The Lichen’s Lyrics


He sits before the sunset and wonders
at the slow language of the planet
that slips by us in words longer than lifetimes
sung to the lyrics of the lichen longing
for translation as the fading light falls
through the cave at just the right angle
to engulf the tapestry with fire.

And he stares into the golden night, wondering
what whispered secrets the clouds keep,
like how to fade into blue, dissolve into nothing
and then return
to dance with air and floating seas,
the river of the sky singing a duet
with the slow language of sunset
in a melody it takes a life to hear.

And like the clouds, so long the keepers
of our secrets, we get to dance with floating water,
we get to be the wildness and the wet
every time we fall, every time we are drawn back
up into the blue until the only dream that’s left
is to sing slow words with lichen
and wait
for one day each spring when the sun sets
at just the right angle to light it all up.

Chintsa Cycles

How quickly we forget
the wind when it is
behind us,
how still the air feels
flowing forward in
my saddle,
having turned for home
finished fighting
to find some other place,
knowing, simply knowing,
there is nowhere but

And there is no time,
not even now,
it is as still as
the space cycling
before me,
unfurling between
ruffled sea and
wavy dune,
an endless emptiness
nothing and existence,
this middle path
that uncovered me.

For so long I have looked
for stories to share,
stumbling over the
greatest one of all
on a ship called serendip
floating across a meadow
where I walked the plank
in search of strange music
playing through a spring night,
a symphony sprung
from the movement of our cells
and those ancient echo
chambers of your heart…

So break, my love,
break open from
this saddle, seated
at the centre of
our universe
full with emptiness,
dancing in the dark
because that is all
that ever mattered
and no-one ever was,
not then,
not now,
not there.

Always here.

“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

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.

“Domestic Bliss”

“These images by a white photographer

of black domestic workers are offensive”

reads the headline on my newsfeed,

two words hanging like death knells

so that the sentence cannot live,

cannot breathe beneath the

crushing pair of opposites

it fails to reconcile.


The portraits are not perfect,

lacking the shades of grey

also missing in the headline,

but the function of art

is to bring out the best in us,

reveal the wonder of perception.

That is what the critics

have never understood.


Even the unskilled artist says

“This is my truth, nothing else,

it need not resemble yours.”

But if there is rhythm,

if it is skillfully rendered,

it will have some element of Truth,

an all-too-fleeting moment of



That is what I seek

between the light and dark lines

of a Japanese landscape painting,

opposites used to construct

a complete picture of

the ebb and flow of existence,

photographers and domestic workers

included in the rhythm of it All.


The more I look the more I think

the answers only fit for the

conversations of madmen and shamans

far from religion, race, belief,

where the truth is shattered

into a million different shades

battling back and forth between

the darkness and the light.