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Patricia Schonstein

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Lucinda Jolly reviews the Africa! Poetry anthologies

One of Patricia Schonstein’s ‘Found Poems’ in the anthology Africa Ablaze!  is crafted from a question posed to a former Rhodesian soldier about poetry and war.

The poem, which takes place in Bulawayo airport’s departure lounge, is formulated around two extreme responses – the poet’s and the soldier’s – as to whether poetry has the capacity to stop war.

It’s a dark, humorous, even absurd interaction around deadly serious subject matter. It reflects the poet’s absolute belief that poetry can be transformational, alongside a total denial of this notion by the soldier.

You hear the soldier’s sarcastic bark, ‘Should we have waved Tennyson under their noses?’ followed by a dismissive brush off, ‘Give me a break, Lady!’

Schonstein, an established author of award-winning novels, considers herself a poet first. In her view, it’s often a poem which speaks to us during the dark night of the soul or within an experience of epiphany.

Her belief in the transformational qualities of poetry on the collective unconscious has given birth to three anthologies of poems ‘touched by Africa’ in the start of a proposed series of six.

Each anthology comprises a wide range of voices from Nobel Laureates to anonymous pieces, in a spread from Antiquity to the present time.  They cover an extensive landscape of love, loss, exile, journeys, landscape and war.

‘I think poetry is so healing and so good. It keeps you in touch with your deepest parts. I would like to see everyone with these anthologies,’ she says.

The philanthropic spin off of the anthologies is that a percentage of the profits are allocated to creating books for children. The first one, Maggie Mango and Scottie has already been produced.


Found poem: Do you think you can stop war with poetry?
Bulawayo airport departure lounge
Zimbabwe 2008
Former soldier of the Rhodesian Light Infantry
In response to a question posed by Patricia Schonstein


Stop war with poetry?
Oh fuck!

Should we have waved Tennyson under their noses?
Said: Okay you fuckers!
Just put those AKs down a wee-moment
While I read you this, this … these few rhyming couplets.

Give me a break, Lady.
Go away for Chris’sake.

Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1
“Reading this collection I feel that I’m there, in Africa.”
– Birgitta Wallin, Editor, Karavan, Sweden

Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5
“A greatly admirable collection of wide-ranging, hard-hitting writing.”
– Jay Heale, Bookchat

Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss & longing
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3
“This is an impressive and amazing anthology.”
– Gorry Bowes Taylor, Fine Music Radio

Available from African Sun Press

Image: The Soldier Drinks by Marc Chagall

Reading love poems at Chandler House

CHANDLERREADING 2 (2)“Excuse me, random stranger… may I read you a love poem?”

This is how I welcomed people into the intimate Poetry Corner of  Chandler House in Cape Town.

The excellent Michael Chandler was blending fine art and poetry, love and beauty, Bukharas and erotica on last night’s First Thursday in Cape Town.

“I’m not going to seduce you,” I’d say to those who looked hesitant or wary. “I mean only to share some expressions of love.”

People were enchanted, listening to me read the words of Justin Fox, Romaney Pinnock, James Ambrose Brown, Takawira Dururu, Walter Andries Oliphant, Micere Githae Mugo, Siyabonga Sibiya and numerous others, as I sat at a small antique table, surrounded by ceramics, fabrics and embroideries.

A newly married couple on honeymoon listened to “Love poem to my husband of forty-one years”, looking into each other’s eyes and their future.

A handsome French gentleman mentioned that he found the English language had a sensual lilt to it.

A German tourist was so touched by David Friedland’s “Always” that I wrote it out for her and she in turn later translated into German my poem ‘Africa’.

A young man filmed me reading the words of a former Rhodesian soldier in “Found Poem: Was that poetry?”  to send to his girlfriend in London.

Two students shared how much meaning they derived from poetry, especially performance poetry. One told of how he had recently responded to a challenge and written a poem every day over a number of weeks.

A young woman closed her eyes while I read Carol Leff’s “We were” and I noted her dark, serene beauty.

The gallery was full and at times it was difficult to hear me, but people caught single words as they rose into the air: “Lips. Tender. Kissed. Held. Thigh. Privacy of flesh. Consummation. Beloved. Cinnamon. Secret.”

The word “buttery” from Kerry Hammerton’s poem “Lovers” drew people in and I was asked to re-read it a number of times.

I closed the evening with Chris Mann’s “Night Flying”. People left Chandler House taking the poem’s final lines with them:

“Love lifts and joins the embodiments of desire
and sends us both flying, flying through the night.”


Poems were read from:
Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3
Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems
ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1
Published by African Sun Press

Chandler House
Church Street Cape Town


David Friedland

Now at this moment of ripeness
A time for culling or falling
Bruised fruit poised for ploughing and renewal
For me at seventy
It is a vow more easily honoured than in my twenties
So let diffidence end here
This is my daring confession
I will love you always


Patricia Schonstein
Translated from the English by Elisabeth Fenner

Wie werde ich von dir gehen?

Es wird Nacht sein
ich treibe auf den Wassern der Kanäle
nahe dem Stammsitz meiner Ahnen
in einer mit blauem Samt ausgeschlagenen Gondel
mit einem Bündel von musasa Samen
und getrockneten Blättern von mopane.

Es wird unter der Seufzerbrücke sein.
Meine Handflächen halten ocker und eidechse.
Meine Seele spiegelt deine Sterne
und die Flamme des Tages.

Dort werde ich dahintreiben
und mich nach dir sehnen.













Jay Heale of Bookchat reviews Heart of Africa!


Heart of Africa! opens with King Solomon’s Song of Songs – one of the most voluptuous love poems in the world. How it ever got into the Bible, heaven knows! But perhaps love and heaven are side by side.

It is possible to love without understanding fully. So I love … glowing splendours painted by William Turner, the sheer drama of Masada, the intricate Islamic tracery in the Alhambra in Granada, the subtle delicate flavour of Japanese cuisine, layers of scent and flavour in a great red wine. I taught a class of 10-year-olds who fell in love with Coleridge’s In Xanadu, did Kublai Khan … “Did you understand it?” “No, but it sounds wonderful!”

I have approached Patricia Schonstein’s three collections of poetry in much the same way. I don’t pretend to understand everything, but that doesn’t prevent me finding immense pleasure and fulfilment from their pages. Africa! My Africa! was about the great continent and its people, what else? Africa Ablaze! concentrated on war and conflict, full of impact, not pretty at times.

Heart of Africa! is about love – is there any topic which has been eulogised more than love?

Oh, how we all need this book! To tempt us to pause, and think, and smile, and remember love and maybe understand it a little more. In this new-old Africa, we need love more than ever. In this momentous collection, Africa is reaching out towards more tenderness, more precious memories, more joy in a single moment, more seething African hot compassion. As its title claims, it is writing from the Heart of Africa – which is the heart of mankind.

Whoever we are, this is writing that we need to consider, day after day. To reach for that understanding  and so salute the sadness of love lost. Because – love hurts.

Here are just a few extracts from pieces which sing to me:

You’ll find us where the great winds have blown,
Laughing in joy upon the sun-drenched hill.
– Henry G Barnby

In short:
you gave me back
the bloom and grace
of the Karoo –
a lonely,
oft’ forsaken
– Carel Anthonissen

shy one, elusive as the Namib cloud,
where will you run to, my love?
How will you leap to life in the long grass?
– Dorian Haarhoff

But my love for you’s not over,
And these lines will always sing.
– Mike Kantey

Here are such varied pieces as a prose love poem from a ‘Troep’ conscripted in 1982; Ingrid de Kok saluting the noble memory of William Kamanga; “Love amongst the middle-aged” by Gus Ferguson; Colleen Higgs on Divorcing; even Mandela’s touching diary entry on his first contact with his wife in twenty-one years.

In one “An exchange between an anthologist and a gentleman” Patricia herself describes how she sent out a call for love poems – and all seemed to celebrate “the female landscape” of breasts, thighs, that gentle curve of the armpit, the down-below area … Where were the male six-packs, the smooth skin, the male nipples?

As I have said before of her previous collections, she challenges us to redefine poetry. These are not all poems, though I’m sure they are all poetry. Patricia invites us to accept snatches of prose, “Found Poems” as she calls them. Here’s part of a recalled conversation on a beach:

 They married as virgins, both of them
So knew only that ‘something happened’ on wedding nights
But had no idea of the pleasure.
– Pat Wilson-Pinnock

On a more prosaic note, you – the reader – will have no idea of the pleasure to be discovered (for it is a browsing book) inside Heart of Africa!


Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing
African Sun Press
ISBN 978-0-620-60850-3

Order from:

Jay Heale is the editor of BOOKCHAT.
The original printed Bookchat newsletter-magazine was published quarterly and ran from 1976 to 1997, achieving 132 issues.

 BOOKCHAT is now published online: /articles/article.html


Painting: The Lovers by Marc Chagall




The Unshod Child

I grew up in colonial Rhodesia.

While still very young, I noticed that African children generally walked barefoot, while I did not, and that their little feet were rough and calloused. It was through this simple indicator that I first became aware of dire poverty.

As an adult, I use this image of the unshod child as a yard-stick for measuring whether the basic needs of childhood are properly addressed.

These are not simply the needs for shoes and clothing, but also for nutrition, health and education.

“If the child is unshod
and dressed in rags

If the child is hungry
and left to scavenge

If the child is abandoned
to shelter wherever

If the child falls ill
but is uncared for

Then Government is failing

If the child’s sense of wonder
is not nurtured

If a love of earth and life
are not awakened

If story books
are lacking

If the school room
is a dark hollow place
that does not inspire learning

Then Government is failing”


The South African Department of Education is proposing to do away with the national catalogue of eight books per subject per grade and to approve only one book, per subject per grade.

Perhaps, before such a restrictive “dumbing down” policy is approved, we should reflect on the “shoes” that all children need in order to walk competently through life.

These “shoes” are a diverse, broad and enriching education, one which makes children ever curious; that does not prevent the development of critical understanding; and that does not deny access to the wealth of knowledge that rightfully belongs to everyone.

If this proposed policy is put in place, then children will be failed, they will be robbed of a future. They will walk unshod.


See William Barker’s excellent: Don’t dumb down teaching. Cape Times 13 November 2014


Mail & Guardian:

Kate McCallum:

Arthur Attwell:



Love is winged bolts of fire

“Love is winged bolts of fire. Love is flame. Water in flood cannot quench love, nor rivers wash it away.”

Some time ago, in a second hand book shop in Salt River, I imagined myself reciting these words from King Solomon’s Song of Songs to a random, handsome stranger, and thereby opening a conversation.

We were the only two customers, both of us in the poetry section. Perhaps because the stranger was paging through Ingrid Jonker, I idly wondered how love expressed itself in his life and whether he navigated its highways and byways competently. How did his arms hold? His hands caress? His mouth touch? Did he buy flowers? Did he remember important dates?

I paid for my purchases while reflecting on Ethelwyn Rebelo’s poem “Who”: “Who holds you at night in soap-smelling sheets, and the following day prays you safely home? … Who hungrily inhales your day’s perspiration?”

Months later, by absolute coincidence, I saw the man in the audience at the launch of Heart of Africa! He was alone.

 In the course of the evening, Emeritus Professor Richard Whitaker, one of the contributing poets, read from his translation from the Septuagint Greek of King Solomon’s Song of Songs. So the words I might have uttered to the stranger in the book shop, were now heard in full and in context.

Our paths had crossed twice, both times in poetic milieux. If they cross once more, perhaps I should introduce myself.

The launch of Heart of Africa! was a great success.

Professor Leon de Kok, another of the contributing poets, described it as “Lovely – sweet and dark and gentle.”


Ethelwyn Rebelo

watches you dress, laughing
at you standing before the mirror
in clean socks, crazy underpants
and ironed shirt;
adores you putting on shined shoes;
smooths your shampooed hair;
kisses your face, feeling
its shaved softness even softer
against her lips;
and then the smooth scent of your neck
ahead of her cheek against your chest?
Who makes your scrubbed flesh her fingers’
playground as up and down groin and thigh they slide,
tracking the grooves beside?
Who holds you at night in soap-smelling sheets,
and the following day prays you safely home?
Who greets you with interesting or funny tales?
Who hungrily inhales
your day’s perspiration?

Who by Ethelwyn Rebelo from Africa! My Africa! An anthology of poems

Ethelwyn Rebelo is a poet who works as a psychologist at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

Painting: The Beloved by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and Longing
ISBN 978 0 620 60850 3
African Sun Press Cape Town

Please order from






The Gin Trap Leopard at The Old Biscuit Mill

Robert Vaccaro has sculpted a magnificent leopard from used gin traps.

It was unveiled earlier this month at The Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town by Justin Bonello and Francis Garrard of the Conservation Action Trust.

In creating the sculpture, Vaccaro used just some of the 220 gin traps collected from eleven farms in the Baviaanskloof area.

The sculpture is a monument to the thousands of leopards and other natural predators that suffer agonising deaths in gin traps.

It highlights that wild animals have a right to life and that the use of such traps by farmers is barbaric. There are more humane ways of protecting livestock from predators.

When I lived in Grahamstown, I was once called to the museum to see a leopard that had been brought in after being shot by farmers in Kasouga.

The leopard was newly dead.

I sat with him in the taxidermist’s workshop, filled with a sense of loss and deep mourning, in the way I would sit some time later with my father’s dead body.

The leopard still smelt of the bush and wildness.

His fur had the last of its gloss to it.

Later I wrote a song for him.


The last leopard of Kasouga

The last leopard of Kasouga
Came walking out one day
‘Where are my friends? Have they been banished?’
Is what the eagles heard him say.

‘Go back! Go back!’ cried the eagles
‘Go back into the hills!
If the farmers see you coming
It’s you they’re going to kill!’

That last leopard of Kasouga
Came down into the farms
And when the farmers saw him coming
They called their dogs and took up arms.

They found him hiding in the branches
Of an old mimosa tree
The dogs were barking and the farmers
Would not let that leopard free.

It was the Brothers Long who shot him
Who took his life away
The eagles flew away in sorrow
On Kasouga’s saddest day.

Kasouga was the place the Bushmen
Once knew and loved so well
They called it ‘Place of Many Leopards’
Now there’s nothing left to tell.


Robert Vaccaro’s sculpture ‘Gin Trap Leopard’ is currently on loan from the Conservation Action Trust to The Old Biscuit Mill. It will be displayed in a number of public places in and around Cape Town to create awareness of the perils facing leopards in the Cape mountains as well as the threat of their extinction.

Recent research by the Landmark Foundation shows that only between 350 and 700 leopards survive in the wildernesses in and around the Cape Folded Mountains.

See and reflect on the extreme cruelty of gin traps.

The leopard in this photo was caught in a gin trap on a farm in the Uniondale district, Western Cape. It died of agony, dehydration and sepsis, and was left to rot.





The last leopard of Kasouga by Patricia Schonstein
from Saturday in Africa – living history through poetry
African Sun Press Cape Town
ISBN 978 1874915-05-08


Listening to Douglas reading a poem at Oranjezicht Market

It was a glorious Saturday.

All about were the good aromas of raw produce, newly baked bread, cakes, coffee and delicious vegetarian fare.

Children and puppies were tumbling about. Couples were enjoying each other.

There was a flower seller, a basket weaver and a sky full of blue.

Douglas had just read a new poem, “Another Cup of Tea” (a follow-on poem from his “A Cup of Tea”) when a lady approached us.

“May I take a photo?” she asked in American accent, so we struck a nice pose on the bench.

“Where d’ya get yer Trader Joe? I guess ya’ll have been to the States?” she asked, and we realised it was my grocery bag that she was interested in, not us.

She told us that my Trader Joe bag had caught her attention immediately she saw it, and she wanted to capture it, here in this park, in Africa.

We laughed and saw the encounter as poetic, agreeing on how wonderful this thing called poetry is. It can be found in a grocery bag – full of good things like olives and cheese. It can arise from misunderstandings and can draw strangers towards one another, unselfconsciously, in the warmth of a Saturday market.


Another cup of tea
© Douglas Reid Skinner, 2014

The sun comes up and finds him lying
in his bed, then on his bed,
finds him trying, quietly trying
not to cough, trying instead

to let his chest now quietly settle
after hours in darkness spent,
up and down, wracked by spasms,
stuck inside a coughing tent,

unable to clear, clear his chest,
unable to sleep and find that rest
of dreams in which he can imagine
drinking tea, no longer anxious,

dreams in which he calmly sits
alone at night and listening to
a river flowing in plane tree leaves,
dreams in which it’s always true

he’s still alive and drinking tea,
consoled by heat and taste and sound,
kept in a life that’s understood,
the life that’s shared above the ground.


Another Cup of Tea is a follow-on poem from A Cup of Tea, which appeared in Heaven: New & Selected Poems by Douglas Reid Skinner (South African English Poetry Series, ISBN 978-0-620-60116-0); published by Left Field Poetry, Cape Town.

Douglas Reid Skinner has published five collections of poems and one collection of translations.



The Poem as Light at the McGregor Poetry Festival 2014

Can poetry improve the human condition in a time of moral darkness?

This was one of the provocative questions I was asked at the McGregor Poetry Festival last month.

I answered with an extract from my novel, The Master’s Ruse. This is a tale set in an apocalyptic time, in an unnamed country ruled by a military junta, where literature and freedom of speech have been banned.

In this novel, the two central characters, both banned authors, discuss the concept of messianic energy and determine the best way for such energy to get through to humanity.

The ruling Junta burns books, so it’s impossible for a printed Biblios to be used to carry any message of redemption. The two authors conclude that it will be through a single, oral poem that this energy will present itself.

Such a poem would be recited by one person to another, passed from heart to heart, where it would heal and empower towards goodwill, serving as a shaft of illumination through humanity’s moral decline.

After my reading, while walking through the Temenos garden and later sitting in quietude at The Well, I reflected on authorial conscience and the responsibility that rests with writers, especially with poets.

It occurred to me that the Festival is not just a gathering of poets and celebration of words. It is deeper than that and more essential. The poets who gave generously of their creative energies were kindling an extraordinary flame – one that could indeed contribute towards illuminating our dark times.


Extract from The Master’s Ruse: “I thought to say that although books were banned, recitation would never be abolished. How could the civil guard silence the whispered ode, or the ululated praise poem, or the strummed ballad or the gestured haiku? Would they cut out the tongue of every citizen who spoke in rhyming couplets? Sew up all lips that uttered a fable?

“I thought to say that we should make use of this oral possibility and with it stitch morality and ethics back into place for, if not we authors, then who would do it? And if not in a literary way, then how would it ever be done?

“We could set in motion the release of literature and create the absolute of beauty with which to open the collective unconscious and instil peace therein. Enough of it to extinguish ignorance and break the cycle of war. Enough to end regimes and their concurrent genocides. Enough for humankind to look upon the earth, not as a possession, but as a cathedral into which we have been permitted to enter, momentarily, in the hugeness of time, in order only to pay homage. We could facilitate the messianic voice. We authors and poets together.

“Garbed as a poem, the messiah would indeed travel from heart to heart, undetected by military and mafia, by arms dealers and mining houses, by the architects of regime and junta. Dressed in verse, enrobed in meter and rhyme, the messiah would, without hindrance, illuminate humanity’s bleakest chambers.”

The McGregor Poetry Festival is the vision of Billy Kennedy, of Temenos Retreat in McGregor. The 2014 Festival was run by him with David Magner, Marinda Oosthuizen, Michael McKenzie and Jennifer Johnson.

The Master’s Ruse
ISBN 978-1-874915-16-4
African Sun Press Cape Town

Swedish: Mästarens list Translated by Aslög Pontara
ISBN 97 89186307 301
Bokförlaget Tranan

Afrikaans: Die Meester se Verdigsel
Translated by Willemien van der Walt
African Sun Press Cape Town


Image: Horace, at the home of his patron Maecenas, reciting a poem to Virgil, Varius, and Maecenas, in a painting in the Luxembourg Gallery in Paris as rendered in an old textbook of Horace.

Poems falling from Heaven at 2nd McGregor Poetry Festival

The town of McGregor is fast establishing itself as South Africa’s primary ‘Place of Poetry.’

It hosted the second bilingual McGregor Poetry Festival last month and launched an excellent anthology of poems. Once again it facilitated a wall-to-wall and street-to-street celebration of the deep and wondrous creative matter of the human soul.

Everywhere one saw poets and lovers of poetry with their books and journals and in discussion with one another.

Printed poems were strung from trees in the beautiful Temenos garden where many a poet met their muse. There were installations, exhibitions, workshops, discussions, musical recitals, outdoor musicians, an open-microphone and live readings.

Poets of calibre, established poets and emerging poets shared their work. Hugh Hodge – he of Off the Wall fame – hosted the Open Mic events which allowed for a good number of new voices, not heard before, to come forward.

Altogether, there was an abundant list of readings. Audiences were captivated by the poetic feast of “love-protest-praise-rap-lament-freeverse-haiku-doggerel-sonnet-ode-epic-lyric-humorous and more”.

“Why, it’s as though poems are falling down from Heaven,” said someone sitting next to me after listening to readings by Finuala Dowling & Graham Dukas.


Finuala Dowling

She’s glad she didn’t inherit my curly hair
and that I don’t try to act young
that I’d never join her at happy hour
or make her a friend on Facebook
or be on Facebook at all
or gate-crash her parties.

She sighs when she has to help me with my phone
or when I wear two pairs of sunglasses at the same time;
laughs when I ask “So what’s this festival called
‘Burn it all up in the Karoo’?”

But when she sits by the kettle with her friend
and the two blonde heads talk in depth about life:
– How do we heal things? How do we solve things?
Is this love?  And who are we anyway? –
all I hear is:
My mom says my mom says my mom says my mom says


An Olympian effort at the Mugg & Bean
Graham Dukas

The woman at the table opposite mine
tells the waitress that she won’t tolerate paper
around her giant lemon and poppy seed muffin,
although that’s how they’re baked here.

Her companion, her husband I gather
from his weathered and acquiescent bearing,
seems less concerned about the muffin’s appearance,
but she makes the decision for both of them.

And so the muffins arrive, without paper skirts,
but generously adorned with grated cheese
and something that looks like jellied tongue
but is probably just a dollop of cheap raspberry jam.

To the sound of Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton
going on about islands in the stream, the two dive in
and although she spews words for the duration
and he remains as quiet as the chair he sits on,

they get the muffins, cheese and cheap jam down
in much the same time. And I get to thinking
that this could become an Olympic event for couples –
muffin speed-eating for the dull and sadly adrift.


Authority by Finuala Dowling and An Olympian effort at the Mugg & Bean by Graham Dukas published in:
The McGregor Poetry Festival 2013 Anthology
African Sun Press Cape Town

The McGregor Poetry Festival is the vision of Billy Kennedy, of Temenos Retreat in McGregor. The 2014 Festival was run by him with David Magner, Marinda Oosthuizen, Michael McKenzie and Jennifer Johnson.


Finuala Dowling is a poet, novelist and creative writing teacher. Her poetry has won the Ingrid Jonker Prize, the Sanlam Prize and the Olive Schreiner Prize. She has read at the Aldeburgh Festival, at Snape Maltings and at all major South African literary festivals.

Graham Dukas divides his time between business management and strategy consulting, executive coaching and as a part-time teaching assistant at UCT’s School of Architecture. He started writing at a young age but lost his way as the demands of parenting and earning a living took over as priorities. In recent years he has returned to the pen, inspired by the simple experiences of this peculiar thing called life.

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



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
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