Yakhal’inkomo

There is an old song where I come from
and it bellows through the people, singing
the songs of slaughterhouse marches
and what we have lost.

Mankunku’s horn massages the memory of massacres
the pointlessness of martyrs and mothers who remember,
like overhearing Gabriel’s whisper as the child is kissed
and dropped to begin again
in stilted yet quietly stunning music
filled with the kind of silence which proceeds
that first cry of bafflement.

I know this music in my bones,
it crawls over my flesh like a dung beetle,
a blistering desert of fading memories
and a never-ending dune, etched in waves
which the beetle-beat must ascend
in stumbling steps as the edifice slips and slides
beneath him – an eternity of falling heavens.

We are rainbows, my friend
(you must be a friend)
and once I dreamed of happiness,
of a thrush and a garden and still point.

It came true too, at sunset as jet streams
became the golden locks of god over an ancient port
where the footsteps echo,
where the footsteps sound like that old song from home,
and I a ferryman to bear this happiness
from one shore back here.

And, sweet irony, is the task a happy one?
Not always.

But I wondered through the garden of the stars,
I met my becoming and was still.

We are forever ecstatic.

 

WordPress won’t let me add videos – go here to see the title song. This post is dedicated to Yahia Lababidi, a new inspiration of mine.

 

Dancing Signs

“I wanted the proof of a living spirit and I got it.
Don’t ask me at what price” — C. G. Jung

What am I but a signpost
left here at the crossing of many paths
to point all ways, for always and no ways,
every way the same,
full of nothing which men divide
by knowing they wish to go
this way or that, preferring up or down
after missing the emerald tablet
at the entrance:
below and above the same thing,
no thing at all.

And so I stand, rooted to this earth,
having travelled far enough to measure
the distance from here to there
and back again,
each sign carefully painted,
pointing at this tree, that apple,
this cup of tea, those mountains:
meant for climbing, eating,
drinking, seeing,
no more, know less:

all of life a lesson
in how to listen
and, having heard,
the signpost sways,
remembering what it
feels like to dance again.

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Dream Dolpins

He slides through the sea,
slip of a boy,
stroking his natural element
chlorine and salt sticking
in gyms and oceans,
flippers and dolphins
of his dream-world,
sand and tiles swirling,
stirring up memory:
the child he was.

The child he is,
Peter Pan of the pool
pulling pirates and
tick-tock crocs from
a wild imagination
where waves and wind,
coaches and competition,
come together chasing
his never-never land
of love and long summers.

What is to dream?
To be who we once were
way back when we won,
riding waves with
singing swimmers
on wild coastlines with
strong currents sweeping
the dreamer out to sea,
sweet surrender of a
small child’s soul.

Sing, my youth,
found in seas again,
for what are dreams
but reminders of how
to grow old with grace?
How to glimpse
who we were,
who we are:
single swimmers surfing
wild waves filled with life.

“Homeless”

Like a moth to flame she burns
for open spaces, unwritten hope
of a journey on the open road.
Night after night she returns,
wind rushing through her hair
so that she wakes unkempt
from an other imagined world,
stretching into grim reality
as a grey day dawns
and the street returns to life.

People look at her as they pass,
windswept dreamer
in an old and tattered coat,
but they do not see her
do not know she seeks the waking life,
gazing into the flickering fire
in the hope of glimpsing eternity
as the flame flutters and falters
before rearing its golden head
in a last, defiant roar.

Battered and broken
by endless fire-dives
finally she gives up,
lets go,
while all the people pass
silently clinging in terror
to their certain lives.
But not the dreamer,
stretched across a park bench
on a cold winter’s morning:
she lets the flame in,
fuses with the light and
is lost forever to
simple air and heat,
an empty space and point of light
in a dark and barren room.

The dreamer’s dream
of love and life
fuels the flame once more
and on it burns
and on she burns
both forever bright.

“The Artist”

 

An old artist sits in his cave,

hands shaking as he mixes paint

and picks an ivory frame from

among a million hues waiting

to come alive beneath his brush.

 

He takes two opposing tools,

his pencil and eraser beginning

to form the first image in

silence as he discovers with

twin lines of light and dark.

 

It is a word I cannot read and

soon the background covers it,

legion upon legion of forebears,

fossils filling the page as

the artist begins to paint.

 

In great strokes he strikes

and the faces become formless

against my many-coloured background

of red and black and white

and race and love and death.

 

Then he stops, the tired old man,

and looks at the distant stardust.

“My time has come” he says,

“my work is done. Take this

and paint – yours is just begun.”

“For Joan”

My grandma returned

to tell me one last story

about how she met

the man she loved,

how it depended on

the weather, her dress,

how she looked at him

and he at her.

 

It was a story of

love and contingency,

the thousand factors

which added up

to this unlikely life:

but for her dress and

the clouds overhead,

I would not exist.

 

She sat right there,

just beside me,

like she used to

when I was a child.

I remember every detail,

but have no idea

what it all meant –

it was just a good story.

 

Maybe we do not need

to moralise or seek

the meaning of it all,

maybe life is best lived

listening to good stories;

stories about the weather

and what she wore

and how they fell in love.

“Duna Library”

In dreams I return to

where my writing grew:

a dilapidated library and

a disorderly circle of chairs

filled by people completely

different to me.

 

I dream of the cadences

of a language I do not know,

with clicks and rhymes

that carried my mind

to a picture of a land

unknown by privilege.

 

I dream of kindness

and community beyond

the borders of a township

on a hill as the sun set,

catching a wave of cloud

with a thousand colours.

 

Because of that old library

with hardly any books and

only a small circle of poets,

instead of the black and

white of ages past,

I dream in sunset colours.

“My Shoes”

I had a dream last night;

I read a story from the sole of my shoe.

I kept having to turn it around

to decipher the dust-worn words,

scratched in by sand and sharp rock

seeking the soft skin of my feet.

Then, the story just ended

without warning.

 

The shoe it was written on was

broken before, losing its heel

which I had glued and clamped

firmly back in place.

I ripped it off once more,

searching for the finishing phrase,

but found only dirt

and an old wound.

 

I have wandered for a while now,

thinking of stories and how to tell them.

My dreams have answered me:

there is a story on the bottom

of each pair of my shoes,

especially the broken ones,

the ones with scuffed soles,

suffering my weight for years.

 

There is a novel written

in scratches on every one,

better than anything I ever penned,

but it is not finished.

It runs out just before the heel

and opening the past does not help.

The story-scratch gives my shoes grip,

but they cannot complete the tale alone.

 

The dream did not tell me

how to finish the story,

but I think it may be with a smile,

in the knowledge that shoes

are made to carry us forward.

The more broken they are,

the more comfortable the walk,

the better they fit the souls of our feet.