Falling Man

June 7, 2016 at 2:14 pm (Poem)

Maroon prickly pear bud
prises open into a yellow flower startle
Bare bone-thorns spear the midday light
The surprise sweetness of the defended fruit.

I want to envision a present
different from what is
one that began with reaching out in the hotel room’s hush
to touch your cool skin,
rumple angel hair, offer solace.

Like the man who jack-knifed
from the 9-11 Twin Towers
flipping the bird at harbingers of death –
poised before unthinkable loss

I cultivate hope
– despite the failed intimacies –
delay a fall from fantasy
into a future without you.

Heart too numb to feel
the words I can’t say, the wound that will not heal.



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Other people (ff)

May 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm (Poem)

Friday afternoon – chaos – at the Southway Mall. The jewelry store smells of burning plastic. Bright earrings sit like small tropical birds in cages of glass. In front of me an Indian couple choose a bauble. The woman, her glossy hair in a bob, hanging thick against her delicate neck, hands over a R50 note to the skinny Moslem man behind the counter, while her husband watches, affectionate. A man in overalls is at the doorway, telling his wife he can’t wait, he has to go to the site, ‘right away’. The Moslem store-owner, wily, but attractive, agrees to fit a new battery into my Swatch, although he says it’ll take ‘ten, fifteen minutes,’ his hands flapping to show uncertainty. He’s on the phone to a buddy, talking about some deal, considers an amount, narrows his eyes. The black plastic Hi-Fi, perched high on a laminated cupboard, blares out raucous rock tunes that make it hard to concentrate. A buttoned-down black woman in a faded print dress helps another customer, blankly. I go next door to the hardware store. A muscled man with a shaven head, and thin cotton T-shirt, takes the packet of picture hooks I give him, and lets me pay with my debit card. He eyes the glass bottle of cranberry juice that I have placed on the counter, his eyes fisheagle sharp. At the fax shop, a thin middle-aged woman in blue jeans with a heart-shaped gold ring on her little finger, helps me send a fax to my mother in England. There is a poster of Bob Marley on the back wall, swinging his head so that his dreadlocks fly up into the air, above the words ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’. She hands two long black bags to the man who has just walked into the shop behind me – they are camping chairs he bought at the sale being held in the vacant shop next to Checkers. She was keeping them for him. He speaks with an affected English accent, tries to make eye contact with me one time to many, he seems uneasy. He is going to cycle home he says, with one bag on each shoulder. She murmurs ‘OK dear’, gives me a carefully formal smile as I leave. I go to the sale to see what’s there. I find a dome beach tent for next to nothing, picture my son and I on Battery Beach next summer, enjoying a view of the sea from the comfort of shade. The woman at the long counter of thirty or so sales assistants dealing with the crush of customers, asks for my name and telephone number to write on the invoice, calls me ‘Sarah’ as she hands over my copy. She tells me she has a daughter called Sarah-Jane. Awkward at the manufactured friendliness, I read her name badge, say ‘thank you Sandy’. She’s already turning to the next person. Earlier, at the Post Office, I saw a man in a yellow T-shirt, with broad shoulders that tapered down to small slight hips, narrow legs, walk up to the cashier behind the window. I wondered why I could so easily place him as working class. Was it the rough cut of his blond hair? The strange glint in his eye? Am I imagining that he is a hick? In Checkers, a fat housewife in a tent dress and her mother huddle around a small boy at the chocolate section. He starts to cry, wailing ‘I want to play poker’ – gesticulating at the Cadbury’s bars. The car guard outside helps me load my parcels into the boot, then asks me if its alright that he shuts it. He takes the keys from the lock and gives them to me. Nervously I hand over R2. The transaction has become too intimate, I back away smiling, shut the door on him with relief. The petrol attendant, another black man, pours R70 worth of petrol into my car, I pull off feeling as if something has been left incomplete. The drive home on the freeway dreamlike, my parents’ automatic 1.6l Hyundai pulling powerfully across the concrete road. Trucks and buses from the port behind me roaring, rattling up the M14 inland, Friday afternoon hustle and bustle. In the suburbs I see municipal workers, street-sweepers, in neon orange jackets sitting on grass verges, watching the odd car disturb the quiet. A tall dignified domestic worker walks wearily to the bus-stop, her sober heels catching at the hem of her long skirt. Everywhere I look people, everywhere I look, myself.

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Ars Poetica

May 19, 2009 at 8:22 pm (Poem)

It will make no difference.

But you’ll find you can’t speak without love

although its an imprisonment.

Your voice must be love wrestled to unloving,

the lyre at the moment of catastrophe, a silence

within which another voice opens.


You’ll speak as you must, as always,

although you’ll never know why you’re listening                               

through the elisions of your stuttering heart.

You’ll long to finish, although nothing has happened,

although you haven’t begun, as if your mere being

hurt you with abundance. No one will explain.


There are wounds that blind you, sudden voices

splitting into winter, toothed windows, terrors

sifting through white slumbers of corruption,

the wraith that greets you with your shrinking face

at dawn, anonymous and violent,

waiting for Virgil.


Because you have tasted your salt in the blood

of another’s mouth, because a small flower

is eating the history of stone,

because you are asleep and all possibility

tilts on the edge of your vision, because you are nameless

and are called, because you know nothing –


a possible music

lifts through the panic of dismay –

it’s the blue of all the flowers of your body,

the brain stem, the clitoris, the tongue,

the wrist vein, the channels of the heart, the dying lips,

reaching to their likeness in the sky, in the sky’s waters –

you can’t lift it out of your flesh

because it won’t exist, but it flowers past you.

It opens the places you’ve always been,

House, fire, glass, bed, water,

tree, night,

the child’s glance which strews your transparencies

across a field of colours you have no name for,

the profane ash of touch

darkening your tongue, the dream of imperishable silver

which wakes to another dream, a boat departing

from an unmapped shore, and your crumbling words, unable

to hold even one drop of light.


 Alison Croggon

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Before you were born

May 13, 2009 at 9:48 pm (Poem)

She looks up to find the moon gaping through black trees,

white light blaring in her eyes

like the radio turned up too loud.


She’d forgotten it was nearing its fullest point,

her head down, washing the dirty dishes,

11pm, the night before her son’s birthday.


The cake she baked earlier burnt,

so she’s trying again, a ring cake

for his birthday group at school tomorrow.


Earlier, laying him down to sleep,

she haltingly rehearsed the story of his birth,

words and memory at odds.


How to describe the warm womb water

seeping down her thigh that morning,

his father driving her dreamlike, distracted,  beneath blue skies to the hospital.


The oven rattles, a dark hot maw,

the floury morass settles,

finds form, alchemy.


Five years ago, her child’s pale philosopher’s face mysterious

as Saturn inside her, as seen nestling in the scan’s shadows,

waited to be born, to begin orbit.

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Café Neo

May 9, 2009 at 8:26 am (Poem)

So there we sat, you and I,

on the deck of the Café Neo,

two red-winged starlings showing up,

and the mist rolling in from the rocks across the way.


I hid my bag like treasure under my chair,

and you showed me your Web site on your laptop,

awkwardly brushing dust from its screen.


The Windhoek lager cool in my hand,

a light-sabre, and your green eyes sizing me up,

the cool clink of bottle necks a battle cry.


You pointed to the lighthouse,

explaining how it beams code

to the ships beyond Robben Island,

warning them of danger on the reefs.


With you, I felt like a small girl,

back from exploring, safe on her father’s lap,

timidly looking out at a mapped immutable world.


We ate plump olives, dipped triangles of warm pita bread in hummus,

and spoke of the ‘born-frees’, writers in SA brought up after ’94,

unencumbered by apartheid, a dead weight.


Your voice hummed like honey bees,

as you showed me a photograph of your mother,

her hair streaked and wavy like yours,

face wry with an unknown sadness.


You signed the bill,

carefully, as if writing poetry,

or sketching a building plan,

and my turquoise earring fell from my ear.

I bent to retrieve it,

remembering how, years ago, I lost one similar,

on a vast beach in KwaZulu-Natal.


How elaborately we re-enact scenarios

‘father-daughter’, ‘mother-son’

to catch and claim what we have lost,

and will never regain.


We kissed, said goodbye,

did not find closure.


Walking to my car, I saw a Cape Owl

dive from a rooftop to deflect a seagull,

insouciant on a lamp-post.


The lingering gold of the afternoon

sank into dark, fog horns boomed out across the sea

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You stroked my face

April 26, 2009 at 8:26 pm (Poem)

The Durban night sky hanging, a smoky quartz pendant,
and autumn stars twinkle, fire-fly diamond rings
on the splayed hands of trees.

The Southern Cross, like a spoon
dips into the city bowl of harbour lights,
and scoops up the distant rattle and roar of boats leaving,
freight trucks returning.

The pointer stars are an unanswered question mark.
A fruit bat swoops up, quick as a heartbeat,
into the high branches.

Saying goodbye, the man I wanted more than I could say
kissed my face on both sides,
his stubble an near-absent graze against my cheek.

Indoors, I lay my restless son down to sleep.
My fingers tickle love across his face,
and I recollect the way my father traced my forehead so,
when I was a child, with tenderness,
as when he held me during storms.

The smart of tears prickling like dry grass against a bare foot
for what came later, for he did not do,
what he could not say,
for the leaving, and the staying away.

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April 14, 2009 at 9:11 pm (Poem)

In her bed upstairs she burns
brighter than the Pleiades outside,
sister stars aching into a cool autumnal sky.
The moon oblong behind a fretwork of trees.

It is not lack of desire
that keeps her from going to him
visitor for a night, put up on a couch in the living room,
but a surfeit – the wildness within her,
delicate as fireflies, insistent as the breakers booming in from the backline.

The house creaks with the breaths of family:
sister, brother-in-law, mother, father, children
aunt, uncle, nephew, daughter –
their roles cast aside for the night like bedclothes from a restless sleeper.

Their presence oppresses.
As if already in a dream, she tiptoes down the verandah stairs
sodden with moonlight, to stand at the window where he sleeps,
wishing for the sight of him, unknown, only envisioned,
through the roughly woven calico curtains,
that her sister pulled tightly shut earlier that evening

The dark pulses, open like a strange incandescent flower.
Her longing is the lace of a foaming wave
bearing down on rocks, frantic, unstoppable,
ricocheting like the sudden burst and hum
of his motorbike kick-starting into action the next day,

the quiet of the forest left behind
like a frail deer seen, startled,
poised in fright,
wordless, watching.


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Close to Death

March 16, 2009 at 10:58 am (Poem)

Always, now, I feel it, a steady

even pressure, all over my body,

as if I were held in a flower-press.

I am waiting for the phone to ring,

they will say it and I will not be ready,

I do not have a place prepared,

I do not know what will happen to him

or where he will go. I always thought

I had a salvation for him, hidden,

Even from myself, in my chest. But when the phone rings,

I don’t know who he will be, then,

or where, I have nothing for him, no net,

no heaven to catch him – he taught me only

the earth, night, sleep, the male

body in its beauty and fearsomeness

he set up that landscape for me

to go to him in, and I will go to him

and give to him, what he gave me I will give him,

the earth, night, sleep, beauty, fear.


Sharon Olds (The Father)


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March 16, 2009 at 10:28 am (Poem)

From the hotel room window on the twelfth floor,
she looks down onto a quadrangle formed by next door buildings.
Rows of lighted windows order the dark narrow chute.
She remembers the packet from American Beauty,
flying up wildly with the updraft, captured on a hand held camera.
Her host, boyish, an observer like her,
told her earlier of watching pigeons wheel here in the day,
their sounds muted by the air-conditioning unit.

Now, the noise is writers’ talk, just back from the festival,
the radio journalist from Jozi on the edge of the bed,
who earlier she heard tell someone in the bar
that she was raped by a powerful man and no-one believed her,
next to the sad solid writer from the Kenyan slums, listening.
The woman at the window is drinking whisky straight
from the cool mouth of the Bell’s bottle. Others have it from coffee cups,
the lanky Ethiopian writer slouched in the chair
sips from a glass he found in the bathroom, his eyes tender, knowing.

A light at the corner table focuses high, shadow sheets the bed,
where he will dream that night. She is wondering
why she wants his attention, the question like a sudden craving for a cigarette,
the known answer uneasy as lust, simmering smokily below the belly,
the half-turned away father she can never get back,
the wound she cannot staunch. He hands her a joint,
and she drags deeply, the taste bittersweet as later his farewell embrace,
the trace of his stubble soft as understanding
her face smarting with loss, the grimace of a smile.

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Orphic Chant

March 5, 2009 at 7:55 pm (Poem)

Let singer seek the way to hell,
and bring her back, and bring her back.
Let singer sound the hole of black,
and make her well, and make her well.
Let singer charm the deadly dell,
for knick the singer has a knack.
Let singer seek the way to hell,
and bring her back, and bring her back.
Let singer strike the silver bell.
Let singer ride the railroad track.
Let singer face the devil pack.
Let singer seek the way to hell,
and bring her back, and bring her back.

With thanks to Mary Meriam

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