“South Africa”

This is not a political poem.
I am tired of politics,
it makes me sick.

This is not a poem about race
or sex or gender
or feminism, sexism
or any other ism
that over-aware modern minds
care to coin:
they drain the life from me.

This is a poem for the township boy
who will never leave
and the black businesswoman
who has built an empire,
speaking truth to power,
and the tenderpreneur who
enriches himself and no-one else.

This is a poem for he
who calls himself white,
male, heterosexual,
fully abled and English
and for the person who
doesn’t know why
privilege matters at all.

All are welcome here,
there is place for all
and a word for each;
the grandmother cooking samp
in a dark and damp shack
and the orphan boy who
must care for his siblings
after AIDS stole his parents
and the Cape Town model
who knows nothing of the
grandmother or the orphan.

This is not a poem for reconciliation,
mediation, arbitration or meditation.
This is not a poem about power
or those who perpetuate it,
perpetrating crimes and
perfecting poverty.
There is place for them too,
and a word each.

All are welcome in this poem,
though they need not come in,
for it is just a poem and
a whole world is out there
full of people who are
sometimes good,
sometimes evil,
sometimes understanding,
sometimes ignorant,
sometimes reasonable,
sometimes defensive,
yet always people.

Like the dog who will die
on a dusty road in a township
not far from here,
this poem just is.
It matters not that it will
be gone by Sunday,
for through the cruelty
and senseless chaos,
there is still life.
There is still hope.

This is a poem for
those who know it
and yet go on out the yard,
stumbling on mangey legs,
stuttering through brief life,
if only to experience love
for just a moment
before they are gone,
lost and forgotten
in a world of
far too many words.

“A Dog’s Life”

A diseased puppy limps
through a dusty township,
more mange than fur.
It will not last the week.
What hope for dogs
when people are left out,
swallowed by the night,
smoked and smothered,
no more than stompies
in a country unmoved
by puppies’ pleading eyes.

There is a dying tree
on the road back home,
choked by a creeper
crawling up its trunk
like politics covers us,
so that we cannot breathe
beneath race’s bark,
cannot simply be
before we are strangled
by a past that grows
into our grim future.

It’s strangely beautiful
and strangely sad;
that choked-up tree
in this strange place,
where life feeds on life
to go on living
and the monstrous
is all around.
And I hate it
and I love it
and I can never leave.

“Greenpop Raindrops”

An old log lies rotting in
damp green glades which
invade the fallen sentinel,
breaking through her bark.

But this is no sad story,
as the wet wood gets
smashed by spades and
splintered mulch feeds
thousands of new trees planted
by hippies and treehuggers
trying to rebuild forests
lost to blind greed and
the Age of Plastic Things.

The Eastern Cape Monarch,
ancient ruler of this realm,
slowly turns to watch
while waterfalls whisper
misty encouragement;
the Madonna and Child
brought to life in
falling sheets of light,
dancing rainbows which
play in the cool forest,
turning raindrops green
as they shock the skin,
pinpricks of nature
sent to remind us
of our heritage as
trees begin to grow
and the fallen log
disintegrates further.

Life cycles forever on
and we must play each part;
planted tree and fallen log,
dancing in the darkness
while stormclouds gather
and the Earth begins to breathe.

“The Living Sea”

Brown patches of life
have invaded the ocean,
turning the white waves
into a curling crash of
invisible creatures.

A gnarled old fisherman
with salt-encrusted pants
tells me it’s plankton
as he casts his line,
using a sinker and hope
to hook his supper.

Google tells me that
it is algal bloom, but
the fisherman’s story
is far better,
drawing a Southern Right
almost into the beakers
to investigate his fiction.

The tide advances,
the Earth rises to the sun,
sea mist rolls over dunes
and the fisherman disappears
as I stroll down the beach
contemplating this patchy life
which I have no answer to,
while the Indian Ocean
murmurs her ancient tune:
tat tvam asi
tat tvam asi
tat tvam asi.

“Land of Longing”

“There were always those two paths open before me,
those two forces tugging at my traitor’s heart” — Rian Malan

The sun melts like butter, spread
across the valley as it sinks into
the silent folds of the old Ciskei,
leaving a glow which flows across
the hazy horizon and into my heart,
boundaries between long blurred
by a yearning to know that sunset
as the last lines of African light fade
and night comes creeping in,
slipping out of the headlight’s reach
while a lonely steenbok stands aside
transfixed by the unnatural bulbs.

From the darkness that rushes in
behind my speeding bubble,
the widow’s voice rings out:
to know how to live anywhere,
you must know how to live in Africa,
for love is worth nothing
until tested by its own defeat.
The only thing you can do is love,
because it is the only thing
which leaves light inside you,
instead of total, obliterating
darkness.

And so I, a shipwrecked soul
on strange and stormy seas
I cannot navigate, let alone live in,
long for some redemption,
for the Africa of Neil Alcock
which defeats both love and life,
but finally comes dancing back
to draw his tired and dusty spirit
into an ancient Zulu stick while
the people gather in his kraal
in preparation for the next battle
and the ugly business of survival.

Still, the butter-melted sun sets
leaving the world awash
with the taste of Africa and
the lonely steenbok stands
watching in the night, waiting
for the flood of white headlights
set to bright, as if the cold night
can forever be kept at bay.

“African Roads”

The open road heals my broken heart
with soulspace and the danger of beauty,
the promise of possibilities unknown
lurking just beyond the next corner
as I drive along a wet farm road,
the clouds like massive battle ships
rolling across the land to breach
their watery hulls on the mountains
visible in the hazy velvet distance.

The baptised tarmac forms a mirror,
a thin strip of sky to drive on,
dodging corners and clouds
as Africa calls and my body aches
full of a feeling it does not know,
a feeling that can never be known
in this land of open spaces and
places which stick in your flesh
like the thorn trees that grow here,
lonely sentries of the plains
put there to stand watch and wait
for the coming battle clouds
and the changing of the seasons.