kafir black nigger jew and his slant-eyed twin
enslaved by arab white man an other slant-eyed twin
burned hanged and hacked to death
who in turn revolts in kind
enslaving burning hanging and hacking
his other other his own himself

swallowing his own
in the shine of the erect self collapsing within.


11 November 2014, 3:03 pm


Are we there yet?

The udst, the lizards
the wind, the gizzards

the thirst, the wizards

Adnoai, Yhwaeh, Lahah
God of mercy and of war

of vapours and bloodsand
brimsten, crimston, more sand

but ahead, blessed Carland
here the gears grinding
and the blessed oil
the industry of an ointment

the black blood

soon will come the hard ship

the fouled fowls

look how they melt away
a treasure of babubles
caught forever
in the monasteryries

the flying buttrixes
of their ribs
gizzards overwhelmed

feathers mere stains
mere memory

Kill it! Kill it the mere bird
o ancient one
o ancient wise one
kill it

let that bird not trouble you

it mocks the living god


Night falls
forced to camp
fire from tendrils
the bread
abrasive with sand
heavy, unleavened as death

(off-set, the sameras whir)

we have come to the edge of the desert

tomorrow we fall on the land

uproot the olive tree

wipe from earth all memory

we have come to the egde of the desert

of the dead bird
of the thristy snake

of the fish that walk the earth
until their gills dry
and they fall

of all who had to crawl
from the burning seas
to burn on land

to burn in its human-made wastes

Son of man
we have come to the egde of the desert
your tree is a husk
running with termites

Maria crumbles from the nose down
at Notre Dame, in Rome
on Liberty Island

Mecca is a pleasure dome

and God is still dead
shot by Charlton Heston

so these are not his tsars
but still-born the ever-immaculate
cantankering chaos locustering
horsemendering luciferous voices

beyond the tendrils of light
from our small fires

the drak no telescope can breach

we turn and turn the dial
download only fragments

reheated, globular
grinding desperate
mandalas from Mandelas

the desrt grows beneath our feet

but here, sit, eat with us, drink,
see that you spill not the oil

tomorrow is a patriarch
lapping at rot
dancing with ergot, ant’s fire
visions of a newfound canard:

we leave the desert for another

download only fragments
the hollow ring of faith

six thousand megabytes from now
we will be in Carland
on ambient grounds
destroying walls, building new ones


10 November 2014, 8:43 am


Colkie McCulklen is dead
and the princss
see them move on the darkness
of the waters and the earth
the face of Charles Bronson in other words,
and Pacino the mohterfucker,
alas, alos dead.
Mr Brond and that guy in the red car,
and Jason Bored, the X-mint
and –womint, theyr ALL DEAD.

I remember Jane Seymour

in the formless voidacom.

Roudn of APPLAUSE. Thank you.

Eastwood sits on a chair, they clap.

He talks to the chair
but it don’t listen to him.

Thank you.

The stars are reams.

Hoffman is walking there, he’s walking there.
Gunnerman is gone.

The tsars are reams. Some
overdose, shoot up horse,
too much horse,
liquor the vicar, the priests
the girls, the boys molested:
catholics and imams, rabbis amd gurus
the sheiks of oil, of all, of old
of puppetry, colonial sahabi
ya habibi
and then the wahabi

theyr dead, all dead

reams of infamy

Bush, Obama, the whole dice dead,
Hillary gored
Bin Laden the seasoick
the US blergh

That Williams gut, bless his soul.
Hollywood got him, dead.

Bridges of bloody stone country.
(old reference, I have often noticed)

Look, ther they lie (or is it lay)
lifeless, broken on the riverbed.

We gawk at zombies.

Run, I say, run! Run, run, run!

But tomorroe, tomorrow
we’ll re-run with euphemism
terrorism vampirism liquid jism
put it in your foxcroft aphorism

(Turn around)
every now and then
I get nervous
that the best gears have all gone by

(Turn around)
Every now and then
I get terrified
But then I see the book in your eyes

and it solves nothing
not hunger nor truant artists
racists, anti-racists, non-
and multi-bloody-fuck-you-racists
poverty, the dread disease
the cabal of brouhaha
the ego of Cock, Dick & Penis Incorporated
the silent, dumb mass of you zombies
the arse-bend of Spidergrawl

the confunction of the bloggerbies:

Mistah Kurtz, the un-dead.

Marlow he solves not murder,
the crimbling stories
of the apiarists,
the ape-men, the old movies
re-done for tuppence
if I may speak colonial

May I?

Graceful. Magnanimous of you
that I can use these words
and be free
of white-wash-ionside-coconutism
and all my spelling blerrors

I am allowed?

Than you, than uou.

Now it divides
form from chaos
light from dark
and the cables are laid

and the internet buzzes
into life
and it saw that all was good

The wind in the morning

13 August 2014, 10:07 am

The wind in the morning

The man wakes from dream
to nightmare,
his night-aged knees
over rubble
outside when he emerges
from the black mouth of his house

its burnt shell a meagre shelter
from the wind
now tugging at a loose something
and the blight it brings
like a scythe through the valleys.

Let the sun rise if it must.
Let it burn through the wind.
Let it dry them eventual white
and broken as the earth –
his neighbours the two lovers

charred in copulation
on the blackened bed
as if they unleashed the starbursts
of the bombs,
that burning burning out their love.

What’s left are the wind-worn harvests:
the neighbours’ ache,
friends’ unanswered calls,
a mother who cries,
who wanders
until death
among the millions of the unconsoled.

We who also wake
but turn away cowed, unshamed,
we whisper only to each other
of the murdered and the maimed:
single, multiple, mass –
the killing fields the index of our regress
back from Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Self-portrait in blue

7 May 2014, 1:04 pm

Self-portrait in blue


When you look sometimes,
when you don’t mean to see,
but on a turn
from reaching for something else –
analgesics or the shaving brush –
you catch

the fugitive blur in the mirror

where should have been
someone like you,
bagged eyes, heavier jowl,
that pull of the mouth –
what you’d rather not see

or taste again:
the bitter, repetitive defeats
of a country where death is king,
all proudly trapped still
in the chauvinist isolations
of the past, or cocooned
in barren superstitions
that yet grow and multiply;

the poets, past comrades
who jump and prance
to render their rhymes to power
the venal rottage in the veins,
tendering mouths agape in metastasis,
lips glistening
with fat from the banquet

or who wander distracted
in every valley or hollow-treed glen,
mimics of empire
in the quiet, restful corruptions
of self-scrutiny.

So you turn rather away
from the indictments of the mirror,
focus not on the burdens
of this historical self.
Look less, see less.
Say less and settle back
through the self’s wordless fog
into the dull stasis of anodynes.


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