Formal Verse

Spring! Coming soon! My thoughts fly to Papkuilsfontein, the farm where we have spent so many happy spring days, and will again soon.

Here are a short poem and a picture, to give you an idea.

The system thinks its world

Tuned to sand, light, rain. Stay or flee,
feast, fast. Eyes, peering from dark hides.
Seven dassies watch us apprehensively.
Overhead and right, the harrier scans and glides.

Scats everywhere, tracks, paths not going.
Birds, insects, pollen fuzz,
flowers meet faceted eyes.
Wing-hum, landing after windy landing,
beckoning petals unfurled.
The system thinks its world.

Papkuilsfontein, 2013

Papkuilsfontein spring

Papkuilsfontein spring



The sea is full of thunder
The sky rolls by in waves
The poor must eat their poverty
The rest have willing slaves

The rumbling in the alley
Is the gleaners in the bins
The one who works the hardest
May not be the one who wins

The land is made of tinder
The trees tease out their heads
Some people sleep in satin sheets
Some wish that they had beds

The institutions flex their minds
The buildings hear and see
The people are all burning up
The birds fly to be free

The past is vast and shady
The future is unclear
The present moment slips away
Before it can appear



Most nights, walking out of the back door
I can see the Southern Cross and Pointers,
Always differently tilted depending on
The time and the season. Not far away
The False Cross lurks. They are always
Sliding across the sky, circling clockwise.

Wherever they are, if I trace a line
In my mind through the long axis of the Cross
And, from the midpoint of the Pointers
Another line, and let these lines intersect,
They reach a point on a little circle that swirls
Around the dark South Celestial Pole,
Always in the same place, a halo
Over the peak of Mr Bonnema’s roof.

I restored three Japanese ivory figurines made, by the look of them, during the late 1800s.







They are not rich men, these three,
Though their clothing is proper,
Normal for workers in ink and paper
In their romanticised era, pre-Meiji.

One has a big brush, he is a painter
Of something big, slogans or crests.
Inside his flat ivory hat, a bee
Has been quickly painted, tucked under
There, waiting over a century.


The materials are diverse:
Indian elephant tusks, maybe
Some from hippo or walrus.

The three faces, the hands and shins
Are carved out of the same
Grainless material, polished shiny.

Smashed and glued by servants
Repeatedly, they are layered
With all the error of their years.


My hands—for days
They smelled of the wintergreen oil
That scents rubbing alcohol.

Dissolved the glue away
In sticky ethanol
Smears, wiped the years
Off, each crack and craze
Probed with a porcupine quill.
Dabbed and wiped again.


Their heads came off, their hands,
Hats, arms, and their neat
Obi. Their waists parted, their feet
Unstuck from the ivory stands.

Laid in pieces, an incomplete
Puzzle, some parts missing,
But easy to understand.
All week I teased them apart,
The wintergreen on my hands.


All that was not broken
Was just as the day it was made,
The old workshop neatly displayed
On my table—the care taken
By this one in his trade,
Carving the tendons of the feet.

This one’s lesser skill with blade
And file, a token of his status.
The sensei carved the faces.


Reassembled, their ancient eyes
Don’t smile or glitter. They are serious
Men. They look slightly unctuous,
As though trying to please.

The old master, imperious
In his own workshop,
Has carved his own anxieties
Into their faces, his cautious
Deference to authority.

fish dream

the youth has brought home
a long-horned sheep
he has tamed her with his scepter

the sheep dreams she is a fish
swimming unimpeded
in all directions
even upwards

a woman walks with her fingers
pointing down at her head
a passing gazelle turns
to glance at her

when an armed man
meets a bird
there is a matter of muscle
never of choice

unless the bird
is tree high

family   ibex   family
ibex    family
women    family

when an armed man meets
any member of the ibex family
he plunges his spear into its flank
the women’s hands rain tears

and when the man pierces
the ibex, the women dance
protection upon the family
and the men are all spears

the long-horned sheep
still dreams of the freedom of a fish
the men rain body fluid
in preparation for the slaughter

the father capers
his son has brought the sheep
tonight he will eat her dream

the maidens guard the well
all night    but the moon is
stolen anyway

on the plain the animals
start the long trek to the other side

the world is full of babies
children    women    men


http://wwBird Rock Storm by Robbie Gibson

Blighter’s Rock

My images are staid and stock,
My cheese is chalk, my writing’s schlock,
And stuck in mud, I’ve run aground
On Blighter’s Rock.

Blighter’s Rock stands harsh and high,
(Where all things written go to die)
The wind is plaintive in its crags
Like an author’s sigh.

Its reefs are soiled with crumpled wrecks:
The record of some dull reflex
That tries to do these complex things
Instead of sex.

Some few may make a getaway,
Sail on to write another day,
Retrieve their fortunes, fix the text,
Anchors aweigh!

But most, once snagged upon the reef,
Succumb to long complaint, or grief,
And sink before they find relief
Or words to say.

So if you see it off to port
Looming like some craggy fort
Steer hard to starboard, don’t approach,
Or you’ll get caught.

Blighter’s Rock stands harsh and high
(Where all things written go to die)
The wind is plaintive in its crags
Like an author’s sigh.


The Norse night goddess Nótt riding her horse, in a 19th-century painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Source: Wikipedia.

(Purifications by means of torchlight.)
Mother of sweet rest, deep Night,
Womb of everything, holding
On your palm Venus, so bright.

Mother of sweet rest, deep Night,
All sleep in your wide arms.
Dreams follow behind your feet
Laughing, keen for delight.

Mother of sweet rest, deep Night,
Dissolve anxiety in sleep.
Black horses in smooth flight,
Dreams chasing behind your feet,
Send your calm rays deep

To Hell, in fearless delight,
Profound past measuring,
Dreams flowing at your feet,
Mother of sweet rest, deep Night,
All asleep in your wide arms.