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Patricia Schonstein

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Reading Rod MacKenzie & Tatamkhulu Afrika at Cape Town Stadium

I arrived early, long before the crowds, and had the vast empty stadium to myself, so could rehearse my reading.

I took advantage of being alone and quiet after weeks of intense work.

The sky was an extreme blue.

Two crows flew back and forth across the wide expanse with calm easy, languid wing movements.

Two men were cutting the lawn of the football pitch, pushing their mowers steadily and with measured paces, in straight lines.

There was a deep sense of tranquility.

I read Rod MacKenzie and Tatamkhulu’s poems. Each is a child’s view of adult love. Both are innocent. One is sad.

At the McGregor Poetry Festival this coming weekend there will be many poets sharing their works. The town will be festooned with words and the myriad emotions of the human heart.

If you missed my reading at the stadium, you can hear it again at the Festival.


Child and couple
Rod MacKenzie

As a child I found a vlei of willows and reeds,
And played in its imaginary forest.
A stick was a gun with which I ruined
Empires of blackjack stalks and ruled my world.
Then one day a man and a woman came,
Strolling hand in hand, and I stalked behind,
Knowing they were enemies who had come
to spy in my land. They entered a grove
Of willows, hoping to find me, but I
Had slid behind some shrubbery on a hill
With a marvellous view of them below.
As they held each other with their secrets,
I decided I wouldn’t let them find me,
So I raised my stick and fired. they slowly
Fell to their knees, arms around each other,
Then I rattled off a longer round,
And it threw the man across the woman.
I watched and waited for any movement,
While their faces were pressed together.
After a rustling silence they subtly,
Secretly, began to move, hoping I
Wouldn’t see their crafty fumbling at zips
And buttons, their search for secret weapons.
I must have encouraged them, not making
Any sound, for they began to hurry.
They seemed to be softly crying for help,
I realised they had to have two-way radios
Hidden in breasts and bellies into which
They were whispering for help to find me.
So I fired another round into them,
And they writhed and clenched and called out.
A final burst, and they lay silent.
Their silence lasted so long I began
To feel the strange enormity of it.
Perhaps my game had somehow been for keeps.
In the deepening shadows of the trees
I couldn’t see if they still were. I slid
Down the hill and crawled behind a willow
Near where they lay. And it was somehow real
After all. They were there, covered with sweat
And stillness, and the strangeness of being real.

 

The stepfather
Tatamkhulu Afrika

He never looked at us while he ate,
spoke only to her his bitten-off thrown-away
brown pennies of words.
And yet his eyes seemed always on me,
black and slitted under lowering lids,
watching fork to mouth and fork to plate,
self-conscious Adam’s apple’s audible gulp,
uncontrollable faint tremblings of my hands.

He would eat prodigiously but without haste,
cutting meat into precise, manageable shapes,
re-mashing potato with a deliberate fork,
chewing, seemingly, without haste,
swabbing his plate clean with a bread-crust,
sitting back to wait for his second helping
without so much as word or glance,
palms on either side of the plate, eyes
travelling round the table at the level of our laps,
the liver-spotted fingers of his right hand
strangling his serviette.

Save for the odd handshake or mandatory kiss,
we never touched, and yet his smell,
a strange compound of turpentine and old flesh,
hung about me as would the stench
of something rotting in a drain,
seemingly alongside me like a living thing
on the mornings when he was away at work,
and I could creep into his and her room,
and stand there, legs split
into two worlds at the same time,
reading his Wild West magazines,
a buckaroo of the chaparral and sage,
yet taught as a tit at the thought
of his trapping me there,
the lash of his eyes more devastating
than any bullet from a bad guy’s gun.

Why she stayed with him I shall never know,
a caring woman who had ceased to care,
a dust that moved in distant corners of the rooms.
I saw them once, reflected in a glass door,
taking their siesta on the old brass bed,
lying on their backs, staring up
at the ceiling, as separate as
two figures on the lids of tombs.
A precocious child, I wondered whether
he still entered her, or she invited him …
and cried to myself, without,
to this day, knowing why.

 

The McGregor Poetry Festival
www.mcgregorpoetryfestival.co.za

 

 

Heart of Africa! –Poems of love, loss and longing
Selected by Patricia Schonstein
First published in 2014
African Sun Press
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3
Order copies from: afpress@iafrica.com

 

 

 

 

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