The wind in the morning

14 November 2015, 4:11 pm

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.

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)

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)


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

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.

Derek Walcott – Eulogy to W.H. Auden

11 February 2014, 7:29 am

Eulogy to W.H. Auden

(Read at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
New York, October 17, 1983)


Assuredly, that fissured face
is wincing deeply, and must loathe
our solemn rubbish,
frown on our canonizing farce
as self-enhancing, in lines both
devout and snobbish.

Yet it may spare us who convene
against its wish in varnished pews
this autumn evening;
as maps remember countries, mien
defines a man, and his appears
at our beseeching.

Each granite feature, cracked and plain
as the ground in Giotto, is
apt to this chancel,
the wry mouth bracketed with pain,
the lizard eye whose motto is:
Opposites cancel.

For further voices will delight
in all that left the body of
the mortal Auden
centuries after candlelit
Kirchstetten freed its tenant of
Time and its burden;

for what we cherish is as much
our own fate, stricken with the light
of his strange calling,
and, once we leave this darkened church
and stand on pavements in the night
to see a falling

leaf like a seraph sign the arc
made by a streetlamp, and move on
to selfish futures,
our footsteps echoing in the dark
street have, for their companion,
his shadow with us.

Autumn is when small wars begin
drunken offensives; the skies spin
with reeling scanners;
but you, who left each feast at nine,
knew war, like free verse, is a sign
of awful manners.

Tonight, as every dish deploys
from sonar peaks its amplified
fireside oration,
we keep yours to ourselves, a voice
internal, intricately wired
as our salvation.


In your flat world of silence
the fissures made by speech
close. A sandpiper signs
the margin of the beach.

Soon, from whistling tundras,
geese following earth’s arc
will find an accurate Indies
in the lime-scented dark.

Our conjugations, Master,
are still based on the beat
of wings that gave their cast to
our cuneiform alphabet,

though shredders hum with rage through
the neon afternoon,
and dials guide earth’s marriage
to an irascible moon;

not needling Arcturus,
nor Saturn’s visible hum
have, on their disks, a chorus
of epithalamium;

the farther the space station
from the Newtonian self,
the more man’s conversation
increases with himself.

Once, past a wooden vestry,
down still colonial streets,
the hoisted chords of Wesley
were strong as miners’ throats;

in treachery and in union,
despite your Empire’s wrong,
I made my first communion
there, with the English tongue.

It was such dispossession
that made possession joy,
when, strict as Psalm or Lesson,
I learnt your poetry.


Twilight. Grey pigeons batten
on St. Mark’s slate. A face
startles us with its pattern
of sunlit fire escapes.

Your slippered shadow pities
the railings where it moves,
brightening with Nunc Dimittis
the city it still loves.

O craft, that strangely chooses
one mouth to speak for all,
O Light no dark refuses,
O Space impenetrable,

fix, among constellations,
the spark we honour here,
whose planetary patience
repeats this earthly prayer

that the City may be Just,
and humankind be kind.
A barge moves, caked with rust
in the East River wind,

and the mouths of all the rivers
are still, and the estuaries
shine with the wake that gives the
craftsman the gift of peace.

(from Derek Walcott, The Arkansas Testament, Faber&Faber, 1987, 1988)

A Manuscript belonging to a girl whose body tasted so sweet – Aslan Abidin

5 February 2014, 7:52 pm

A MANUSCRIPT BELONGING TO A GIRL WHOSE BODY TASTED SO SWEET – Aslan Abidin (transl. from Indonesian by Mikael Johani)

—circa 1789
what could be crueler than our own beaches?
they ran many ships aground, stuffed with
colonialists, missionaries and rats.

—they once greeted speelman* and
palakka** who came to destroy
the kingdoms of gowa and tallo.—***

i remembered this
beach, which has never ceased to
produce traitors. i was born
on the sand of this beach
that night, before i said:
“your body is as sweet as aren juice.”#

i got drunk on your body,
i could not find my way home.

“it destroyed me, trying not to remember you,”
you said one morning, as you were packing to leave.

—dutch flotillas came
to take away slaves, to sell them
alongside pigs at the cape of good hope.—

then foot soldiers brought you to baron
van reede tot de parkelaar, exiled ##
far away at the palace of the surakarta sunan.###
the senior resident loved to read the bible
while you sucked him off.

what could be crueler than our own beaches?
these ports have destroyed our bay
these ports have forced us to say too many goodbyes
these ports have shed many tears.
“it destroys me, trying to forget you,”
you said, as if suffering can have an end.

Makassar, 2008-2010

* Cornelis Speelman, governor of colonial Dutch East Indies, 1681-1684
** Arung Palakka, Speelman’s Buginese ally.
*** Gowa, Tallo: places in Southwestern Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes), where Makassar is situated. The rebel, Sheikh Yusuf, as well as many slaves were brought from there to the Cape, thus Macassar in the Cape, where Yusuf was buried.
# aren – feathered palm
## Van Reede tot de Parkeler – Dutch colonial merchant
### Surakarta Sunan – Sunan = ruler

Poem taken from What’s Poetry – Antologi Puisi, Henk Publica 2012, pp.240-241

October, Java

19 January 2014, 11:56 am

October, Java

The buzz of scooters die down
past the bamboo compound
revamped for tourists
tramping to and from an ancient temple.

Fresh and flushed by showers,
groups and couples compare their pics
and laugh and cluck, and muse
at what they can only describe
as the riches of the land:

the rice, the strange fruit,
the smiling waiters
and the call to evening prayer
hardly heard above the rain
rushing from the eaves and gutters,
roaring in the ears and in the head.

The rain stops as it started, sudden.
A moment’s hush
then the click of knives on bone and plate
and the global benefits
of American, English, Dutch.

Under the grinning moon
the river runs by silently, runs
mercurial by bridge and bamboo,
by crabs sidling like henchmen
past the tourist’s dream,
through the sleep of history.

The foreigners will cluck and leave,
heaving bolts of batik and temple curios
wrapped like careful metaphors
for their inner peace
bought with rijksdaalders, pounds, murderous dollars.

Only the sun tomorrow will cast its eye
on river-rock brown like fingers
clawing at the shore;
on a tree stump stuck in the stream
like a torso shorn of limbs,
streaking red, its banners long washed out to sea;

Only the sun will raise its weary eye
on the gecko fled from the burning walls,
its tail left twisting in wordless testimony;
on gods in flames,
their ashes falling on the killing fields.

The gods of war

31 August 2013, 8:24 am

The gods of war

SistersbyHomsi LensPhotograph of two sisters in Homs, by “Young Homsi Lens“, 6 October 2012.*


Your gods are long all now dead,
only a white dread of sea noise,
grey hair like a cloth of stars
in their slowest motion out there in the night sky
or a cloud of frogspawn, only now
dark tadpoles for the dark stars,
a flicker of dark frequencies from the mud.

Dig deeper and it is darker still,
slime, rock
some force,
a monstrous noise
rushing in the head and ears,
the noise from which we come
the anti-matter of our gods.

We made them, they made us;
we made them then tell us
we thirst for nothing
blood and oil
and the crushing of people who have nothing
save some idea of god

a god they hope, believe, is on their side
if only he would help
every time they pull a trigger.
But all gods are dead
have died a billion times,
dead dead dead all through millennia.


But they might believe,
the smiling children –
two sisters somewhere in Syria –
may still believe in a god.

Look at their smiles
that crop the war from the picture,
that tries make god anew
who yet watches, off-frame,
an oilman check his shares
an arms executive drive his child to school
a ruler worry about how he looks on Facebook.

And also off-frame,
perhaps some blocks away,
a fighter for his god of freedom
rots already.
In another town not far perhaps,
already a tank rolls slow and unheard
over a dead child,
the commander obeying orders
only from Mammon.

Perhaps the older sister knows
already that a god may die.

A brother or uncle has told her
and gave as holy gift
the bullet she now wears as pendant.

When she sees a parent or a sibling
smeared on tarmac by a bomb
she’ll be told all along
when god was mocking her,
it was a test,
that a god’s wisdom is infinite
yet he cannot, cares not to explain
the murder and rape of children.

Who wants to be god of all this?
Or a disciple? Or us?
All of us shuffling in
to a pliant mass,
quiet and respectful
in our churches, in our mosques
of flat-screen TVs
and all the other comforts of oil

that dull the blood,
that leaven the self-loathing
until we can’t care
to care
not even in this verse
we thought were once the enclave of gods

but now given everywhere
to the oily minutiae of our decent, respectable selves
in lines like broken anti-matter
because we cannot
do not
want to bear it any more.

Who wants to rule this tired republic
of shameful verse
and lead our crawl
back from gods
back into mud?
Better never to have been born,

better not to have grown to think,
to build edifices to our minds
so magnificent
they can ignore slaughter and rape
over which men in suits
argue ethics
until their mouths run red

from bloodied thumbs
counting their murderous dollars,
while god dies where he was made
in Syria

but also everywhere
where a commodity begins:
in a mine
where a rock-fall or a shotgun kills god
and a widow grows bitter,
in a micro-chip factory
where young workers stop dreaming
and we bow to the great God Automaton.

What does it matter?


(* Thank you to Young Homsi Lens for permission to use the photograph.)


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