Archive for January, 2012

BETWEEN THE MONKEY AND THE SNAKE

We flew to Marrakech one January –

from dark, frosty, early morning Gatwick

to a view of the sun on the snow-topped

Atlas Mountains. Barely six hours from home,

we were in the Souk – ‘La shukran! Non merci!’ –

avoiding the blandishments, noting

the bartering and the credit cards. Relieved,

we emerged into the Jemaa el Fna,

the Marrakech Medina’s vast square,

with water-sellers, jugglers, magicians,

henna tattooists with their sample books,

peddlers of herbal medicines, dancing boys,

acrobats, story-tellers, traders of

mint, dates, olives, kumquats, lemons, cumin,

the ancient start and end of caravans

south and east across the Sahara.

 

Suddenly, in all that charivari,

you heard a charmer’s flute. ‘Cobras!’ you cried

and rushed unwarily away, me

hurrying after. You stopped – the flute now

out of earshot – only for a macaque

monkey, dressed in a powder blue suit

and a fez, to tap you on the shoulder.

 

The monkey was chained and the snake, no doubt,

de-fanged but I could not relieve your fear.

Love has its short term limitations.

You were lost and found and lost again

between the monkey and the snake.

Then the plangent notes of the mid-day call

to prayer sang from the city’s seven mosques

and you were found again in sudden beauty.

 

 

 

 

Note: The poem has subsequently been published at

http://thirdsundaybc.com/2012/03/18/vol-1-no-2/

 

 

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THE MATTER OF THE HEART

A cardio-vascular consultant

told me I had subtle abnormalities

of the heart: a tendency, possibly,

to soften too readily, be swayed

too easily, feed on fantasy, harden

like the Pharaoh’s; be of kings, of lead, of oak,

of darkness;  bleed for my country, belong

to Daddy; be a lonely hunter;

be displayed on my sleeve; be in my mouth,

in the Highlands, left in ‘Frisco, buried

at Wounded Knee; like Luther’s, who feared his

was like a ship upon a stormy sea

driven by winds from heaven’s four corners.

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ABERFFRAW, YNYS MÔN

Sand dunes, sharp with pampas grass, muffle

Caernavon Bay, St. George’s Channel,

the Atlantic. The Ffraw’s estuary flows

narrow as an eel. The curlews call.

 

The non-conformist chapel is up for sale

and the visitors’ centre does funeral teas.

The highway bypasses the village,

though here, fourteen centuries ago,

was the urbane, Christian court of Cadfan, Prince

of Gwynedd. Nothing remains. The Vikings

razed the wooden palace. He was buried

some two miles away, the slate gravestone

inscribed in Latin not Welsh by his heir:

Catamanus rex, sapientissimus,

opinatissimus, omnium regnum –

Cadfan, wisest, most renowned of all kings.

 

A penchant for dissension kept the Celtic

empires shifting like sand. They founded London,

Paris and Vienna but Rome and its

civil service, under new management,

finally seduced and traduced them.

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THE INVERTED EUCALYPTUS

In the unlit room, the glass-topped table

reflects the crepuscular, upside-down

image of the tree. In this small picture,

the Moon is descending through its branches.

 

Through the window, a hazy full Moon,

trailing south easterly clouds, is rising,

with the shimmering Evening Star, above

the eucalyptus, across a darkening sky.

 

How fast we move through the universe and yet

how still the glass on the table and the panes

in the window, the tree and its image,

the ubiquitous eucalyptus, appear:

 

an accidental, antipodean

masterwork of reality and dream.

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CECIL AND PRECIOUS

Rhodes Memorial, Cape Town. SCES © 2009

 

‘Equal rights for all civilized men south of the Zambesi!’ Cecil Rhodes

 

I

 

Apparently, he loved the view from this spot –

the north east slopes of Table Mountain – indeed,

owned much of the foreground. The sycophants

of Cape Town built, with granite quarried

from the mountain itself, this monument –

with Doric columns and arcades (which he

so revered, apparently), bronze lions à la

Trafalgar Square and a pensive, almost

wistful, bust of Cecil, clergyman’s son,

diamond broker, chancer.

 

 

II

 

The wooden bench from which he so enjoyed

the view survives below the monument

and on which he might have preferred a brass plaque

but perhaps not. He bequeathed the mountainside

to the nation and so ensured its slopes

preserved. We brunched at the restaurant

among the pines. At the next table,

a Coloured waiter served an Asian man

and a Black woman Italian Tomato

Soup and Quiche of the Day.

 

The air was pellucid, alpine. Oddly,

a Marsh Harrier circled above us –

yet this was beautiful. The restaurant

suggested his wish had been achieved

though not, of course, quite as he intended!

Below were the airport, disused cooling towers,

the Guguletsu township and, out of sight,

beyond the mountains that bound the horizon,

his unrealised, longed for, imperial road

from the Cape  to Cairo.

 

 

III

 

When we returned to our rented villa

in Newlands, Precious, our maid, was leaving

to catch her train for Guguletsu.

This was her first time at the villa

so she was nervous. She would be home before

nightfall but she must walk through the dark

in the morning, evading the tsotsis.

Her daughter had stayed on at school, planned

to go to Rhodes University, planned

to leave South Africa.

 

We could not assuage Precious’ fear. We thanked her

for looking after us. We became used

to the gratings on all of the windows.

We felt safe behind the garden’s high walls.

From the verandah, we watched the mist

pour down Table Mountain like dry ice –

and listened to a pair of  Sugarbirds sing

in the Jacaranda. So nothing had changed

yet everything had changed.

 

 

IV

 

Someone in black spray paint had, as it were,

crossed out Rudyard Kipling’s words on the plinth

beneath the bust: THE IMMENSE AND BROODING

SPIRIT STILL SHALL QUICKEN AND CONTROL

LIVING HE WAS THE LAND AND DEAD HIS SOUL

SHALL BE HER SOUL. The same hand probably

had sprayed the plinth, at the foot of the steps,

with: ‘reject racist heroes’. It supports,

on a rearing bronze horse, a bronze horseman

looking for the future.

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