The majority of poems below were written after the death of my husband on 8 June 2019. I had been writing poems very privately before this date – some of which appear non-chronologically in the collection – but had no idea that this format would become the only conceivable form of expression that would open up in my bereavement. To present them here close to a year before the first anniversary of his death is terrifyingly exposing but I do so as a testament to him. He was an extraordinary human being clothed in total ordinariness. It’s paradoxical in an introduction to a collection of poems but it is true to say that there are no words to describe how much I miss him.

Poem in the round 001

Poem in the round

willing a poem – please come
when counting spoons for Christmas
please come – when the gardener needs a plate of lunch
when I am pickled in
sour juices – counting spoons –
all of my own making
me who has everything – needs a plate of lunch
willing a poem – please fill me
remind me that – pickled in sour juices – I am happy
and the sun is shining, shining, shining
for Christmas
the gardener is waiting
me who has everything – all of my own making
or not or not or not

Love's clothes

Love’s clothes

I wear the jersey of love inside out
unravelling at the seams
splitting under the arms and
they call it co-dependence
my shoes they too
reflect a partnership under the bed
the left stretched where it makes room for a bunion
the right right beside it

this coat is lined, its pockets deep
I hunker down inside as if in a house then
I float away to potter, plot, paint

a bra needs another to be hooked
socks balled, jeans zipped
two pegs for each item on the line
unless you share with the neighbour
love’s clothes are flapping in the wind
I gather them up and bring them in


Window seat

Window seat

the tight fist unfurls
as we rise in a windy roar
and the palm of the earth
opens up below
through the corneal window
quaint miniatures soon
morph into vast mineral textures
a spread of dust on a surface
that breathes out, expands
water glints in discrete strokes
a flock of grey cloud-doubles
lie down, shadows on the land
loops, squiggles and lines
open to interpretation
but I do not know how to read the signs
I do not know how often the life line is crossed
a spot of turbulence and the air we float on is
stomach real
down down down, this speck of me
the earthskin below is untroubled
as I tumble towards it.

left and right

Left and right

I trace my cultural alienation to two texts
one a thicket, a wall of print
in justified columns
from right to left I stumble
stones which I must break open
in a parched mouth
with newly minted teeth
the sounds which emerge
do not make sense

then there are pages white and crisp as
Portuguese rolls
on which the letters float on milk
with ease I hear stories
and see in watercolour stains the whole world
before me left to right

002 (2)

Milnerton beach

I am broken into bits
and pieces strewn adrift
in sandy beds beside the sea
scalloped plaster tells of a lady growing old who
daily smeared a thought upon her walls
that now lie flat like jagged shelves on the sand
I am cement conglomerate chunks
cast aside, pillars once strong
thrown down smashed
blocked up entrance denied
but the pattern of my craft is still visible,
each brick and its mate lie in rows
nuzzling each other
between a gloop of hardened mortar
We cling together for our dear lives
What broke me into bits
and pieces strewn adrift
in sandy beds beside the sea?

to personify 001

To personify the sea

to personify the sea its moods, grumbles, roars
is to recognise the unliving in our core
the salt in our blood, the minerals in our bones
that which we live with or make.

the door behind me I let bang shut
what she said I said should have said on the seashore
I print my case into the hot sand

waves. Rocks. Spume from a blowhole
cold water spills over my toes
and rims them with foam. A shell does a dance
backwards into the surf and pebbles are
applauding my performance

I return, place a stone under the cushions of the settee
and to my room to write about the sea

002 (4)

And everything like it

the day my father chopped out
my heart
he had tears in his eyes
telling stories
and everything like it

the day I sliced a block off
the slab of damaged love
I had followed him sheepishly to visit a friend
in a penthouse flat
while my baby lay tied to a hospital bed
and everything like it

the day my father died
I was in a taxi
on my way to visiting him
with gritted teeth
a Bergen-Belsen corpse
and everything like it

finger2 001

Touch wood

the man shot in the street
a husband neighbour father
woke up dead trussed up like a turkey
in an Avbob parlour

touch wood I have not been tested

the baby maybe one chromosome off
watch the child in braces
in spasms incontinent

touch wood I have not been tested

the disease eating the body
one greedy bite after another
leaving only left-overs
until they too are gone

touch wood I have not been tested

a bump in the road as I race to work and instantly I understand
on a high temple altar in a jungle against orange skies
young maidens brought to die
have this one god, not me, not mine
especially not mine. Keep mine mine

touch wood I will not kill

family 001


abuse aside the genetics expert said
it matters not the home
our family of four, it follows
fuck-up, fool, philistine and faggot
were just that
fuck-up, fool, philistine and faggot
and that was when the sperm hit egg
all that is intractable is intractable
the whine, the cries, the way the boy
buts his head. ‘It’s not my fault’
the carrots are cooked so we carry the can
what passed on to us passed on to them
all in the frigging dark.

boat 001


you’ll need for this journey –
shoes, a coat and hat neatly ready in your cabin for the greeting
on the other side
pots, pans for the air food that you ‘ll cook and eat
or not eat
perhaps a packed lunch?
a blanket shake out the dead leaves before using
some tools for in case
four friends’ numbers why not phone at your ease
to reminisce over past picnics
an answer to a most pressing question – why?
you may now know
I do not

hotel 001


a porous border between Kassiesbaai and Arniston
is the ugly white hotel
from which toting tourists turning uphill
emerge snapping. We too rise from our sandy beds
and cross to take the airs amongst the local colour stuffed
in pretty whitewashed homes pictures cannot steal

downhill drift the odd anglers, poles up high
vehicles free-wheel churning sand and pounding
an insane beat. The harbour beach is crammed
amongst the shabby brights, the guests in pale gowns
and, overalled, traversing the high cliff’s edge
cooks and cleaners come to service us

at the hotel’s feet lie rows of pedicured cars
down below, brown children blow air cigars

noospheric 001

Noospheric nights

raise your glass to all the paintings
now on show
that never left the night studio
never made it out the door
still lives stillborn, social commentary
figurative studies
sweated out and tossed on the dark ceiling
no blood-spotted sheet to
display at dawn
the stacked canvasses, the piling of paper
unabated, all blank
colours, strokes, scratchings
muted. And mutated
for every decade or two
they reappear like old friends at the door
seascapes lapped the open-eyed shore
geometrics jangled in hot primaries
behind closed lids
the robot beggar at the half closed window
intercepted the woman’s abstract musings
coloured smoke rose from the head
hands stirred soapy dishes
the mind metaphors the mind
a compost heap that must be turned
images proliferate
are brushed out of the sheets
like crumbs the next morning
by this
I now pronounce this exhibition open

bergie 001

Walking the Dog

months after the Lilac Ball
now a faded memory
jacarandas fling down
woody castanets
strewn on dog-shitted earth
our conversation is coloured
in patches of green and brown
did you see that man?
what this one should do
I can’t believe that
the sky answers in gusts of her own
unlike his free-wheeling colleagues
whose moves splatter the fields
Ajax is tethered
and as we circumscribe
sports parameters marked in chalk
now the domain of dogs and their servants
he whimpers and strains
a fire flares, dark forms, a flash of red tracksuit top
a bergie encampment is tucked
politely on a bank
longer grass denotes the border
between dogwalkers who have strayed
from their televisions
to sling balls on long whips
to a small people hunkered down
under the sky
an exercise bike, white, upright and trim
pokes up from the grass
on it the woman wearing red
pedalling away going exactly nowhere
the front door closes behind us
Ajax’s claws scratch on the floor
should we cook the mince
or is it last night’s veggies?
what about chicken?
what’s on the box?

knitting 001

Knitting on pencils
After a visit to a Grade 6 class in Lotus River

knitting on pencils
in desks, all shapes and sizes
hair short, bunched, spiked, boys, girls
all-sorts, liquorice
shoelaces knotted in shiny boats or scuffed,
prows agape

it’s the latest craze
sharpened tips dig in to cast on, cast off
short pencils, long pencils
stitches with nothing to ease the crossing
nothing to stop them falling off the back

short of stuff or stuffed with vim?
from the big text outside and in I read
human potential short-changed

001 (2)


please my lord she asked me to so pleaded the man at the dock charged with murder I came in to steal and she looked at me her head on the pillow and I held my weapon and she said go ahead so I did but please sir she did agree to my murdering her please and she was pleased when I did it sir she was pleased

eyes 001                            \

Full stop

the moment of crumpling
the moment that we ended
a reel that plays again and again
two live blue eyes
puzzled looking in quiet panic?
a few words
then the moment of crumpling
over and over
from that to this
in a heartbeat deferred
stopped in full
the spool slips back to
the moment of crumpling
and crumpling and gone
rocking backwards and forwards
from that to this
full stop



A widow has moved into my house now that I have vacated it. Some cheek! Chains of faeces in the bowl, mirrored face of creases; attracts rats into the roof lured into traps baited with cheese; wipes pus out of the dog’s eyes; sniffing out man scents with her budgie nose dumps food for the cat in a pink dish muttering to herself on a downturned mouth; pricks and plies her needle to sew time; long yellow teeth in a metalled mouth brings birds into the garden to strut, hop and skip, gaudy and proud amongst caterpillar-eaten leaves; rude flowers erupt from cacti; cries vinegar and chews her food at the sink, dishes on the stove. About turn! The Baba Yaga rotates her house on its chicken feet, grins and bears it.

car 001


when the knot was slipped and the drawstring
fell loose
fire, once concentrated
into the vast, vast universe
you were lost to me
I cannot smell your scent in the wind
before the metronome wipers clear them
each raindrop that bursts on the windscreen
does not carry a grain of you dissolved
that I can tell
only imperfectly
you set up shop inside me
an indistinct hologram
– a hollow gram –
a gram, a grain, a ghost
clawing at my belly



red and blue, no green is better
I choose carefully
this shirt with that
a scarf that picks up
shoes especially the shoes
to dress this mannequin
that I find myself inhabiting
ha! no store front model
but a dummy that mouths
words to herself
to soothe
it’s alright
it’s alright
hurry along
to hands splotched in age
rifling through the rack
shocking pink
yellow, burnt orange
cream, patterned, plain
this with that
then –
something is missing!
something huge has gone!
swallowed by the dark
that lives in the back
and has reached its arms in between
and snatched it away
for good

without you

Without you

I can live without you
I cannot live without you
I live without you
I should not live without you
without you I
without you I am not



the thin cold sheet
of words, ideas, mind-art
I draw around my solitary self
like long before
before my life – forty one years! – inside
your sheltering blanket.
I walked around the frosty Madison lakes
went to films
scribbled in notebooks endlessly
the future lay on the frozen water
ahead and you would come and be it
I snuggled into you
our breath smoked together

002 (3)

Third state

shamelessly pursued
dazzling mineral being
flashing teeth, eyes
maddeningly desirable
I pecked and pecked for years
without purchase
finally caught and ingested – willingly
flooded warmth
in the body.
every cell was oxygenated
and glowed quietly, secure
for years and more years
now in the last and third state
what have I?
is it hard or soft?
is it something at all?

a 001


apart rather than a part
always in all ways
not merely lonely but alone
rattling out chains
of self-sorry sobs
girding my loins
to withstand an attack!
I sink into the warmth of the headless
bottomless chest buzzy with
your voice
and it shelters me
a while

grass 001


a dryness in the park
sinking hummocky sand
wheaten weeds leached bleached
grass heads bending in the wind
the mundane repeat
the it is happened
the plod of the day
perhaps the pills?
the many seeds
hook their teeth
and glare

i 001

The I

the I in the we
was freed and stands alone
shaky knees
and clenched feet
with the
intermittent gales
that brew and strike
this I
a filthy thing
it eats, shits and thinks
talks to itself
with blind stubborn
to survive
will it?

man 001


Four months

looking out from within
the first man drawing
by a toddler
four careless lines radiate
from a greedy circle
peppered with eyes and mouth
uncouth thing
based on what is seen of the self
or known, given names?
I am that thing
arms and legs of another
an imposter
counting things
days keys hours bills months
one, two, three, four months
since he fell over dead

hands 2 001

Who is this

who is this
inhabiting my body
unrecognisable hands
open and close curtains
doors and alarms
put on shoes
let out the dog
hardly recognisable
when unwanted glimpses
are glimpsed
in a house that is and isn’t
ours – a word that no longer exists ?
who is this new crying creature
I find living here?
reeling, kneeling, keening
insanity reigns

balloon 2 001

Dog walk

suddenly tired of friends’ small
and big talk
ever circling the crater
I take the dog to the park
to fill the balloon
with my own gas
as Omo tussles, cavorts
and pronks in the tall grass
with friends
I find myself breathing you in
that nothing was broken inside you
by trauma
only softened
dog walkers cast their
comments on the sharp
wind, inconsequential
and for a while
my burden lifts

clock 001


key in, door-clack bolt-crunch, beep, ALARM CODE! 1, 9, 0, 9, 0, beep, rap rap, foot-steps, phone-ring, run run, no not now, shoe-squeak, thought voice, why why, nail-scratch, dog-drag, no no, bird-call, rumble, fridge-hum tock-clock-tick, must eat, cat-yowl plate-rattle, click, tap-scream, off, tap tap, tooth-grind dog-snore piss-splash, tock, message come, night come, thought sound, thought wash, click, hum haw, slip-sleep, slide
“Vivic!” clearly, I am awake I hear you

flowers 001


outrageous expression of longing
trumpeted in colour, form and scent
green leaves temporarily forgotten
they spring out in the garden
to snag attention with
twirls, swirls, pirouettes and fancy moves
showing off their painted faces
in adoration bees and beetles
flock to them, the wind applauds
and sends them scuttling and bowing
birds whistle an encore
both substantial and insubstantial
petal stamen and anther
– who is counting? –
they stab one in the heart so
fleeting, so sharp is their meretricious call

how 001


how can the blinds still roll
the fan turn, the water run
the doors open and close
without your quiet breath
your strong-light tread
your willing hands
your will?
tell me how

tap 001


in his tool chest
in a wooden box
a smaller box
which reads
40pc. tap and die set
if I tap on the box
can I please die too?

peasant stock 001

Peasant stock

yes, my father bought encyclopedias
from a door to door man
smelling of strange pungent glue
cracked when opened
when rarely opened
if opened is the word for
pages that pout when parted
American text, incomprehensible
they stood their ground
on a shelf in the lounge
a phalanx of blue leather

in marmalade brick houses
in suburbs aptly named
Sydenham and Orange Grove
I saw scant ball and claw imbuia
and upright prim pianos
behind closed glass doors
to me they signified
doctor fathers
professional mothers
offerings to the god of good breeding

at home my mother decorated
my father smothered an indoor veranda
in knotty pine
heavy velvet curtains hung from
wooden rings
ugly glass light fittings
replaced the colonial
the house they turned into a wild
see-saw of original crumbling edifice
hidden at the back
and a modern extension
Arizona style in front
a façade to be worthy, to make good, to out-do

what I wanted was a life that was whole
where front and back were united
and books were read
music and glassy silence
at the centre

lessons 001

Ten Lessons from Peter

1. let’s get started
2. trust your children will come to their senses
3. spin gold from straw
4. never tell a story more than three times
5. pursue enjoyment not necessarily mastery
6. observation over domination
7. your strong opinions are a trap
8. escaping into past and future erodes the present
9. be present
10. words are decorations life’s the thing

chops 001

The Cheese and the Chops

two offshoots, no offspring
from a tangled twin bush
the Cheese and then the Chops
each carrying layers of
some and some not
some from the rootstock
some of their own
grabbed from the air
the Cheese has his father’s glitter
the Chops his mother’s pallor
vice-versa shape of the head
one resists, one embraces
yet so quickly it swings the other way
cold, warm, long, short, far, near
in refracted patterns and colours
each turn of the tube
a marble caught in a wire cage
of a kaleidoscope
this I see
a boy stands at the beach looking out to sea
one hand clasps an elbow at his back
his father stands beside him
identical stance
left arm bent right straight
and I remember the father of the father
many years before
doing the same


the cheese and chops 001

The sea

it’s the closest
to where he is
the thick glassy walls
turning over
the lace light on
rippled sunned water-skin
his son told of how
when he and his brother
spilled the ashes in the sea
the grey matter clumped
did not dissolve as if greasy
and he felt nothing at all
the mother watched her boys
from the shore as they
walked out on a far rocky shelf
becoming small children again
they took off their shoes and socks
exposing white winter feet
like leaves to do the deed
the sea sucks and splurges
opening and closing its breast
roaring but not in pain

short cut 001

Short cut

bedevilled by leaky sphincters
assaulted by falling teeth, hair
failing eyes, limbs
oh and prostrated by that devil
the prostate
you ducked them all
and took the short cut
flying straight out of here
relatively intact

word and line 001

Word and line

trapped in a web of five
plus granny
the girl child draws and paints
to find her way
a hardcover notebook covered in
ersatz wood in sticky plastic
hides her writing
printed not in curses
as she likes to joke
knitted in words or
unloosened in line
a jug divided into segments
a philosophical
theory, a proposal
with unremembered content
a dream diary
an abridgement
of Oliver Twist decorated with
illustrations that do not satisfy
only two chapters before
it peters out
floods of painted sheets
colours and shapes made on bent knees
in a darkened room
overshadowed by trees
when and how will the future arrive?
freed of sticky threads
some dead some frayed
she has found now the end
the broken line has been picked up
and is resumed

next door 001

Next door

sir, I will not call you neighbour
you chopped down the old tree
that erected silhouettes
against bright light above us
compass points woven
into spoked wheels
turned back raptors from their home branches
and evicted stars at the tip
the moon you tore off, the earth
you covered in a plastic pelt
air conditioners groan in our joint air
high walls shield your wife and kids from view
your person too is unseen
save large dark cars
sliding in and out of a subterranean lair
in your concrete bunker
on the day of your arrival
a blushing maid appeared at our front gate
bearing a paper plate of stale bakes
they were feeble crumbs
held out on a shaky hand


synagogue seats 001

Mr Sinrodin’s synagogue seat

the rich are as short as the poor
he said relating his conversation
with the boss
and his unavoidable expenses
his yearly subscription
what can a man do?
click! a shiny onomatopoeic pebble he offers
to join the pile
of aphorisms I store
off his snaky, sly tongue

bowl 001


gone to his maker, in heaven, in hell, at peace,
crossed the river Styx, we’ll join him one day
in the land of the departed
the happy hunting grounds
the big fishing spot in the sky
words trip off tongues
without sense
without even an inner picture
meant to console but also to hide from ourselves
the complete and absolute end
which we are unable to conceive
what words for nothing? what words for gone?
wild stories we fabricate are easier to believe
than just this

the real mystery is the opposite
life itself and the more life that erupts from it
the dogginess of a dog life, the song of a bird
the creep of green growth over the soil
each thing tiny and big and alive
but mostly the huge overfilled bowl of thought
over a lifetime
(admittedly now spilled out)
it’s not why did he die
this particular spark
but why did he live?

inside outside

Inside outside

she looks coolly into the mirror
to catch herself
and observe how different
a tantrum feels to how it looks
a big small face
white and creased
runnels of tears on the cheeks
inside a dark red hoarseness
a rage, a rasping noise

she walks in the park crying
averting her eyes
from the other dog-walkers
in case they stop her
“Are you lost, little girl?”
when they should say
“What have you lost, old lady?”

after after 001
After after

what lies beyond after after
when the wound has stiffened
but not closed
when the tears flow yet
– endless, those –
when the loss takes shape
in the actual person and the numbness leaves?
the emptiness ahead
open vistas of the same
– endless, this –
till an unknown end
for which one waits

fishing 001


absorbed by the wild world
for hours and hours
or in the lee of sharper, darker, bigger shadows
on the dunes
blasted by sun, sand, wind, water, salt
happy to join in, to emulate or strike out
happy to succeed or not
happy to fish for stories
catch life in a net of words
and carry it back
to release to the supper crowd
the prize was the big fish he brought
whom he met
what they said
what transpired
his ego
as attenuated as the transparent gut
he sliced through the waves

dress 001

The dress

as fluorescent pink and orange stripes
can be when woven in simple cotton
that’s how pleased I was at the party
I invited myself with an uncle
on New Year’s Eve
flirtation was the harmless parlance
that was bandied back and forth
in his presence, always. The twirl
of fizzing colour to 60s music
played in the 70s
in the car a few words, faint warning shots
but how? I look at my hands pleased
in their candy-striped cradle-lap
glazed a boozy softness by the dark outside
later in bed in a boy’s bedroom
dress dropped on floor, a melting ice cream
when the door opens to
what is unbelievable
twice, the uncle enters cock first
twice I push the door closed
next morning I dress and smell the sweat
in the armpits of my deflowered frock

a mumbled apology in the kitchen
tells me one thing
I have done this before

poem 001


please do not read between the lines
focus on the strewn path, the river bed
where letters are embedded
or a shelf of pot and pan lookalikes for
domestic consumption
the white lines, tickled as they are
by crossed ts or looping ys or gs
even capital fellows
solid bricks not empty
read the poem
refrain from making connections
when the letters are apart
when the letters are apart

bird 001

Many times

many times a bird flies against a window
wings and beak scrabbling on the glass
searching for an illusory path
there’s a poet on the other side
hammering on the keys
no thought fox this but a
manifestation in bone, blood and feather
conjured up by the garden
and flung against human periphery
to pique, to peck, to prey
to insert words where none
yet stood on the empty page
I am here I am alive
barely I will survive

fish scale 001

Fish scale

in my mourning crumpled bed
a tiny fingernail, a scrap
smaller than a pinkie’s
cropped and curved
etched into cut glass translucence
there are radiating lines
in quadrants
a cat’s cradle poised
between my clumsy fingertips
looking through it I see the fish’s flank
where tiled and replicated
by the thousands
each duplicate message
is tucked into the next
flashing rainbows in accord
the threads unwind
fan apart or draw together
leading to each leaf
stamped by a pattern and spun out in green
gathered up by spreading wooden arms
and tossed into the sky as a tree
lassoed unleashed I send
threads to scrawl the backs of shells
the ridged mussels, striped pebbles
a spider’s trembling web
and back through the keratine window
journeying to my bed
where I am snagged
by a tickle on the thigh

boxes 001

Two boxes

two cardboard boxes stowed under the bed
a delicate silk of dust and webs
coats their utilitarian sides
collects on their half-squashed lids
when I am found dead and dessicated
alone up above them
who will be their custodian?
puckered cross-patch lips
sucked in and held
like toothless gits
storing resentments
perceived slights
a coiled fuse snakes out from each
poisoned boxy organ
I crouch on my knees
cupping a lit match
in my hand

cowboy 001

Dead man

I wake up to a dead man every morning
takes up the slack in the gap between sleep and awake
mounts his ol’ faithful hairy legs grip my sides
shouting yippee ki yay throws his lasso in the air
my wild hero outed lifting dust off the earth
coats my skin blows into my ears and eyes
a sharp whip on the rump
gales and thundering up above
jabbering and cussing whooping and singing
snatches of song and lots beside
whispers and mumblings
a laugh that rises like a great bird passing by
blue sparks break off from his eyes
and fall like cinders
smidges of soot on my flanks
I rise on two legs
take my heavy cudgel and beat him back
from where he came
gallop away my cowboy darling
so to start the solitary day

shoes 001


the thief that broke into our house
left wearing a pair of mine
and his own neatly set out on the carpet
opening the invitation – politely I thought –
to step into his life
I immediately declined
but found over the next few months
the ersatz brand name two
mesh fleshed tongue depressed
but this side short of scuffed split, worn and torn
had burrowed their way into me
something akin to an intimate fondness
brewed and I could not bear to throw them away
the feet that carried them in
remained unattached to a body a mind I could find
it in my mind to find although I found myself searching
at times even sending him by telepathic means
messages of solace and comfort
wishing him well in my new Spanish leathers
I drew the line when my son wanted to try them on
– they’re not that bad – he said as I carried them out
still they remain sitting primly next to the dustbin
not quite discarded
waiting for someone else to take up the challenge

shower 001


a shower rather than bath only
no things instead of all things
a place to paint, bigger
desires deferred
shoulds shelved
no picking up dog shit
telephone bills and groceries
small guilts in a thick layer of happiness
for so many years
another life had been growing underneath
silently like a white grub
ripped open
transparent new skin
it now emerges
I expose it to the sun a few minutes a day
talk it up
bathe it in salt
while it leaks and bleeds and blisters
waiting for time to do the healing
that does not come.

elephant 001

Sustainable development

You see the Gabonese are lazy
they wait for office jobs
so said the Gabonese man at the wheel
as we bumped along the rutted streets
if there is produce for sale
it’s sure not have been grown by a local
and it’s true I do not see a single field anywhere
no agriculture?
no slash and burn or clearing
to grow soybeans in
forests relatively intact
animals left in their homes
I hear an elephant trumpet
it’s either or
in the great equatorial forest of Ripondo
a taxi ride from the capital
that oxymoron sustainable development
obliterated by lush soft squelch underfoot
blown away by trees arching way up high
I return home to a brand new baby
mewling and nuzzling at the breast
greed clothed in simplicity and innocence
she is why it is impossible


post office 001

Clareinch Post office

how quickly the person falls into the past and dies
and daily life takes hold in stamps and forms and letters
step into our murderous post office
in the post hysteria months
all vestiges of the outpouring
in flyers flowers slogans and candles
gone – not even sticky tape residue
ghost marks their plenitude
restored to its uninviting essence
the post office is itself again
but feminised perhaps
to soothe jangled nerves, to lull the terror
on the one end of the shabby sour space
three lady post workers sit
each wearing their squat cardboard cubicle
with correctness and appropriated presence
still one can hardly help to peep behind
to the dull carpet in the back
where blood was ostensibly found
it is the script of the attending worker
that insists new beginnings
smooth, elegant, measured
– good enough for a signwriter I think –
it fills the registration form with certainty
neat cool stitches to close the wound


Space left

give them the room to breathe to be
don’t crowd them out
in conversation in thoughts
give people their due
and now I have stepped right out of time
– not purposely, you understand –
and given you the space to
make a new life
while your friends battle on with
old grumpy men
diminished partners
uncoupled, unencumbered
I’ve left you the space to breathe to be
take up the challenge, old girl!


Telkom shop

spun out of glass, glossy displays and
designer signage signifying shop, style and service
there are no seats
for the shabby bits of humanity
in burka, plaid shirt or grubby sportswear
that stand in the lit ice cube
waiting patiently for their number to come up
and dutifully one by one
offer themselves to the counters
bent in on aching legs
to explain their psyches
at great length and depth
the origin of the archetypes
that inhabit their souls
the therapists in their blue Telkom shirts
nod encouragingly
and tap away at their terminals
no doubt making notes
no laughter here, hushed voices
while a young woman finally leaves her station
a silky headscarf swishes at her neck
I detect an unburdening a lightness
an elderly man with a small goatee switches feet
and inches closer
his crumpled brown skin set off by chrome
pleads with his eyes for his pain to be
taken seriously
and is taken so indeed Telkom style


Water rising

when the neighbours drilled for water
during Cape Town’s drought
they struck a seam 700 meters deep
and now the excess runs down
our shared gutter staining the cement channel
a rusty orange iron
a weeping wound environmentally uncouth
a stripe in the gutter
as shameful as a used sanitary napkin tossed
into the public eye
when Peter died I too was drilled
and my aquifer breached
my tears rise unabated unstoppable
although I hide it’s there for all to see
in the open in the street
in the park in the house
a constantly renewable resource
bearing stinging salt which I imagine
is lost at the rate of set teaspoons per day
and which – not knowing
if it is being leached from my very bones –
I replenish with a hopeful twist
of the grinder on my food
thinking of my granny who would describe a bland man
as one without salt, without pepper
and wondering if depletion on such a fundamental level
will lead to disappearance disintegration destruction
willing it so


Heritage walk

to find out about the farm Oranjezicht
I find out that it’s the
collection of walking shoes comfy cottons
fluffing in the wind
and accommodations to grey hair
that clothe us sagging flagging third agers
that strikes the notes
it’s the young homeless man
sponge bathing in the bandstand
that shelters four pup tents
pointedly oblivious to our circle
and not its provenance that stays
it’s the smell of human shit
and not the hedges of rosemary buchu
and lavender that I take away
the gables broekie lace and bay windows
veer off and fuse with the cloud-topped mountain
my eyes slide over the mullioned windows
barriers to penetration
the words spoken do not take hold
but the spread of sickle carob pods
that bed into the pavement tar
leave a patterned imprint and
lock into the sense-mesh of a mind
incapable of attaching to any facts
alive only in that it is like an animal
ferreting on a path


A poem in kelp

A calm sea offers a poem in kelp
the font of small heaps and posts
teased open, parsed
brown as ink
in rows gently drifting


8s and 9s

Forget about being all at 6s and7s
not given to superstitious numerology myself
I find myself enmeshed in 8s and 9s
8 for his deathday and his birthday
9 for our wedding anniversary
his sons’ birthdays also 9s
no particular significance I’m sure
except the knell of the numbers
how they reverberate
in hopscotch skips
in the chalk marks on the street
after throwing the stones
which I bend to pick up
on one foot
repeating a refrain
for someone whose number is up
a pattern to give time shape
keeps the bogeyman at bay



because of Bill Gates
because he was wanted
because of that lab in Wuhan
because it was time
because it’s a Jewish conspiracy
any reason is a good reason
to survive the evolutionary brain
needs to read motives
a cord let out
that embellishes twists ensnares
and conquers uncertainty
for a futile while


Blue shirt

French ultramarine
buttons button the wrong way
from left to right which is right
from where you are
I wear you on the outside
now that the past has
dropped below the horizon
and the future obliterated
only swelling and breathing in the blue
over chest and stomach
bon voyage my sweet sailorman


Camps Bay tidal pool

black aggregate scoured and pocked in cement
types a message
rocks rise and fall like dough
one is a thing – a letter, two a word
and sentences are made with strings of kelp
schools of baby fish hurrying along
no deciphering this language
this encryption in parallel tongue
rough tongues of weed fist roots
long bodies
even the waves and rippling water
sounding out
a rock has softened and sunk
a tiny patch of shell litter
punching well above its size
and not shy to spread everywhere
a cosmos. What do they say
about grains of sand and stars?
rocks weep weed, algae fuzzes stone
debris teased back and forth in the
shallows like this poem
so much said by things
so little turned to sense by our dull minds



what stupid stuff fills my head
like a stuffed cushion
conversations play out
either had or not
comparisonae minor triumphs
mine are better than yours
even your departure in terms of
what was said what I say
to this one or that
grant me this
the wish to blow it clean out
and feel your loss directly
even the bleeding, slicing through me
is preferable to this I carry
social sorry death chat



catching up on the gossip
eye to eye
you and I
no need for the content
the specifics
merely mimicry
and tongue thrusts
moments of accord
and waiting
we take chances
first me, then you
new sounds
and gummy smiles
that break out of
a theatre of expressions
on your dear face
the sun of my attention



she made the bed before she made the cuts
put the pills in a row
swallowed them
she put the dog food in the bowl
let out the cat
she turned off the TV to shut out
the virulent news
she swallowed and wallowed in her tears
before she made the cuts
she wrote
she drained the kefir
she got dressed
she gave up
then started again
time ticked like a dripping tap
then she made the cuts




dragging over                    a riverbed of strewn things
there for forgotten reasons
in uncalculated collisions
survivors on show by mistake
while the unseen that I step upon suddenly
release the scent of hidden multitudes
permeate the house

dragging along                   the routes of habit
along pitted roads that bump the car
from nothing new to nothing new
stale shops masked in air conditioned freshness
trolley ruts in parking lots
an assortment of goods
barely chosen

dragging through                             the chug-chug of thoughts
that accompany the body
a circular track on ground ground down
signals switched on and off as if by remote
from acceptance to denial from detail to the whole
back to the beginning
and round again


Dry garden

the leaves hang on
they crackle softly in the wind
the tree that dies every year
green where you scratch through the brown
the surviving goldfish in its small pond
swims round and round
sunshine on the bare sand and yellow grass
like a headache
we wait for the season to change


Eva, one month old, awake

the river is her face
quicksilver eyes
wide and wild
the colour of tumbling pebbles
a scrunch and easing
of skin that flows in nanoseconds
over the surprising bone
the flare of a nostril a tiny shell
that sculpts air
as a peep escapes more breath than voice
tongue pulsing bobbing in the pink pool
A wobbling bottom-lip!
the stretch of arms and legs
led by pointing fingers, toes
rhymed in perfect miniature
each pinprick of light, colour, shade
each smell, each sound
reflected back to us
through this strange and wonderful



a novel that stops mid-sentence
a bowl that you glue except for a
couple of slivers that lie in its reconstituted centre
a memoir that leads to the verge
of a trip to Swaziland
the path that winds up in lazy unplaced bricks
you did not press on
satisfied with unspooling process rather than product
that is willed into being
hammered to a conclusion
in the stream of life sensing a certain future
were you fearful of ending things?
a fisherman casting one more time
it is you has been caught
finished off



Green man

the sharp brittle tears
that the sea has coughed up
not worn enough
by waves and tumbling
I collect in a green heap
and shape into a small human form
on a low wall
a marker of your absence
a danger to bare feet



perched up high
noses – the straight and the dipped – in the air
side by side
we breathed in happiness
on top of piles of junk unsorted, bills haphazardly paid, intermittent meals
difficult family members phoned now and then
doing only enough to keep it rolling
having fun!


House arrest

gather up your hedge-skirt
trailing in sticks stuffed with birds
and go tip-toe through the stark streets
to see what you can see
the mind melts in their emptiness
eyes of glass
look out on a small garden
a new skin this, expanded to the periphery
a wave of leaf and scrub
like the metal coat when you drive your car
the world contracted
blaring in the rooms the electronic blather
streaming in a runny light
the heart knocks
each door a valve
the open-shut diastole-systole
rumbling bowels in taps
house arrested



how blind how long
solid they felt the family
the boys the daily daily
each brick each year
one placed on the other
the edifice of a life lived
now even though it twinkles prettily in my eye
only the house stays
the doors the windows the floors
thick walls stubborn masonry
housing the survivor
my body and its disgusting functions
the rest has proved to be
sluiced out ephemeral
this is the truth
and how come I didn’t know it



straight at me you look
from a photo of many others
your rubbery face your teeth
the sparks of your eyes
a punch
in the solar plexus
can someone be so alive and dead too?
how? What happened?



when you think you’ve knocked it on the head
with one thing – banishing the Jewish self-pity –
and allowing only 60 seconds per weep
and asking yourself why you are crying
which might be the same as the above
and chucking out all but the direct responses
and not the ones that come in
the guise of telling someone something
all in your head of course
and dismiss the tears when someone in the flesh
asks how you are as embarrassing and weak
you wake with a physical pain in your belly
that has seeped in overnight from the bottom
unaccompanied by thought or image or memory
each breath burns
this is it at its hideous essence


Why your legs why your arms

why your legs
light tread on the floor
springy energetic
covered in whorls of curly electric-charged hair
veins of purple netted over ankle
Charlie Chaplin footprints in the sand
your special mark
make it easy to follow you when lost

why your arms
tufts even on top of knuckles
with that crissy texture
strong fingers
cracked thumbs rubbed in ink
solid hands rest on my shoulders
a rare touch
yet the weight easy to recreate



He’s lying when he says good morning
an overheard comment
brought home and deposited
in the family treasury



the coincidence of rhyme
throws together baby and maybe
a good combination if one is being considered
although once here
there is no maybe in a live baby
but why twin dead and fed
or dead and instead?
No good reason that I can see
for no one can die instead of another
however well or badly fed
well maybe if the food is poisoned
and a taster dies instead of the queen
and it’s all part of history
taking you down the garden path
studded with weeds and seeds
or seeds and murderous deeds
rhyme’s random tandems



the me, me, me having done its usual work
eaten into consciousness
there is a limit of extent
this person with her limitations
can ingest another
and I have reached that limit
memory can embellish
but most of what you were has gone with you
it feels I carry only bare outlines
or infills to be more exact
that I cannot keep every scrap of you, intact
whole, multi sided, alive
alive in me
is a bitter betrayal
I am so sorry, my darling fading man



To say that the baby is a compensation for the loss is like borrowing from the next column because the number you are subtracting is greater than the number above it. It is a sum where the chain of borrowing does not give you a whole outcome. It is mathematics which casts you into the underworld, the place below nought where numbers grow in rows of hyphens in the opposite direction, like poisonous mushrooms, a maddening place where Alice swims in a pool of her own tears. I too am at sea with arithmetic which casts me adrift. No neat answer, no rounding off, nothing adds up.


The time of the virus

without calling on the goodly antidepressant in the sky
who passes out sweets wrapped in verse
we are left with this:
how beauty is heightened in the time of the virus
still for a long while
hung on the hedge in the blue-sky gallery
a butterfly exhibits his startling wings
yellow spots exuberantly splattered on fear black
a friend spies a white-faced cat in a tree
we take these sights and bind them around our
heart-knocking selves
we mix our breath into the air of the wide world
to join in with it
to allow its rocking rhythm to soothe us


To have lost you

when those words lift off from their meaning
and separate into mere sounds
do I drag them back
or let them float off into the day
to join the clock tick the cat yowl
the key punch the fridge hum
the passing cars?
what good if I pull on the string
do you come back?


Twenty twenty

could anyone have plotted it tighter?

a widow sits mourning in her home
waiting for winter to set its dark cold teeth
into her flesh
and the lights have gone off

a virus flashes on every screen
bio hazard suits and empty streets
there’s a baby to protect
and the lights have gone off

the past has made off with the good
the present comes as a dystopian future
living a nightmare
and the lights have gone off



just that word
the able disabled
a bear in chains and grizzled
a world undone



when the whole of you went into the hole
that was everything: teeth, foibles, funny mannerisms
the timbre of your voice. Ha! Even the toe jam
between those appendages, the invisible
mites that fed on your eyelashes
and microbes that roamed in your gut
is it my job to throw you bit by bit into the pit
to take you apart
to loosen the threads
that cling to me with stinging cells?


Fat and thin

Once fat and round and stuffed
with fat and spice in a casing bulging
a long thin thing has emerged
flung on the soil
a discarded entrail
twitched along by friends’ beaks
barely worth its existence



wishing not to have to write to remember
paint to see cry to grieve talk to make real
wishing to drop this preposterous need
for audience even admiration
wishing a dignified silence on all fronts
the wedge is deep
it needs no amplification



laughed out loud
remembering something you said
a mere hour later I have forgotten what
fearful that I am losing more and more of you
I wait for it to re-emerge


after my operation down there
you quipped
“any new features?”




crossed over the line
dragged over
the tables have turned
we join the groan of humanity
who bury and mourn and carry on
no longer immune
shielded safe blissful
someone was sitting in an empty house
as we blithely drove past chatting
cracking sunflower seeds between our teeth


The river

gasp of air and down I go
head first
eyes wide
knocking against rocks
looming grey in the murk
sunken junk
old pram wheels
a wreck of a kitchen table
a mouth no air
sliding weeds
searching for teeth, belt, feet
his teeth, his belt, his feet
brown and green dreams
tangle up, tease, release
bleeding ribbons
of red
watching life escape upwards
in strings of silver jewels
being led to the sea?
(as one dead)
up like a cork
ah! this trunk these arms
these white frosted legs
floating on my back
the sun greets me
the trees wave me by


In memoriam

she will sprinkle their ashes on the lawn
of their suburban home
because their children
scattered and scatter-brained
don’t know what else to do
church goer that she is
she will sing and add jesus blessings
to proceedings
of this I am sure
for the stubborn old jewish couple
she washed and fed and tended
all prayers are welcome



bloodless lips stretch
dead eyes twinkle
as I spoon up the dog shit
hose down the ones you described as
tackle the heaps of dirty dishes
accruing over more days
than I care to admit
make the bed from time to time
walk the dog alone
you always sighed smiled
as you rolled up your sleeves
over workmanly arms
‘ha, more like 60-40!’
when the 50-50 thing came up
the closest you came to a complaint
now at the crease alone
a long dogged innings
100 to nil


In the streets

masked highwaymen approach
will leashes hold back their dogs?
families play-acting amateur dramatics
a spectacle of spectacles
floating by a car double-wrapped
in transparencies
behind the windscreen
two more over
driver and passenger
(what would you make of it
if you dropped back in?)
a witch is cackling
a wizard is rubbing his hands in glee
the spell they have cast over
this cast of puppets holds
and holds



up the chimney
rising to the moon
down the plughole
piped through earth and rock
hollow body
stands in house




near palindrome
connecting the ‘I’ and the ‘oh’
in increasing shocks
the word is borne on two
sets of wings
long tail trailing, flailing
tempting for some to catch
as it lurches through the veld
but stabs me in the eye
settles on my shoulder
making itself unwantedly home
dumps a weight of dread
you doubled surely not me
the choices dabbed in mercurochrome
on sakabula’s epualettes
I fill its ugliness in forms
because Y’s a crooked letter
and you can’t make it straight


Chin up

I lie
life is fine
the grass is green
hours pass in mild and
great distraction
stop with the cries
the melodrama
got two legs two arms
even a brain
bent on a stalk
ticking over
a dish marinated in brine
served up every day
perfectly plausible
when clichés ambush
recognise kneejerk
banish banality
blow your nose
and whistle


Family trait

should have, should be, should know
a list, a litany
a wail of stale thoughts

ought to have, ought to be
ought to throw them over my shoulder
or try to…

do, offer, bake, tell me, reach out, say it
step out
of that well quoted zone, phone

a dome topped of never made, never to be made, never came
waiting, a familiar construction
of rage, a familial story

for see my bitter disgruntled father
pickled in sour despair

I swing my arm free
my fingers
let fly


For a beautiful aunt

in the cage of fine
bones a mirror for company
slimmer of seeds and grain
laid out in a line
counted each day
fearing that glimpse a glimmer
of imperfection that holds you
so you cannot leave
when the door is left open

Who’s a pretty, pretty
who is the fairest of us all?
I pity you
pitted against time

In a nest no great shakes
(no tinsel or flirty baubles)
of wood and leaves and straw
that stick to me when I fly
soot on face from then to now
ducking the lens of glass
the great cage of all eyes
hoping not to ever see what
I carry out

Who’s a pretty, pretty
who is the fairest of us all?
I pity me
pitted against time


Cluttered desk

We can stay here and live.
Every morning she went out and gathered
a pair of gloves, clothes peg, used tooth pick
yesterday’s coffee cup, roots and berries and nuts.

The huntsmen rang through the trees, furred
sticky tape, blood sugar strips, a dud phone
alone like this in the great wilderness
the blasts of horns: paper with a chunk cut out.

The king of the country held a great glitter,
ruler, stack of books, a panic button, the barking
of dogs and the merry shouts
a pricker, only too anxious to be there.

Bars of light on a strewn surface.
He begged so much pencils, till slips, wires everywhere
let me be off, debris, to the hunt
I must shut my door for fear.



Slice open
a bleeding heart
with fingers stained
in rose-coloured juice
cracking the thick pulpy
cage a
splitting the membranes
that cover up
(pale and tough)
to bring secret
workings to light.

What throbbing insect laid these rows on rows?

Rain down
red coagulations
from their colonies
of tight grinning
by coaxing,
finger nudging at
the mapped, segmented globe.
Into a dish they fall
(splash of dark)
to spoon up
with sour delight.

The mouth knows: turns swollen sweetness into grit


Cape Gooseberries

Which Cape? Whose goose?

An airy softness holds up leaves
as if whisked up to float
on weak brittle threads slung out
of the sand, spat out
-as unspectacular as saliva-
a shapeless lot.
Yet the leaves grey-green
tender as cheek-flesh
hold their own
take the stage, dip and dance
reach up, down, left and right
and hidden beneath in the interstices
hanging each by its own
the small goods I search:
purses on strings
blow-up cushions
green-seamed lanterns strung about.
I wait for them to brown.

On the ground below lie the tiniest of stories
what remains
of what has fallen
fairy cages eaten clean, skeleton orbs
pricked out of lace
empty, holding a dollop of air
almost a sound
the faintest tinkle?
a breath pitted against matter.
I retrieve them by convenient stalk
tougher and springier than sight
blow them as straw to tumble
in airy exhaust
or leave them to haunt the site
to whisper to snails and beetles and worms
Sometimes the fruit has survived inside
– a golden ball, intact!-
I conjure up a princess playing in there.

It’s Cape Town and I’m the lucky goose.

It is this fruit sharp, tomatoey and seeded
that is the prize in my mouth
for which I comb through the tangles of green
kissed by a frog and bagged in brown paper
for me, for me


Widow’s prerogative

if you’ve got it well then you know and
what’s the use of having an endless
supply press advantage a free
resource a body makes in
copious volumes in this case no
effort from you
yourself only the lacrimal glands
30 gallons a year they
say draining down the nose those
not overflowing running
down the cheek of it for
display water in the main
except maybe your bones
leaching salt adding
frustration to grief stress
hormones which by the way is
absent when you cut onions friends
shy away hear it in the way
sons too please no wailing
wall even dog leaves
the room so you have
buckets at hand
to carry to the ice block in the glass
glass covid drink of the mall
guarded by girls behind plastic with
rubber gloves and spritsers in their hands
ah! the Telkom shop
I shout and swing my bucket
the customers swallow their mouths
and gape


Rotten Tomato

Chin over back seat
the boot a spill of tomatoes
memory-green to red. Stopped
outside our house in the street.
My mother, Yudith, under the
shelter of the tipped door
sorting into a box
one for us, thump,
and one for Ticky, thump,

Watching with prescient
watchfulness – even then I know
every division opens
cracks for greed for one more or less,
the quick little adjustments,
till her fingers reach the magnetic one
my nose has already suspected
cracked and oozing
pus drips its seeds
skin sozzled sliding
from foul red lips!

(the smell of vegetable decay from that day on
is anathema. I eat my fruit crisp and unripe.
I can plunge my hands in a trough of worms
but cut out every brown spot on a pear
with margins) and this is the thing:
my disgust is for my mother’s momentary
calculation, as she lifts the hot potato and puts it in
the box,
or not,
our pile,
or Ticky’s?

I cannot remember which.
The crux of the memory has dropped out.
What she should have done:
She should have thrown the rotten tomato into the gutter.
She should have thrown it at my father who left the women to
sort it out.
She should have passed it to me and desensitised me for life.

You-did-it! You-did-it!


Pathetic fallacy

The bard himself could
not have done it better.
I am pleased that the
species homo sapiens
as one
bound cloth strips over
their mouths to
bandage their shock.
I am glad that cars
fled from the cities
leaving a deathly hush
and the world
as one
retired behind closed
We washed our hands
wringing out our skins
till they stung.
We refrained from lift-
ing up babies into the air
from doing the usual
from shopping to pass the time.
We feared every one, everything.
It pleases me no end.

Suffer! for we have lost you
and you were worth it.



Landscape, Robertson

A white bakkie trickles down cheek
to mossy cheek flushed in ochre,
the trail appearing and disappearing between
the hunched hills crowding over the valley.
It lies in scratched repose mouth open,
the bits and pieces of farm structures
and vineyards
like bad dentistry.
The slow throb of peace enters then,
a stain, a wave of brown grey green ink
spreading all along
the brain’s hem.


Eva is an octopus

After watching ‘My Octopus Teacher’

How breathtaking each quicksilver response
each complex adjustment from this to that
each attempt to imitate a wave or clap
driving this body that moves as if on its own
in the currents and tides that need
to be harnessed to the will and be connected.
To discover the will in the first place
-intelligence, consciousness, cognition-
amongst the sensual flowerbed that is
this place this time this light these things
when feedback loop cannot be joined
by the noise of hands together
what propels the repeat and repeat?
It is joy, curiosity that moves this little soft machine
an organism like an octopus spreading
tentacles, toes like suckers tasting the air,
arms and fingers mouth-filled with anything
and everything, squirming throughout.
Only an octopus cannot smile.


Finished story

Envy the widow
who exhibits her badge
when others wade through untidy inconclusion,
lives with a story brought to its non-spectacular end.
She can lay mental flowers at the site,
dip into the person that was
like a pen in ink



Scoring the clay bank with its keel
I push the small craft into the
water, jump in and, wobbling, start
for a journey solo in a new body
unknown, odd to absorb some
heaving involved sweat and
tears and great effort
but see, it floats, my boat
and like a duck, seems to glide
as time does.



a circle of wet dark ringed by city lights
peeping out on the periphery behind trees
we are in it this place hidden from a lifetime
of never seeing what you have roared past
what’s under your feet gumbooted feet sloshing
through reeds and water and grasses
stepping over dead branches and hummocks
pricked out by torches like cold lit fires
throwing up knots of burnished people whose voices
merge with frog calls so loud that the
woosh noises from the highway are held
at bay and by frogs the size of a thumb
nail we are told and dip and sweep our nets
in the green-haired clear brown sweetness
yet clicking stream frogs melodious name as
small and far more ubiquitous is all we scoop
a micro frog is only a hair’s breadth different
so we high five when success is confirmed
to toast the little rubbery fellow in our
illuminated dish a fleeting view so
fine and small it is a matter only of nearly
before he jumps into the great big wet dark
where he resides noisily singing to the
night sky heavy above and which finally
lets go its load and sends us squelching
and lumbering out of his place our boots heavy
accompanied by the squeaking wheelbarrow
call of the sand frog surprising us in
the sodden path medium sized and very
beautiful in a cassock of pebble dash
final blessing on the night


Dead words

Call it what it is
loss, lost, passed, passed on,
left, left us, moved on
the euphemisms for simple
Hear the dread in dead
hear the double d’s dundering
out, a done deal, close to dad
but not. Never to hear, touch, speak,
walk, see, smell. Closed up
like the covers of a book
or two beats of a drum.
A splutter, spittle and over.


Another time

I used you up and you
slipped down the plughole.
My hands, unscented, drip
red poppies in the garden.
A white butterfly in the forest
is mistaken for a dog. Twice.
We talk of this and that, my friend.
This the daily daily that repeats. Walking
with the dogs. The petals are strewn
on the grass. Time is used up.


Over a year now

A shack for ice fishing
a flimsy structure, ramshackle, in which
I dwell over a deep hole bored
through the white of pain
and loneliness to the
waters metres below
that join me with the oceans
and the grief of the world.
Sunsets and sunrises
bloom in the skies
and flush the snow in colours.
I dip my line and say
“My husband’s late. He’s
not coming.”




There are two of us in this. Technically one but you know what I mean. What if the sadness has bounced back into him? For what he has missed and does not know he misses? He did not want this. He did not want to be dead. More terrifying is the note of happiness I detect in me. A new chance. New opportunities. The old life was good but it was more and more of the same. I have always been greedy for new. I have always been selfish. I always wanted more. Today I look at a splatter of red poppies that have come up of their own accord in the back garden for the first time ever in the forty years we have lived in this house. Their colour and form sing. I know they are flowers that remember the fallen but I look at their wonderful pods scored with patterned stars and I think of the trips, the adventures their seeds afford the brave ingester. That is the poem.



Driving to the end

my father waved his renewed driving license
in mottled hands arms resting on his walker no
chipper 92 this a crushed pelvis and dropped
foot an arthritic shoulder and glaucoma to boot
it was a breeze he declared the fools
forwent car insurance all that paperwork
and the expense what for paid up
for a string of bashes in his wake
in parking lots and side streets asking
the carer how to eft sums on a phone
his clumsy fingers could not tap rebuffed
the pleas of his children without a head swivel
took courage to ford every intersection
quipped with his last friend were you driving
between such and such lucky for you
because I was reverted to his careless
cowboy youth the Peruvian they called him
but age ate away the joy of his joyrides
spitting out into the streets of Joburg an
angry sad who cares a damn behind the wheel
may he rest in his motor car


White flag

oh the heartlessness of the
drug namer who came up
with Vagifem for this indignity:
a hand in a brown wrinkled glove
hands over the script
to the pharmacist
no detection of either sympathy or derision
behind his monitor his smooth movements
as he dispenses
yet you know he knows
that daily you remove a little white flag
capitulation to old age
from between your legs
a scrap of toilet paper
that has shamefully adhered


Game show

They gave me the million
even though I did not know
the answer to
the last question: I stumbled on
Does he like being dead?
(He doesn’t say)
What happens after life’s not fair
rather Marilyn Monroe’s
born name or the largest state in the USA
neither of which I know
but I can always ask a friend
wondering  –
What if they don’t hear the phone ring?
What if they are on the toilet?
(What if he had decided it wasn’t his time?)


The end

Envy the old person
who refuses to eat and drink
turns to the wall
and waits patiently -or not-
for it to come
of its own accord.
The body is weak and helps.
No such assistance for us.
Against our very will
we are insatiable.
We feel hunger and must eat
an itch asks to be scratched
vanity and must dress
distract boredom hunt down ideas
joy and must laugh or marvel.
The alternative is violent
and horrible. How? With what
energy? To what end?



You fear that you are
of no matter
yet I am telling you
the lighter
the better
for what are we here for
except to jettison
everything we have
we are
to prepare for


In bad taste

For my friend, Lynne

A board game with chance cards
to pick up a litany of symptoms
go to hospital corners to avoid
unless the rest is irresistible
in those line-drawn squares of hospital beds.
Allopathic, homeopathic, ayurvedic options
in all the others colour-coded and jolly
the aim to diagnose yourself
before it beats you
within the rules of course
or to contract the worst possible
the more terminal the more valuable
death is not permanent
you can trade it up or down.
The combinations of conditions considerable.
You can ignore the fine print and play
intuitively. It’s your choice.
We guarantee hilarity and satisfaction
making for a lifetime interest
not an impulse buy
beautiful styling to draw in
the reluctant the squeamish.
What should we call it, this game? The sick game?
Here we go? What fun.


Porcupine Hills

This landscape is impossible. Rears up
and threatens to engulf or shut you out like
a wall. The analogy is irresistible. There is no
horizontal view and a vertical scroll fails
to define the planes. It resists the work
of the hands – brush and ink and wash.
Words perhaps? Only by lifting up and hovering
in the mind-air can a path be discerned – a
meandering trickle that tracks right left
in. Crosses the river in stepping stones
as small as grains of sand. At the end of this sweet path
your miniscule home where you are, a tiny flame.
This I write with sumac berries from a close bush
offering the writer a pen of sorts and purple ink.
I discard the pips.



So much new
so much I now understand
why ghosts are insubstantial
absence has hollowed them out
left their limbs puny and their faces barely there
left them a hologram of the mind
the old life fleeting memories vague
compared to the itch behind the knee
the whiff of sour breath
the chirp of birds
the present overtakes all
is another way of putting it
Back then I painted the back of him
when he was still alive
his fishing haversack slung on his back
hard not to see the future prefigured
the way the comb creates the parting



Words cannot penetrate
the sealed up space you left
heavy and hard
lodged deep
it squeezes against my ribs
then lets go in an expansive flood
bringing relief and no relief.
Thoughts flutter searching for ascent
moths powder smudges on
finger tips left to rub
as ashes onto cheeks.


Good looks

ignoring early deaths of beauties
and old people whose flesh has sunk
around misaligned features
I thought his smile would protect him
a salvo, a burst of machine gun fire
– rat-a-tat-tat! –
big teeth blue eye sparks
flashing out from thick rubbery skin
camouflaged and rendered warm brown
fortified ramparts heaped on his face
a stockade of eyebrows
to hold the lines
even the strong hairs patrolling his nostrils
the solid attachment of surprisingly delicate ears
oh, those hands!
I thought that his beauty
even as it morphed into senior form
would keep him safe
how ridiculous is that that that would be so



9 December 2020

for breakfast I picked
tall elongated shafts
of pale green
in fine snipped sleeves
and topped with floppy
sumptuous fried eggs
depriving the gathered bees
– glad to see them so numerous –
of their morning feast
stood up in a yellow jug
in the entrance hall
the scent is sharp
a man’s after-shave
it is a wedding anniversary
for one
to mourn, remember, celebrate



Moving along the same routes we took
in the car you drove that hums and farts and whines
like a spoilt pet, passing the places
we saw or went to, on the same threads of tar,
under the same thin blue sheet of air
that skied us.
Now all has changed and nothing has changed.
Blood feeds my cells along networks I cannot see,
I exchange gases in my lungs, the stranger
hands on the wheel take me out. The world
comes to greet me behind glass
and comes and comes not skipping a beat,
oblivious to grief.



My son told me of his dream
where he was in a bus or van
with his now dead father
– perhaps you were even driving, ma –
he said. We were crossing a
bamboo bridge over a great river and
-what else can you expect?-
a wheel strayed off the weak slats
the bus tipped and in a second we were
suspended over the certainty of
falling, drowning.
Death by dream, a common terror.
A statuesque brown man, a fisherman
appeared from below and with
the power of gleaming dream-muscles set the bus
right, back on track so that we could cross.
Would you like to join them? we asked our own
fisherman and to our surprise he agreed
so to join the cast of big-fish catchers
who were wading in the river intent on their quarry.
My son fetched bait for his father. The
last view of this man we adored
was waist deep in the dreamy water
doing what he loved best
and that is where we will leave him.



The algorithm serves up more of the same
a diet of search but never find
eat but never be filled
grief is good this youtube man says
I think of long boiling on the stove
till only a thin crust of salt clings to
the sides of the pot
the essence of your being
take a lick
sometimes good sharp this aloneness
what you need
who you are is what is left
all the kak distilled with the good
peering over the rim
at the bigness of things


What it’s about

It’s not about legs or shoes, of course –
PG said as he stood before the tangle
of massive hairy tubes and pinned ovals
in pinks and greys and ochre
It’s about finding the push-pull, the pulse,
the up-down, the this way and that, the is and isn’t
and clothing it in the weight of things
It’s about seeing and being blind
about groping with a paint brush in hand
loaded with this thick oozing substance
and defeating its stubborn wilful nature
by borrowing from the world out there
or vice-versa: grabbing a nail, a hair, a door
to teach the paint a thing or two
to teach ME a thing or two
It is a battle that I am allowing to rage through me
between what I know and what still has to be discovered
It is pinning the compromise just so
before moving on to the next one

(PG: Philip Guston 1913 – 1980 )



You found her young
washed up, lost
and eating sand
brought her through the surf
buoyed her
pulled her off the parental reef
but let her think she set the course
you patched her sails, straightened
her mast, caulked her deck
manned her solo
in her hull you worked
and gave her a crew of two cabin boys
who, being nautical, needed a dunking now and then
the voyage was long
when she sprung a leak, when she yawed and rolled
in storms you nudged her right
you were the lightest of seamen
you dangled a hook
and pulled up supper after supper
steered safely into harbours
never jumped ship
You righted me
and then left


What covid did

Saved from tea parties
and being invited because ‘we should’
saved from returning from tea parties
saved from pretending life is ok
that everything carries on as normal
stripping away the
toughened as a single entity
in a single life a single body
learning solitude and more
solitude till it is no longer a jacket
but the very skin that you
wake up in. Turning soft
to hard, wet to dry.
Teaching a
Thank you.


Dada world

dog is dada, bird is dada and dada too
you have discovered
the unifying principle that we
adults yearn for: one word that says it all
the other lots and lots we use extraneous
God is dada for some
but I know dada to unleash anarchy amongst artists
and overturn convention
now taught in the flood of other movements
that replaced it
for me simply Peter
my word
my world


End to end

Who was it that put their head in the oven
only to find themselves getting out the Zeb
and giving it a good clean?
I hatch a mad plan and start unwinding the hose.
So long!
It hangs onto its curls doesn’t want to let go of its comfortable past
all rolled up and snug
and is punctured as well
– a leak leading to an escape I secretly want? –
and how do you cut a hose?
A spade does not penetrate
and I can’t ask another for help.
End to end. Where into the exhaust
and where into the car?
The entire endeavour speaks
ineptitude. A silly exhaustion.
And a belly laugh. Sitting
on the back seat my
staffie in his black tie attire,
expectantly. Big head in profile.
Waiting to go, adventure in the offing.



There was a part he kept to himself
that we never reached
could not be turned into words
(even actions)
a secret guarded with a sly smile
a hum
an obstinate himness
a box within a box within a box
the opposite altogether:
I pick up a dessicated
insect off the bedroom
carpet. Part dragon fly part flying
cockroach. Browns to golds.
Legs drawn up, wings extravagantly not-there
a shape that is his alone
the insect’s
as impenetrable as my husband’s


In the Land Cruiser

If there is a place I place you
it’s beside me light on the seat
like a flea riding the back of a
beast whispering in its ear
coaxing the big lumbering engine
As Africa rushed at us from outside
the grasses parting and closing front and back
the taut sky behind glass releasing
soaring inselbergs, clefts, trees, baobabs, deserts
more and more
to reveal twists and angles and away
or quick-steps of closer glimpses:
flashes of impenetrable growth
in morse-code of stunning light and dark
every green there is
so many children road-side
that we leave behind
to grow up
once a corpse being carried on a bier
The villages cling to the road.
Puffed up, we barge in and out on families in their tiny homes
as if in some muddled dream.
And yet more land chewed by our giant dusty wheels
to cross bridges over rivers beaten flat and burnished
whose names we roll around in our mouths,
salted liqourice
We are ululated by coconut groves
that stretch from horizon to horizon,
bodies of water lie down at our behest.
Straining up passes and braking gingerly on precipitous downs
every sharp stone on the road delivers a note
that enters our joint body
and melts our bones
day and night
a rhythm of go-go-go never stop


Pumpkin shell

( Peter, Peter,
pumpkin eater, had a wife
and couldn’t keep her, put her in
a pumpkin shell and there he
kept her very well )
Not a place, not cement blocks or bricks
not glass and wood
but a song – a love song? – whose refrain I still sing
solo and tunelessly
Peter’s house. Our house. My house.

Or a green boat
(I now anoint you Pumpkin Shell)
(May all who sail in you be safe)
moored, tied to a dull street by a rope on which it tugs
like a live thing.
Birds call it home. Leaves swish its skin.
The wind ruffles it affectionately.
In wild winter storms its crumbling clay roof
turns into a steep sail
the danger of tearing the house out of the ground
by the roots
upending it
is real
yet it stays
its tall chimney mast in need of repairs
yet steady
rocking at its berth.



A strategy I use for
unschooled painted marks
– subverts the facile right –
you were in the left zone
from the start.
Yes, unschooled is one way of putting it
but smart. Quirky, authentic, rugged,
humble, pure. I remember the hurdlers.
Hurdlers? Yes. You showed them to me,
your short-hand on scraps of paper,
so you. Marks left.
Hear the strum of the guitar, the buzz of your voice
echoing the crash of waves, the blues
surprising us by playing right handed
or swopping the tennis racquet
to the other hand mid-stroke.
I think right brain as the best
you were and I can possibly be.
You bravely side-stepped the other, the dominant world.
I join in with my brush.


Typewriter men

Oh forgive me typewriter men
who took away my Remington
Rand, model from the 50s, brought
it back black skin and
box waxed, keys upstanding.
Forged new parts to solve
the typing on rags. Forgive me.
I am an old lady who talks too much
a lonely soul with a black dog
that you liked so much
talking up a chimney trying
to take you into my world
– see how open friendly interesting alive I am –
(trying to convince myself)
succeeding only in seeing in your eyes
this crazy – made me act even more crazy –
finding me out
opening up a pit underfoot
in seeding suspicion
– of fighting dogs and theft and people in the street –
twisting ugly strands of race
into a perfectly ordinary
– and not so ordinary-
service call-out.



In the very few times you lost it
– WHAM! –
a mug or dish smashed to the floor
and out you’d storm.
You leave me – barefoot –
on cut glass, forever
even when up above my mouth
moves words and my lips stretch
smiles and my body gestures
to make a point
the danger is ever-present.



Got the eights today:
he is greight, he is leight –
the speight of deights
deathday, birthday
God eight him.


For all the times

For all the times I did not say thank you.
For all the times I told you to make your own bloody tea.
For all the times I did not cook, sweep or clean
and you did.
For all the times you said
your dishes are waiting for you, sighed
and did them anyway.
For all the times I was lazy, spoilt, entitled.
For all the times I pushed you away in the bed.
Guilt, regrets, gratitude, love
all rolled into a muddled ball
as it scoots down into the drain



A rare transparency
so that life is seen to run through him
absorbs amplifies vivifies quietly,
Without ego.
A nod to the past
little mention of the future
all is present.



how few threads my needle picks up before
the knot unravels, the stitches
pull out in my wake
not holding the cloth.
There is no garment I wear
science, maths, music, politics
I am stunned by my ignorance
there isn’t a field I have ventured into
where to lie in the grass chew the cud
and daydream is not my default.
Envious of those who incorporate more and more dig
sweat deeper and deeper
a Sisyphean task
of armouring ourselves in knowledge.



Like bread crumbs through my forest
the algorithm has thrown up
a TED talk on parenting
where a lady on skinny legs tells us
( before taking us to that unfortunate trope
that is her life her agony
a disabled child, awful prognosis)
that science tells us
that if you took your one child and
stuck him with your neighbour on the right
and another with the neighbour on the left
from an early age
I give Noah to the right
a family where the father
has the manner of a serial killer
and I give Ben to the left to a wife-beater
the neighbourhood trope
Noah I see going to church on a Sunday in a suit
Ben walking the streets with his dead-eyed beat mother
on inappropriate skinny heels
and I laugh



While major composers make you work
on the principle that you need to earn
a return
the easy notes that take you home
that spill from Emahoy’s* fingers
Ethiopian folk, honky-tonk in adagio
classical inspired and spare
not averse to leading you to that
soft-fall place repeatedly
recognise that adults
need it too

*Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou


Holy Stupidities

‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master’
Elizabeth Bishop ‘One Art’

I’d give an arm and a leg. Have them!
Where are you? Come back. (A joke.)
Can’t claw my way up or down. No way.
Give me a sign. Huh! (Ridiculous.) I talk
to you. Who? Praying closed to me
by belief. By no belief in fact. Nothingness
as incomprehensible as heaven, hell.
Purgatory here. Not there, silly. (A tight
circle.) Off with the sound. Better
the score than the lyrics, better
the stories than silence. An arm
and a leg. Amen.



Between saying and doing, planning
and executing, what was
and what is, that’s where
the sea comes in, tongues
of water lapping
at the sand, whispering rumbling
leaving smudged eyelashes
on the sand winking at the sun
I imagined wading in with rocks
in my pockets but find myself
in the waves where you are as light
as I have ever been.
A simple goof.



I am allergic to the word race.
Is it because the only one I won was an egg and spoon aged 6
or because I am the pink and white variety
so victory twice over.
The starting line so far apart it is hardly the same race
the rules so skewed a non-event, invisible
to us cresters who can stop to take in the view
a panting marathon to the hordes at the back of the field
of which we are oblivious, mostly
perhaps leaving left-overs on a rock once we have filled our fill.
I am allergic to the word race
because it has sullied my favourite word colour
the whole fabulous gamut of sweet sour bitter pale dark
lexicon I pray to like a god
I am allergic to the word race because of life
competition. First how successful you are at school, then career, then your childrens’ careers, then how young you look, and your health how you are holding up against age until in the end it is merely who survives longest
who crosses the line last. For once the winners are at the back.
I am allergic to the word race because it is the first thing
you see in a stranger’s face before their eyes their teeth
their words and they are branded with it.
I erase race but it does not erase me.


Long loan

The hinged paper glued in front of the frontispiece
flying date stamped illegibly by the lady behind the desk
– friendly or officious or both
glasses or not, bun or blunt-cut, no matter – before computers
I took home, blue cloth smoothed over hard cover, gold writ
an unmemorable author, I B Luck or something,
a single word title, a common name
that fell into my hands from the shelf
and that I received as a gift
and had no intention of ever returning
even when the pink cards arrived in the post
even a five– year moratorium announced in forgiving fanfare
Black-listed but blithely unaware
for I never went back for another.
I did not look after it. Fell in the bath a few times.
Morphed into a humble loaf risen on foxy smells
Page 41 stuck to page 42 and more
Over the years the spine cracked and released
pages 1950 to 2019 which I tired of stuffing back in order
and then the notes in the margin in pen! Could they be mine?
Sometimes perused the technical drawings of tools and machines
labelled a and b and c. No effort with the words
but carried it in my bag, a little weighty but no matter.
Short of a paper once I scrawled a message on a semi-blank
chapter end and stuck it under a door knocker
which didn’t matter because I had no intention
of reaching the end. “Phone me when you get this V”
A long loan which I have finally returned.



An eight
on its side, axed.
A figure of eight
on ice executed by a skating lemon.
Born on the eighth died on the eighth.
Is it any wonder that it is the symbol
of infinity?


A simple question

A simple question
yes or no
whether I can live without him
or not
the answers yes or no
like a clean cut
lead to cascades of complications
like a spilling out of intestines
from a slit belly
slithery loops
obscene blue and pink
stuff them back in
or let them bleed out
I am tired.



Let’s write about happiness for
a change, today’s.
More L less V
Omo licks my toes, dog-spittle pedicure
unusual cure for sad feet
given for no reason except love or a smell.
The sun glows up my garden green
and the little wind reminds one that plants are alive
-if it moves, beats, kicks, then it is-
my breath pulling in what it needs and putting out what it doesn’t
there’s a blessing in that. Tick.
The dishes are clean
I can see my grey face in the pot’s side
like at a side-show. Haha
A friend pops in and her eyes and our words bob about
above our masks
on a river of small-talk and big talk until she leaves.
This too is a blessing like being passed a hankie
when you are convulsed in a near-sneeze.
What about the frisson of joy when the
painting momentarily pleases
or imagining people saying good things about it.
Does this count? There’s that dictum if they like it
their opinion can’t be relied on. Trapped.
But today we are not talking of that. Today
we are happy. Back to the sunshine, a flower, a bird, a song.
Please recognise the effort.



An enchantment is coming to its end. I look at this house we made and every bit of it reflects our life together. It glitters in my eye. Modest, authentic, quirky, fun. A garden of stones, ears mounted on pillars and hanging bird cages in a beautiful muddle of green. The birds are free but they come anyway. A pond which used to house a frog, then a surviving goldfish, now empty. A black dog. I feel the floors of wood and quarry tile humming through the soles of my bare feet and of course there is the audible hum of the great big fridge we bought, proudly Peter would remind us it came from the American embassy, painted blue then green-gold. There is a glass cabinet stuffed with small treasures that echoes all the glass cabinets in aunties’ houses on their stinkwood feet we ever saw as children but of course is not. No glass ballerinas or toby jugs or figurines of shepherdesses resting on porcelain rocks. No, little drops of loveliness and a little crazy too, myriads of stories of how come. I am going to walk away. The king has died. His queen is getting old and she is starting to lay plans (like once the boy-eggs she laid) for a new life. The mirrors, the few that there are, are covered. The cottage-castle will be breached, overrun, perhaps smashed to the ground, leaving not a romantic ruin but alas space for the brash new that mushroom in our street, my street now. This is what time does and does and does again. It is the end of every story and yet when we are breathing inside it we forget. The queen has cried herself into a new thing and now lifts her head. Potions brought to her by attending wizards have done their work. She will leave this house to time. She will spend the rest of her days in a different sadder enchantment, alone. But she is brave. The words that float unmoored in her mind are changing. Out of nowhere she hears I love my life.



I put out my cupped hands
for the sprinkle or tumble of words
that fall
depending on the day,
type on a clattering
machine that spits out rows
of letters in pale blood,
scrape my oils to butter
on a round glass
gifted unnamed colours,
smear them against the wall
like that baby in a cot
who shook out her nappy years before.
I sew rings on strips and strips
of cloth I hang from rods,
a spine of sorts. His.
Still he holds me.
It’s curtains for Peter
a widow’s prerogative
a joke in poor taste.



“Follow me,” he said and I follow him
to the back
where there is a big spiky seed pod
lying inside
a rat trap next to my hut.
Only when he lifts it in the air
from below
I decipher two pinkish paws and a snout
in the centre.
He, who makes enchantments
but is not God
has pulled it out of the bag
and brought a small hedgehog to me.
I believed them
only from storybooks
Anglo juvenile ones
unaware that a local form is present
even exists, rarely seen
Perhaps a family dressed in smocks
brooming, chatting, sipping tea
– a fanciful thought –
has taken residence
under the floorboards
while up above
in my hut
I sweat it out in words and paint.
And there is more:
when he opens the trap door
those legs extend, angled just so
four legs
of a 50’s coffee table bearing
a load of rubbery spikes – maybe not –
maybe sharp!
but hardly a snout
to see
goes marching out of sight
and straight to its home
under my hut into my heart.


Are you? 

Making a meal of it
– Are you? Aren’t you? –
The me-me-me-me operating at full force.

Get a handle on yourself like a teacup. Lift it to your lips and sip.
Most swallow and live it down.

Making art with it artfully
– Are you? Aren’t you? –
is pornography.
Nothing more that the viewer likes

than a heart-breaking backstory
And yours is not really all that special.
Cashing in.

Adding significance
– Are you? Aren’t you? –
to your mildly talented self.
On and on and on.

Go on. Put a cork in your paint-soaked sock.



Overcoming stranger fear
you dip into an empty dish
with an empty tablespoon
and pilot it to my mouth
bringing your face up close
arching your tongue and sending it
round and round your lips
wetting the circumference
in exaggerated yum
eyes two blue grinning marbles
watch the spoon
disappear into the fleshy cave
that closes round the offering
in a slurpy trice
then pops out again after a licking
and a rolling of its own
accompanied with the appropriate
sound effects.
The pleasure is so great
that over and over you spoon air
into me.
That there is no morsel
in the interchange
eases the giving.
Were a single pomegranate seed
have wobbled onto that spoon
too much a temptation to overcome
the spoon would hover mid-air
as it tugged on your greed
then quickly be turned 90 degrees
and down the hatch in glee.


The dead

Made of air, glass and memory
they have an eternity to leave
their mark or not
these simple beings
– or not
for there are knots here too to untie.
To the living
incarnated in their failing
their rotting engines
roaring, idling or spluttering
they are nothing as vivid
as the blood spurting through our brains
reddening our sight
infusing our drunken swagger
and peppering our food.
Every day is a surprise
coming anew:
he is dead for all time.



Sometimes it’s only a matter of waiting
a long wait at times – interminable –
waiting for the constrictions in the vessels
so stifling so incapacitating so debilitating
choking off life itself
to – yes – ease
allowing will to flow back in
from god-knows where it dwells
-the pills? –
so that before you know it
you have it
this liquid pulsing along
the dishes under your hands
the paint brush in your hands
the shopping in the fridge
your head in the fridge too
looking for what to fill
the live body



My anus sculpted a faecal baby
out of pomegranate and carrot residue.
Lay in the bowl curled up arms legs
tightly interwoven like a fist.
Life, a midwife of sorts, had said ‘Push!’
and I had.
Didn’t smell like a newborn but love
is a strange thing when it emerges
from your body.
When you flush it away
it is not gone.


Getting closer

I wait patiently for him to visit me.
Early this morning he has jumped out of the car
alas invisibly
there is a shout, a warning – his voice?
Alone, I am in one of those flaps
slipping driverless down the hill
impelled to find the brake pedal from the passenger seat
my body seems unable to work properly
and the interior of car – that beloved blue beetle, I think –
has grown sheets of thick leathery cardboard
that flap in the way
My feet are blind at the pedals
hitting and hoping
for I have never really known which is which
and the automatic response has collapsed
The gear has become a long ratchety lever
way over on the left
and the cars on the road mushroom
Main Road Woodstock?
A broth of fear surprise and relief
reduces in my amorphous body
which fills both spaces now
as I try to return to him
but two roads one after the other
into which I try turn
– how can this be I think –
turn out to be one ways
with traffic two or three lanes wide
blocking my route
and then I know
This is not driving this is dreaming.



Fallen into
or gone to
it makes no difference
glue on my fingers
makes it impossible
to restore.



Was there a message
in falling face down
flat on the floor
while considering
a flat in Muizenberg?
Was the pulpy red and purple
I was left puffy and bruised
a sign of some sort?
A slippage?
Concussed I fell down a hole.
I could not remember how or why or when
if he was alive or dead.
I woke up to possibilities
to a future
even if I faced it
as a freak
home-made facsimile
of a laughable zombie
living it out in a flat of her own


At Last

At last you can call her striking
at last she has lost all vanity
at last she feels colourful
at last her outside matches the inside
Badly applied war paint
Chief Slipping Bull
the face that launched a thousand
whatyoumacallits or whatsapps
she is finally unforgettable
and proud.


Post Box

I am a post box
and you have been posted
a plain envelope, thin, clean
in my red belly.
No address but rows of stamps
You will never be delivered.


On the front stoep

When a fluted pillar
on which four florid
ears have taken residence
bisects the welcome sign
on the wall
– a tacky thing in bent wire-
it leaves only
the we and the me
on either side
and left.
Is it silly
to read into
every little thing
the story
of what was
and now
what is?


Milnerton beach

I welcome this:
the mountain peak
grey charred scarred
slapped on the left cheek
Cape Town’s tourist face
mine after the fall
bruised into crazy
patchwork of red yellow aubergine
two flying crafts zap past the shy moon
syrupy sun blinds the beach
while the dog gets his nose into every business
I shy away from everybody
wrapping my sky blue cloak of loneliness
a library burns
a widow tells me
how returning from her husband’s
funeral she finds her house ransacked
and welcomes it.
Three million people have died from Covid
that April Fool’s joke
turned around true



What is a scoop but a spoon
that you carry to the bucket mouth
as level as you can?
An enthralling endeavour over and over
to cement your hypotheses.
There is dirt and water.
Together they make mud. When It sticks
or when it runs
is to be seen
but when you drop it into water
there is a cloud of brown
and only sand and stone stays put.
Try again and see if this is so
surprising one with a floating stick
which begs to be fished out.
Dipping down
the gold is on the alchemist’s head
growing on her crown
the jewels are blue eyes
wind-kissed cheeks of pink.
It is she that has been conjured
from the elements
refined from star dust and water
brought here
for us to watch.


The Sisyphean labour
of dragging the simple fact
over and over
layer by layer
deeper and deeper
into the unbelieving core
Ringed in magic spells
guarded by memory and habit
it refuses to give up its quarry
Suspended fish open their mouths in the sea
stones rattle into the ravine
rain sinks into soil
babies gulp at the breast
sucking, swallowing
signalling an acceptance
which the stubborn body resists



Whose heart am I painting?
On whose muscles do I lavish
My thick clotted paint
Pink and red and blue
knitted together into a
clumsy brutal fist?
Yours has stopped
Knocking your face grey
Your chest rigid
Your life drained
Mine continues to squeeze
Shunting blood to all my
Parts in thick hidden channels
To pinprick capillaries
The tiny scribbles in the white of my eye
Two hearts broken
One left beating
Savage and sad



A rush of wind
Rising in the air
Like a bird copters up
And hovers
History lies flattened below
Bones in a ditch
You’ve got to be joking
That that’s all there is




The                                                                                                                              new
life has                                                                                                                  become
tolerable                                                                                                      there are mo
ments of silly                                                                                         cheer even long
sustained stretches                                                                   where I stain my cloth
a satisfactory shade of red                                              read text saying yes yes yes
watch streaming sun sunshine                                 shine a baby’s crown. I am tip
toeing on the edge of crumbly          stone             a crater fearfully dark should I
rumbly tumbly slip- slide into its sizable centre I too will die so said stone dead


Primitive thinking

This is the thought
That got on the train
That hijacked my trip
Jumped at me
With full force
What if he wants
To come back
To his life, his home
To his wife
But his vehicle is gone
His body we had burnt
Nothing to drive
No longer alive?
A link to the zealots
Who smuggled a letter under a fish
That begged us
To bury rather than burn
Because come the day
And all those in bones
Will rise but
Not dust, not dust.
Buried is safe
Dust is truly dead
Cannot be restored
Or reconfigured
Good to scatter
Feed the sea or air
That’s all
I can see the logic
Of this magical thinking
Of this hopeful crazy stuff
So easy to think up
In puffs of thoughts
That emanate from us



When shaken out
Of the black hole
Which was soft
Into rude raw
They call it
A realisation
You are safe where you are
Delivered from even your body
Not knowing or caring
About what you miss
Or missing for what you cared
Not cold
As they say wrongly
I will keep you
In me



I quake when I think he sacrificed himself for us. Thought I’ve set them up, they don’t need me anymore. That we took advantage of him over and over and wore him down. That we sucked him dry. We were spoilt like fat feeding piglets at the sow’s side and I was the greediest of all! What didn’t he do for me, willingly or even a little unwillingly? What wouldn’t he do?
I comfort myself that he got in return complete loyalty, no push to improve or do better or get richer, knowledge of our success seeped into his own sense of success. Comparatively egoless he allowed people around him to flourish, show off while he maintained his purity which was like an imperviousness to success which he turned into his own success without trying.
But this comfort is self-serving, papering over a huge moral flaw. Mine. The boys’.
My sorry is existential, I can see him say half joking. You see you managed to kill me off. Would I rewrite the script? Could I rewrite it, knowing him, knowing me??
Oh Peter, your name is all I have left of you. The sound of it. You hardly ever apologised the few times you were found out wrong. You seemed to just let it go and move on without taking it in. My sorry is fucking meaningless. It’s what you do not what you say everything about you said and what can I do to make it up to you? Nothing.



I paint you in midnight blue
in starry shirt
Your granddaughter
said, just one word
The iron doors of  my heart blew
open on her feint, fairy breath
and I took her onto my lap
Your granddaughter
made of the same stars
Your teeth, her teeth
poking out, playing peekaboo.
Your blue, blue eyes
in hers
hers in yours
larking about.
One word ‘Up’
and up she went with you
onto my lap.



Whats on?
Duplicated duplicities.
Laddered rows.
Skyscrapers of code.
Over and out.
Typed on carbon.
Carbon papered.
Stuffed into bottles.
Secreted into millions.
And gazillions.
Split off.
Mixed with other.
Posted to offspring.
Generating generations.
Facsimiles and similes.
Bases on which to base.
Twisted lingo.
The four.
The tides.
What is seen.
What is gone
In the meantime.
A loose translation.
No, tight.
Spew of stuff.
Over and out.


The gossip tree

A bevy of speech bubbles
Against the sky
Left her for another woman?
A man! ?
A giggle, a shaking
Whispering in the wind:
Left for some peace, some quiet.
Nodding and naying
Wore him to the bone.
Who could blame him?
The witch!
Green oodles hoot
Flush red, fall about
Fall down
Brown and crackling:
Bitch, bitch bitch.



I steal from Mazen Maarouf
the wrinkles on his mother’s face
spun by a blind spider.
His own blindness
as he reaches into her dark absence?
His mother’s in her boiled egg eyes?
I finally choose
the spider’s unordered handiwork
as the reason for blind
The criss-cross of pleats
on the forehead
pinched in worry
or fanning in laughter.
He is caught in her web.
Freefalling in the worldwide web
I too am caught
And this is not the only thing I have stolen
from Mazen Maarouf
the Palestinian born in Beirut
living in Iceland.
I am Israel-born
and South African raised
so his exile from exile
is on me and mine collectively.



All the arrows align
In an indelible pattern, a song
The blubbering of the engine cut off
Followed by ratchety brake, car door slam
I wait for the gate, the path
Covering its own leaf-covered hush
The questioning key in the lock
A retort, wood closing on metal
Shoefalls almost too light to hear
Then scratch, scratch, thump
the jump of a dog on soft knees
My emissary’s joy erupts in guttural greeting
The only voice uttered in the dark is his
I keep still and silent under the blankets
Not daring to break the spell
Come find me


The Exit

We are searching for the exit and cannot find it.


One rages, then the other, alone. One cries in desperation.

In another room, there is an old man gobbling up time
in a paperback thriller.

An old woman on a bed nappied and napping,
pushing out little snores, a metronome of empty waiting.

Why? When? What for?


41 years

Lured by Paul Newman looks
I entered a room solidly built
But light-filled with huge windows
Onto the world
Little drama inside plain furniture
But framed romance on the walls
Boats on the sea, trains, birds, fish.
I sat down in it
Welcomed and tea-ed
But not fussed over



The first time.
Did I hear it
from your lips?
Perhaps recognition
of my voice
which reached your ears before
I walked in.
Perhaps a split second
of my face.
Perhaps it was supper
you said.
(Because it was supper
being prepared at the table)
That word
softer than I am
comes into the room
with my own saphta
whom I carry
with the other dead
I bring to you
My saphta who crotched
matching dresses
in rows of scallops
for my sister and I
a colour beloved by Turks
I thought
My saphta who tidied
the mess I needed to clean
because she was
a soft touch
Soft touches from saphta
My saphta, your saphta



Not the only fisherman in the family
in the same way I produce endless ideas
big and small
silly or not
(noted for that)
I cast my line into conversation
to drift and roam a little
– chat,chat,chat-
As often as I pull out
a glistening idea or joke
or something sensible
or safe
my hook gets tangled in the reeds
and as I tug and tug
the effort into unsticking
becomes dire.
Too late to withdraw!
Out blurts
the wrong thing
causing pain.
I pull out a mass
of crazy stuff, a teratoma
which surprises even me
and which I wave about in the air.
When I look around
I see only I think it’s amusing.
Think before you speak!



It’s enough now Peter
You’ve made your point
I’ve done the dishes every day
well nearly every day
I’ve taken the car to be serviced
The tyres have been renewed
I’ve even paid all the bills
OK so the bed isn’t made too often
and the house isn’t tidy
and I’ve hung up my paintings
on every curtain rod in every room
and I haven’t got round to sorting
all the things that need sorting
Really though, it’s been long enough
for me to have learnt my lesson
You can come out now
I’ve counted to 100 and more
Game over


No recollection

a new angle
a razorish blackness
mordant in dye
for a while I dreamt it
clear and biting
as necessary
pleasing to the mind
that enjoys creating just the right
tool to hurt itself
to make fun of the unfunny
but in the morning
it fell away by light
filtered out of the cloth
blunted and unremembered


Curtains for Peter

the centre has gone
his for sure
mine for all intents and
searching for purposes
typing rows and rows
there is pain to be found in painting
but mine dispelled in paint, oil and water
brushes, fingers, brayers, knives
stamping both feet and heads
and scrawling in tongues
anti-calligraphy alphabets
too many words to catch
but catch them anyway
I fell to pieces
on drops of cloth
opened and closed the Corduroy School of Painting
traversed a Blue period
entered the inky green, murky and chartreuse
diving into bitter waters
I dripped I dropped
glued what fell to me
no longer one
about him, about me – it’s all the same
rocks, legs, arms, clouds floating on silver linings
flowers, a baby looking up at the stars
golden eggs and the like
opened a late career in the figurative
confronted landscapes
and retreated into the decorative
I follow every lead
appropriation appropriate?
dispensing with selection
or they dispense with me
blow word and image into the
big lonely space
sew rings and skewer
the evidence
this slew of more and more
that lies on my knees
which I hang
by which avoiding
other hangings
such as hanging the
multiple which is me



How did you collate
your feet tipped with drip-toes
your arms coming to
do everything hands
and coming from a firm column
of tickle-flesh
your show-off belly button?
How did you take that sound
‘Eva’ that flies about your ears
and figure it out?
How did you solidify the whirl?
From wanting to being
your body took an appetite
for all the na-na in the world
and turned it into an identity
all delicious tastes and surprising ones too
handed over then scooped in
by your very own body parts.
That spectacle in the mirror
that they put before you
that knows what you want it to do
before you do
– is it inside-out? –
who can stop the whole shebang
by closing her eyes
and stopping up her ears
or going do-do.
After naming the things in the world
from da-da for everything to the
separate sounds for each one
of an endless multitude
you have discovered that you too are one
an important one at that.
From being to wanting
pulling the book from my hands
and paging through it on your own
‘Eva’ you said in a firm voice
and I listened



You did exist
I remind myself that
every day
I am not dreaming
or rather
did not dream you up
so hard to believe
that you are gone
and at the same time
in the empty space of now
that you once were
as solid and real as all I see
and hear and touch
in this moment
only your face in a photograph
or the gravel of your voice
in a recording
have the power
to make you real
otherwise you have slipped
into dream robes
and flown off
as an apparition
your heel lightly catching on straw
and upturning my heart-nest


Two ways

Fall with abandon
too much
into the oh my oh my
knowing that the other path
an accepting high road
walked by the millions of widows
in their dignified weeds
of checks and cardigans
is the proper way to do this



Three letter blessings

Easy these
the others that carry four or more
eliminated from the silly game
but not from my heart

Four or more letter blessings

The list is long
and more and more
before I bore myself
I stop and take a different tack

Three letter blessings that do not speak or bark

Blessings on the doing words


Blessings on the hyphenated

Haul them in from the periphery
and give them their due

Throw out the curses
Cast them on the sea
Out! Out! Out!



have everything
the house the cars the dog the money
you will never be short
I have found another
and I am going off with her
a new life for me
why? why? why?
who is she?
is it an old girlfriend?
a snort, a smile
she has been waiting for me
all these years
you know who she is


Back seat

No turning back
Better than the past front ride
As formal mother
The new beside the old
Side by side
No missing piece
No whys no cries
A perfect circle, a perfect pace
Here in this place behind
We can luxuriate in Sammy the Seal
Twice and over
Until all done
Follow that with Babar
Play the universal
Here and gone
Use Buddy the blanket
Or Bunny himself
Touch your silken head
Lightly for long stretches
Watch your gold being
Fall into sleep
Luxuriate in its sweet sight
Shiver in the growl
Of engine roar
A sunset over the sea
Holds less allure
Than eyelashes
Going doo-doo on skin
A range of warm colour
Electric to my greedy eye
When the dummy drops
The thrill of power
That I can pop it back in
And send you back
When you wake
Make sure berries
Are there to drop
One by one
Into a mouth
Decked out with an array of
Small marble teeth
Closed by lips
Two fleshy pink worms
Joined in a smile
A smile that sends me reeling


Crazy logic

If there is no one to blame
it means he was not worth it
a no one
wiped out by a no one
if I blame myself
– bad in the two spheres of marriage
kitchen and bed –
then he was worth it
and I carry the blame
with not too stoic
a resolve


Painting bottles

Eat away the days
ticking bottles
as they come
row on row, up and down
like the painter* I love
his lifetime’s pastime
yet my patience
knows bounds
will snap
in the future no doubt
I will use a trowel
to paint a fat pig
for now
with the finest brushes
I stroke china white on slinky black
puddle over tartan red
learn the vocabulary of screw tops
without lids
an arppegio of transparency
the colours and no colours of glass
fired with light
I can scrub away
mistakes with a wet cloth
(if only in life)
start again
in reverse
as it’s unmeant to be
the bottles start rough
and a mastery emerges
which I distrust and love
every bottle away from sadness
as I slow curve through
the tunnel that bores through
the mountain
lights counting out the time
of passing

*Giorgio Morandi


The unshakable self-belief of a modest man

had it in spades
no dents
from others’ successes
no comparisonae
few apologies
if any
few compliments
the rise of his people
and grew greater
as he stood in the shadows
no envy
-except for a bigger fish! –
utterly loyal
an inside-out man
I pin a badge
on his chest



against a window pane
bumps and zizzes, bumps and zizzes
looks past the washing line
peg in mouth
sopping cloth in hand
an unknowable incident
flickering on her face
drives past
coming and going
in loud sonic exhalation
on a step
twirling a straw
crawls up her leg
single bark far away
climbs against the white sky
a mote in the eye
the breath of a man
knocked clean out his body
a grey face on a bed
bumped and zizzed, bumped and zizzed
finally flew out
resumed barking
an empty step baked in the sun
white sheets sighed
out of sight
a man talked on his phone
in dialect


Driving from Churchhaven home

A vegetable is driving my car
a turnip or parsnip perhaps
roots dried and freckled in brown
wrapped round the wheel
eyes sprouting on the road
from furrowed lax skin
tasting its own bitter juices
a tough old woody fibrous thing
the heart of it
( once pulled out of fertile loam
still snappy and plump)
A single thought bulges
from its bilious being
Everything is a single thing
Even a two-forked carrot is not two
Everything is by itself
Every bruin salie mens that greets
on either side
of the diamond studded road
is one
every car driven by a vegetable
in the chain of traffic
is one car
No veering into the yellow line
to let them through.
To hell with consideration
Turnip takes its place


This word cry

A gift for the Sunday poet
this short word cry
so many mates with fly and high, sky
fry, nigh, dry, sigh
and – oh, my! – even die

A gift for the someday, all-day crier
this liquid on the cheeks
rinses the cavities so deep, so dire
– the apodictic liar!-
when she does it copiously she puts out fire

A gift for the dead on a Sunday
this another great rhymer
bed, dread, Ned and Fred
all lining up for their bread
That said
she lifts her head and smiles


Long hair

to thicken and toughen
to keep under control
since when she was five
it was cut and cut and cut
thin wispy stuff
white then gold then dun
but now she lets it grow
white again
in defiance of her late husband
who categorically
uncharacteristically opined
that old women should never
have long hair
in deference to her late husband too
for it has not been cut since he died
so as it falls down her neck
strikes her shoulders
down her chest
on its way to the place
where he lives
it gives substance to the hole of time
a badge, a sign, a measurement
never to be relinquished
she dreams a long plait
she will coil on her head
a snake in its lair
or crown of guilt
a future imagined



In rows
this way and that
I bottle upwards
towards mastery
and discover
it is as
a place
as tentative
Oh what I have lost!


Hanging questions

If I knew what I am doing
or more specifically
why I am doing it
I might pause
and catch up
but I am impelled
by a force
to continue
and continue
and continue and see
new things ahead.
In the wake
strips and strops
forensic evidence
hung up to dry.


The perfect poem

I wrote the perfect poem
and placed in in the cloud
above my car
Not two minutes later
as I grunted
after its coat-tails
while waving at the
ticket dispenser
in the parking lot
I found
not a word

Some things don’t ever come back


Shaping an exhibition

When I tell myself
that it doesn’t matter what others think
and half-believe it
When I tell myself that imagination eclipses skill
and half-believe it
When I tell myself that lack of focus is an artistic (and moral) failing
and half-believe it
When I tell myself that what I am doing is exploitative to the endth degree
and half-believe it
When I tell myself that all I am doing is quacking and wailing poor-me poor-me
and half-believe it
When I tell myself that when you cannot do any one thing well do many, many things
and half-believe it


I find ‘drawing curtains’ coming from my long drawn-out talks, my phone-calling lips
and I am pleased enough
to write it down
I mix a colour in a jar that is just the green I hanker for and first saw in America
and I am pleased enough
to splash it across my cloth
I hang a silver table-sweeping set we bought at a fete on my curtain rod
and I am pleased enough
to stand back and smile
I steam the hanging drops and drops till my shoulder aches
and I am pleased enough
to suffer for my art
I type my poems on a black Remington from the fifties
and I am pleased enough
to hear it clack-clack

Then I paint you in blue and on a pile of rocks


Rules for writing poems

Dispense with the first person, hide in poetic mist.
Dispense with addressing the departed: this is tacky. We all know he cannot hear.
Do not add touches of ‘beauty of nature’ that show up like gleams against the grey.
In other words avoid metaphors of leaves, birds, skies. This is manipulative in the extreme.
And obvious too. All is transient, all passes, we all die. This a cliché even though it is true.
Haul out the Greek and Roman Gods. They give gravitas, add scholarly ballast to the commonplace.
Don’t haul them out. You don’t want to show off and be seen as pompous.
And we all know you have googled for them anyway.
Find words of wisdom when you have found none to speak of.
Don’t use the words grief or heartache or desperation. Show don’t tell.
It is most inconsiderate to use the reader as the Wailing Wall.
Come to the topic sideways because headlong is too abrasive.
Avoid the topic altogether. Give your reader a break!
There is so much else to tell.


Two figures

Two figures walk in a green rugby field
far away and then close up
sometimes that punch in the guts, an old couple
sometimes crossing loners
leading or following their dogs
that engage and disengage
in their own tangled pattern.
Dictionary definitions aside
two words that alternate their meaning:
aloneness and loneliness.
I don’t think I am lonely but I am alone
then I don’t think I am alone – you are with me –
but I am lonely
wanting, it figures, a silly chat or hullo.




Sweep the table for crumbs
brush and pan in hand
a servant after the banquet


My mother’s trees

My mother does not visit the sick
She visits trees
Not just any trees
But specific trees
That pin her mental
Seasonal calendar
And spatial map
To the suburbs
Of Johannesburg
“the greatest artificial
forest in the world”
She likes to say
Racing along
Streets bisected on memory
In her powerful car
To see a particular tree wisteria
That has dodged the frost
In spring
Or a groaning liquidamber
Late in summer
The scribbles of one nameless tree
Against the winter sky
Pleases her no end
The names she does use
Are common
And she does not discriminate
Against aliens
Being an alien herself
Her English is heavy
But she understands
The language of green
Like nobody else
Knows how it hides
All the other colours
The colours that are almost
Blue that flirts
With mauve
But stays true to blue
Neon yellow or green
Depending on the day
The form of trees
Astounds her afresh
Each time she visits
Specially the trees wounded
And self-repaired
For in so doing
They have grown more beautiful
In her eyes
By departing
From the perfect fractal
In their seed
Impeded by walls and gates
Pounded by rains
Fractured by lightning
Pruned by gardeners
Lopped by municipal workers
They keep on growing their own way
This is life as she understands
She is not averse now and then
To pull off onto a grassy verge
Pull out a hacksaw
From under the seat
And oblivious to whose garden
The tree is anchored
Saw an overhanging branch
Stuff it in the back
The bigger the better
And poking out
Of a rolled down window
Her car now part windswept tree
Drive off in glee
Thinking of how the others
In her Ikebana group
Will drool



Dean who is a girl
five years old
has gone.
Left for Zimbabwe
to return
to her brother
and her sister
who live with
near the Birchenough Bridge.
I remember this place
we drove through.
Thatched huts
sheltered under baobabs
a storybook
into which
I inserted
a bookmark
that many years ago.
She has left
little plastic toys
rags and tins
in the back garden
relics of long play
here in Cape Town
another storybook.
Got on a bus
that takes three days
two nights
brave and dry-eyed
nibbling on some snack
no doubt
her mother bought
because a chewing mouth
does not wobble?
Left behind
her spunky chatter
telling her mother
she could not punish her
as I would not let her
asking where
the dog’s shoes were
after a bath
or ordering her tired father
to listen to her
as she had not seen him
all day.
Her hair changed daily
braided this way and that
and got brushed out and up
‘like a fish’
she said.
The day before she left
she sang a made up song
in English and Shona
that wove threads of
what lay ahead
with what she had seen
with goodbye to mother
and father
and in this way
made it bearable.
I called her a princess once
and she said defiantly
‘I am not Princess
I am Dean.’


Picasso Museum, Barri Gotic, Barcelona

We wait in the narrow streets tall like corridors
Voice streams tugged by mouths
and let free in the morning air
up the walls in languages I strain to detect
but easily recognise the French ahead of me
in a family of four, children skipping feet
who entertain in that people-watching way.
In amongst the hubble of babble
a sound sounding very much like fuck
hardly likely but then repeated fuck then shit
This is English, it is unmistakable and it is getting louder
Fuck, shit and is that cunt? A man’s voice from behind.
The French children are pirouetting on their toes
swivelling their heads. Jesus fucking Christ!
They snigger and pull on their parents’ clothes
Shit cunt Christ
The entire queue is frozen
skewered by what they should not hear,
necks and shoulders rigid.
Child that I am, I cannot resist
No credible disguise covers my furtive look back
and to my shame
I have immediately locked eyes with an elderly woman
wearing a smart beige cardigan
holding the hand of her elderly shouting husband
As I watch, as we all watch
she leads him away down a side street
expletives bounce off the stones
in diminishing beats
until the stones eat them up.
There is the titter in many languages.
I lean towards the French parents and say
“Tourettes”. They look at me blankly.
Isn’t Tourette a French word?
The queue pulses forward. They have opened the doors


Upstairs in the museum is the collection of erotic drawings
that flowed from Picasso’s fiddledee fingers his entire life
The lines take up the white with such wit and charm
you hardly notice how they reach right into private parts
that are not his to be turned inside-out.
The model devoured by the dirty old man hiding behind the easel
These are really very funny and rude but no one is laughing.
Viewers send their noses closer silently, seriously
and then move on.
No sniggering here.
My French family is nowhere to be seen
I wonder if the parents are (rightly?) shielding their two from
experiencing this form of ‘genius’.
I can’t help being disappointed once again,
my stereotype of broad-minded French parenting dented
(an opportunity to discuss misogyny, artistic freedom and a bit of sex education to boot)

Picking my way back to my hostel
in those twisting streets
I am suddenly struck with the thought:
Two old men with Tourettes speaking in different languages
one shamed, the other feted.


Easy husband

even easier than an easy husband
is the easy husband
that accompanies me now
twirling the ring on my loose finger
no longer forever
expecting less than nothing
no meals
no panting embarrassments in the bedroom
no small compromises
accompaniments to buy trains
forays to fete after fete
married to the air
expendable freedom
life changed at a drop of a hat
and I’d drop you
if I passed you in the street
would I not?



When you have
and the other hasn’t
how do you give?
Do you have little rules?
Do you give now and then?
At the robot?
For those strangely named
parking attendants?
Do you give consistently?
Targeted donations
in money or time?
Once-off responses to a clarion call –
a fire or xenophobic attacks?
Dropping off blankets?
A tin from a bag of groceries?
Pennies from your purse?
Greet and treat
a procession of old men
who visit with
a shout from the street?
A lot to few or a little to many?
How much?
Do you give squirming inside
knowing the gift to the givers
is much more
than what is received?
Do you dish out
peanut butter sandwiches
at the gate?
Or shower
a few families
with dollops
to counteract
the eke-eke
of their lives?
Are you giving fish
or fishing rods?
Food parcels
or party-food?
The art of giving is hard to do
but it is far harder
to be the given
and say thank you



When words don’t land
especially those spoken
flying over shoulders
past ears through wires
or without wires,
when words stop skipping off pages
or devices
forgotten before they are seen,
when words don’t want to be written
and the cursor blinks on and off
not advancing,
when there are no words
None at all.

Then, this (in words!)

A spoonbill bows and nods its lumbering grey head
to his bowing nodding keeper
both surprising creatures.
The dark softness of a bearded Protea
nestled in green petals feeds the fingers
with the comfort of a blanket-buddy in the cot.
Eva deep deep asleep in swarming white noise.
A swathe of thick cadmium red paint
slathered onto a canvas after years of no-paint
brings on an orgasm.
Only once.


When I am dead

All I ask is you leave me alone
eschew all that weeping stuff
I now know helps no one
but especially the dead one
Once every ten years or so
shake me out
bring out the Ouija board
or do it through less silly means
and I will dance in, promise
no recriminations
no tears
not a word will I say
You don’t have to even see me
I just want to have a look around
satisfy my intense curiosity
and go back


When I was young

When I was young and runny
like raw egg
I spilled into what I saw
and heard
and thought.
A red wall could overtake me at an instant.
A smell could frighten me to the core.
I had no edges
and surprised myself
when I looked down at my feet
and saw the strangeness there.
There were holes to tumble into at every turn.
I remember, magnetised, knowing I would ride into
a perfectly visible ditch
or expecting my sister behind the door
but still startling at her BOO!
Once, my arm jumped out of its socket from giggling
which turned to screaming.
Tears and laughter emerged from my face and body at any time.

Now the world is behind glass and I have to strain to
feel it
think it
touch it
sense it
I have to write to reach it or paint to find
that dilution in its colours, forms,
even its terror.
It takes a slip and a fall and concussion
to shake it up, to loosen it.
I mourn the loss and at the same time thank god
to be somehow protected from such
Yet this is a constant:
Tears and laughter emerge from my face and body at any time.




which is
a better half?
are we bisected
into such neatness
when invisible veins
stamp mirrored patterns
through both of the two us-es
below vivid coloured selves?
is it through synchronicity
or clean open rupture ?
Together forever
or parts apart?
Now rot.


Poems in Grahamstown

There are poems to be had
in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape
that are to be had anywhere
like grit falling down
from the dusty bowl of hills
encircling the town
to be picked up at the Pick n Pay
on the street, in homes
at the coffee shops
batty inhabitants
hanging from the trees like fruit.
But there are others
poems made of brick, glass, light
so G-r-a-h-a-m-s-t-o-w-n
they pull sight and words apart.

One – camera obscura
up a spiral staircase
the operculum shuts
behind and squeezes
expectant flesh
like toothpaste
to be spat out
on the roof.
Here a conglomeration of slopes
and flimsy structures.
Enter a dark, dark room
and wait to see
a few pulleys hung over
a round shallow dish
set on a wheel of steel
the size of a toddler’ s pool
chalky white smooth
aching for life –
which arrives with some
fiddling on ropes and turrets
and the whole of the town
– uninvited and unaware-
pours in
colours and light as if by magic
All of it, spires and buyers
moving, carring, carrying,
sometimes on their heads
clouds and clowns, lines and signs
hills, spills, tills clanging silently
gleaming roofs
pavement perspectives
in circular font
reflections in a puddle
made small
much smaller than life
pooling in a cupped
a cupped mind
like a poem.

Two – provost
a dark poem
guarded by an immense old gumtree
whose strippled girth and tired green
exudes power, force, history
a small blank building
squat on its thick neck of earth
The fresh yellow wash
at variance with
its sour stoniness
on a short rise of concrete steps
pushing open the one barred gate
is a penetrating question
to enter into what?
A yard?
Ah, a small tower with a quaint door
Up into this with light wooden steps
round and round.
See the small shuttered windows
that fire off from the first
and second floor
in evenly spaced curved rows.
Look out of them
which is what they so sweetly ask
and then, only then, it is clear.
The structure is revealed.
Every window
gives an angled view down on
each and every dirt dug cell
like earth graves
the size of dog kennels
splayed in a semi-circle
down below at your feet.
Every isolated and wretched prisoner
watched by you above
at your leisure in your tower.
Jailer or poet?



I did not watch
when they burnt you up
in a gritty city
in the Philippines
but I suspect
that the ashes
they gave us
in the untasteful plastic urn
were a careless
higgledy piggledy
combination of you
and previous clients.
These we brought
with great official
back home
and poured into the sea
globby, gritty
grey stuff that did
not easily
dissolve in the surf
but bobbed about
in unemotional clumps.
So where did you go?
The products of combustion
if I remember right
are carbon dioxide
throw methane
mercury and dioxin
into the already
polluted air of Naga
and you exited
to fall down soon afterwards
from a heat-soaked cloud
in the next typhoon
rushing through the gutters
to drain into dams and rivers
nourishing the growth
of exploding Filipino plant-life
to be ingested
by Filipinos themselves
who will carry you
with them
and through them
to their children
spreading through the wide world
in the great Filipino migrations
and back to me





Words have caught me out again.
This is the last time to see
in particular corners
the garden give up
its keen growth
thrust spears
in clusters
pale pink crinums
as fireworks in the dark.
When I cut the base of shafts
thick juicy crisp to the scissor’s bite
stack the loose stack loosely in a tall vase
scenting drooping weeping flowing standing
the word cry in crinum comes to me again to resonate


Hands off

my handyman
my handlanger
my handbag
my hands-on steering wheel
dish sponge, child’s neck, dirty bum
my hands of warm gold and cracked skin

hand on heart
your handmaid



Unconquerably cheerful
ninety six years old and sitting on a cement step
on Fishhoek beach
towels covering her purple deflowered skin
raisin face under a hat
tied with two underchin handkerchiefs
two pairs of glasses on her flat dark eyes
once blue
including yellow lenses for the glare
the bothersome fiddly hearing aids
bobbling in and out of her ears
those swollen arthritic hands
on her lap like archaeological relics
then suddenly the mouth mask is off
and I see she is crying
“Oh to have lost Ivan”
her stretched and slightly bitter mouth
has relaxed and given up
its true feeling
a relief
quickly followed by this
“But I knew how to manage the paperwork.
All the car licenses I had already mastered.”



I learnt a new word today
that echoed down the years
and caught the ache and froth
of the early years
when I fixated on you
and only you.
When you withdrew
limerence only increased.
I fled.
Fed by separation
glimmers of hope
followed by long stretches of its absence
strained silences and small presences
or even presents
the occasional blue aerogramme
arriving out of the blue.
Inside your left handed
rounded letters of another blue
sloping in your particular way
would pierce me as I stood
in a mirrored room
far away.
Delivered from limerence
only once
your heart melted
and face to face
you said yes
we could start afresh
and argue like a normal couple.


Ode to dirt

Gerard Manley Hopkins did it
for brindled spotted things
but I want to pay tribute to the dirty
smelly things that we are
at the bilge pumps of a sinking vessel
we wash, comb, iron, cut, colour, smear continually
in a huge effort to avoid succumbing
to our true natures
Go on! Let be!
Let’s hear it for the smell of human sweat
ripe and pungent erupting from a fellow
passenger on a bus
or the raucous joy of trapping farts
under the bedclothes
all the better to savour them in slow sips
or throwing away the iron to wear crumpled clothes
that match our crumpled skins
belly button lint
-poepik vatte my granny called it-
when we dug and sniffed our fingertips
pimples to pop, hairy pits, orange ear wax
horny toenails, furry teeth and coated tongues
letting your hair grow greasy and lank
until hidden organisms begin to happily graze
bringing if not TV commercial lustre
at least an acceptable stasis
Let’s hear it
for the smell of piss from the boys toilets at school
so redolent so animal so there
or dirt in our world
Oh dust!
Let’s hear it for much maligned dust
that we assiduously shoo from our homes
coats things in fine silk in which to trail a finger
floats up in glorious spinning galaxies
acts as snuff when closing a book with a bang
for mouse lumps that develop in corners
for mud and dirt and grime
for dustbin halitosis
even dogshitted shoes
this is one of many we are never going to win
Let’s proclaim this a happy dirty deodorant free zone.



a shower that stands in a bath on iron feet
on a woodfloored bathroom that
is overlooked through a small window
onto the back of stone
studded Signal Hill
bears witness
to the young couple washing
together under its spout of water
newly married the laughing woman
pushes the man just a small shove
most probably trying to fend off
his soapy advances
and for a second he slips, loses his balance
only a second and he is righted
but his comment you could have killed me
reverberates through 40 years
of marriage into the shared joke
‘when you tried to kill me in the shower’
they carried with them always
when he died in the 41st year
all she could babble to others on the phone
was I never pushed him
what she thought she meant
was something else altogether
but the guilt clings
did I push him to his death?


This is the house

This is the song
that played
Cosby Stills Nash and Young
when we were young
and houseless
roaming from party
to party
blaring from a fat
8 track at our knees
in your noisy beetle
gerooked and rocking
‘Our house is a very, very, very fine house
with two cats in the yard
Life used to be so hard
Now everything is easy ‘cause of you
. . . . . ‘

And this is the house
I am leaving
A house we lived in for 40 years
Our house
on the streets of the American presidents.



This life

This life means no other.
This place means all other places
are off the table.
When you paint a purple streak
– only one deep colour, mind you –
reds, blues, greens and yellows
of every hue and more
are begging at your shoulder.
When it’s a portrait
landscapes jostle and jog
still-lives knock, flowers weep
at your feet
as the world heaps up
heap upon heap
wanting your attention.
To do any one thing
you have to keep away
what will not be kept away.
Everything wants out.
I slide open a drawer of birds eggs
nesting in cotton wool
and all the baby birds that could have been
go cheep-cheep.



baby dove in kitchen
two days now
will not leave
through open doors
and open windows
despite coaxing
perches on tall places
hanging pots
fish traps
paper boats
creaks her wings
to fluff her way
to new views
down on
dog interest
a polite guest
hard to believe
that she is trapped

Finally she flies out
her tail feathers in my hand



It’s taken over two and a half years
but at last my brain cells stitched you up
a body, a reasonable facsimile
of what I know
that eventually pitched up
in my muddled dream-house
in rooms through doorways
moving, maybe saying things.
It was a problem we were solving
one of those tetchy domestic issues
and I only saw you in shabby bits
from the corner of my eye
from behind doing things
the purpose of which
fell away on waking so soon
I couldn’t hold on.
Next time please hold still.
Look at me eye to eye.
Speak clearly.
Explain things to me
as if to a child.


Mating penguins

A little beach
enclosed by boulders
and sheltered from the howl
of a grinding galloping south easter
flying above the little scooped out room
speckled with families and couples orthodox and not
knots of pebble-people dark and light scooting in and out the water
in bright array headdresses and floatation devices, digging in the sand
voices laughter baby cries thrown up into the air like balloons to softly land

A curtain of plastic mesh separates the sloping penguin rock where they dutifully stand
ready for the snapping a little apart and quite unruffled on their white table-clothed set
as if laid for a meal for tourists and locals, moving only now and then in an odd gait
pink eyes flippers wobbling feet feeting in almost human steps – can they really be birds?

Two out in front entertaining the crowd on their stage perhaps awaiting applause
odd flapping of flippers by one along the flank of the other like quick pummels
of a massage but the dominance of one over the other prostrate sends
knowing twitters amongst the adults who are primed for what
happens next when top penguin manoeuvres his flutter
spasmed body clumsily above and starts to thrust
missing the mark which confronts the audience
like a glaring winking eye pink and white
and then succeeds

Eyes slide aside for this brutal tenderness we should not have seen.
We do not belong here this beach this place not our place theirs.



Buck naked Eva stands, squats in a big dish
filled by a tap gurgling a languid plait
of twisted water to match the pigtail
of the brave or squaw of her plastic cowboy
and Indian set that she washes and sprays
mounting and dismounting
whip frenzied men with bowlegs
on their horses over and over
speaking to them and of them
taking them on rides on the rim
trying to balance them on the tap
commanding them, commenting on them
in runny streams.
Her hand follows a rotten fallen grape round and round
‘underwater’ and ‘floating’ and this is fun
and must be repeated till the
‘there we are’ to feed the horses
because this is not food for her to eat, no, no.
Then all but two are abandoned to a watery forgetland
and an Indian with an alarming headdress of feathers
is chosen as mommy and a red cowboy
with outstretched arms is Eva
(his/her shoes are duly noted)
and it is time to attend to important matters
such as doedoes and wake up on the table
close together and apart, ‘a little closer’
mommy at work, Eva at home
then banged together for ‘huggies’ and ‘kissies’
a good many times till they too are left
in the wake of a new distraction.
‘Daddy is back from the shops.’
Food eclipses all.


Muizenberg Beach on the hottest day of the year

cars from every direction
rammed into the curled fist
of land bathed in sea
that is Muizenberg
the sun-stumped pavements
capitulating to families on the move
trailing towels
walking, talking, shouting carrying
babies, toddlers, plastic bags
seeking succour from baking roofs
over one roomed hell-holes
in dust and sand and concrete
their intent carried in bodies
extraordinary bodies
in colourful attire that spell
to hell with it we are out for fun
for cool relief
chiffon is the newest trend
in immodest modesty
covering and uncovering
bulges and sags and swells
at the public shower
a spigot of water to drown the salt
to reveal in full sight breasts
and stomachs in clinging wet cloth
the water’s edge turned into
a beach turned into an ant’s nest
spotty, milling, brown
as far as you can see
mirrored above
ecstatic seagulls dive-bombing
to feast on the scraps
the sand a smorgasbord of
chip packets and plastic bags
the tar pollocked with dropped icecream
screeching rushing children
sopping and stopping in and out the water
adults blowing sea from their noses
or shaking out their ears
grannies and soaked on their towels
shooing away birds and pesterers
into this melee we insert
ourselves feel the waves suck
and spill grateful to join in to join up to be one with many in the glorious swelling levelling sea



Veins, wrinkles, pips and bones

What’s that
pointing to the twin wobbles
of neck wattles
Saphta is old
see the wrinkles
on her hands
Eva’s wrinkles
said with pride
the three little folds
on each knuckle
Veins rising on the wrist
blue rivers to follow
but look
not to be found
in chubby flesh
arm lifted in the air
At the table
pips and bones
the hidden
hard inside soft
inedible sheathed
in delicious
long short
gritty smooth sharp
held up for astonished revelation




the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own

When once
I was a chapter heading
even a title
I have been reduced
to small print
under the ruled line
a passing reference
in everybody’s book
I am determined to
be a busy ant
in this subterranean
and thrive
and nurture
my smallness
in stored seeds
and big dreams
until I garner
enough life force
to burst through
and flourish
on a big page
of my own


Finding vanity

Not looking for a replacement
secretly enjoying revelling
in the selfishness of
being alone
yet this:
my body
speaks its own
language from some
evolutionary place perhaps
the push to dress well to keep
slim to look in the mirror and be
semi-satisfied for the first time ever
How could I have ignored this impulse for
the preceding years and ‘let myself go’ as is said
by the lady in my exercise class who warned me of this
but after you died and I returned in a new shrivelled and deathly form.

She had nothing to fear. The opposite is true. Poor Peter! Another sorry I owe you. Was I gone? Did I not care enough to make you happy? Proud? You who once said these kind words: “You are insulting my wife,” when I railed about my hideousness to friends. Would you be proud of me now as I walk beside your absence in public? I think you would.



Bedrooms at night

For a single round penny
slotted in from up high
-trapped in a skylight pane-
the ferocious moon
has flushed my bedroom
with its strange milky essence.
I am encircled
my periphery consolidated
into a stage set
a familiar rhythm
of wood, mirror, hollow, cloth
with spaces between.
Colour has morphed into
a scale of kindred tones.

When I close my eyes
there is another bedroom
I see melted and moving
playing on the backs of my lids
windows, surfaces
pinned and lost
in the watery dark.
I stay there awhile wondering.
Simply light penetrating skin?
I think of babies in utero
seeing colours, registering night and day
through taut muscle, skin
and their thick pod of fluid.
But maybe it is something else.
Room knowledge embedded
by 40 years of seepage
sleeping and waking
waking and sleeping
here in this selfsame place?

The third bedroom comes last.
It is the one
I dream and it is in sharp light.
It is nothing I know.
Help me. I am lost.



A true poet is critical
he-critical, she-critical
One shouldn’t feel happy
when reading your own lines.
Then why do they sing in the ears?
Why do they lock into
the place they have carved inside
with a satisfying clonk?
A secret that one hides
from all even oneself
especially the sad poems
especially the poems of agony
wrapped around the body
like a sinful prideful blanket
a show-off piece.
Look I have made this!
It is the truth!
Sometimes it is beautiful.
I marvel that I can.



It’s the fear of bones
and my darling Eva has it bad
not in food
but obsession coupled with terror
at pictures of skeletons or skulls.
True they scare many people
but what I think frightens her
is that they are inside bodies
— this she knows –
inside her own sweet self.
She has befriended her arms and legs
clothed in reassuring chubby flesh
but those bones inside her?
How can such horror lie beneath?
Ah, the secrets people carry
What else besides?



A little house

For years
a little house
took residence
in the top right
hand corner
under my skull.
It had a big painting
and only
what I needed
and loved.
It looked onto
and a mountain.
A guilty secret.
I lived in it alone.
Ducks drifted by.
Did you have to die
to make this happen?



Lifted up into the night
and into the dark dappled trees
a skin of soft canvas
and airy mesh made
for a cool bed we loved
the moon whisked its egg white
flicker on our flanks
side by side we lay
and floated in sleep
only the ladder
which we had climbed
tethered us to the ground
-or, looking the other way-
only the ladder led up
to this oozing peace
when the rustle of leaves
and snapping of branches
and billowing of cloth
sub-audible rumbling
and airy trembles rose up
and instantly we were awake
rigid but calm
waiting and listening
soft on their cloth feet
the elephants
we had watched all day
at a waterhole
had broken through
and come to
forage in our very
tented tree
their hidden bulk
snaking trunks
inches from our heads
their warm breath wafted over us
and we inhaled
their benevolence



Worth it?

Like steam
and going up
up and up
the mass of work
my shoulder
the hours
the toil
my mind
does not



Heat crossed over the ditch of air
from your bronzed sunned skin
to my cool white white flesh.
You were burning up fast
hurtling through space
into my sphere.
Molten stone



The fever breaks
lifts off the sweat
beaded brow
a swarm of heat
brushes past the cheek
instantly pulls
away and rises
leaving a cool double
scorched into
This is the 41 years
turned into
Head tilted
conjuring memories
that form and
drifting by.



Three days
Short of three years
I sit on the if stool
Under the why sky
A beginner
Padded up
In the sunshine
And lorded over
By a mountain
Split by water.

Two days
Short of three years
My nails are rimmed
With brown moons
The creeping grass
Trickles out the past blade by blade
Wondering who it was donated their bones
For the bone meal
I sprinkle
On the soil?

One day
Short of three years
Words have slid away
Unnoticed on the water
I unearth a white grub
Curled in fat surprise
“Why not?”
I squash him anyway
Then the sky stains a livid orange
Standing in for him.

This day
Three years.



The car swings left
on an exit ramp
night outside
ending an endless day
a blindness
except in the body
which feels that tug every time
and he says
Look there’s Table Mountain
and we have begun our life here
over and over
with that very same turn
leaning to the left
swishing internal organs
fluid in coils reel deep
and understand

‘Maybe it’s sick’
when we drive to Marikana
mostly in silence
in unsaidness in my head
the engine blubbing please please
and to him
most probably
drop drop
and I fabricate a bird
on the way back
to reach him
on the same branch I say
as when we came
and then he says
that simple thing
not so simple
does he know
it is I who is sick
Yes, he knows


Big and small

Giant overturned by what storm or hidden rot
felled to the horizontal from archetypal verticality
ancient trunk fissured right to left
branches touch the ground
through a bandage of bent twigs and drying leaves
surprised roots recoil in the air
waving in horror
at the lip
of a great tear in the earth
orange or red.

A new lawn
sipping the air
made of wriggly green sprouts
beginner runners trying
to find purchase on the hard brown surface
coaxed with exotic volcanic dust and dressing
regular visits, frequent watering
Grow, little ones, grow.



Since you vacated my side
and jumped inside
like a leg, finger or toe
you dwell in an anesthetised slurry
with the rest of the fellows
that make me up
-the skelms, high on dwelms-
until I close the door on you
trip, or stub my toe
Then I know!



I have died and
oddly come alive

my covid crumpled

bed-soaked sheets
into a new day

fear of abandonment
has boiled up

a lexicon of
animals: beavers emerge

gnawing, more and more

in a pool of water
that is the centre of my home

a penguin gushes
down a rocky birth canal

lies dead in its amniotic sac
then twitches

two odd clicking birds
in the corner of a room

I will need to accommodate
these strange bed-fellows

in the new dis-pens-ation



A host of them from right to left
lining up for my approval
imposing, distant, rocky
– the silent types –
or rushing up at some speed
on winding drives alone
long sloping flanks
echoes of desire
I rub grizzly cheeks
with my gaze
whiskery sprouts tickle my fancy
smile when they peep over the rooftops
“That’s Devil’s Peak giving me the eye”
luxuriate in a looming nakedness
when Muizenberg Mountain
parades just across the pond
sitting on the terrace
watching a double dabble
in the vlei – and no need to be fed!
An exchange of solidity
between earth and sky
at dusk
under a torn edge
I enter like a tunnel
then at night lit up grey
against black, an X-ray
scanning my body
stamped by the moon
or when you blush at dawn
I peep through parted curtains
in my empty bed
and chortle at your morning glory


Mountain walk

The ear of the concave hill
amplifies the traffic noise
but as we climb higher
the roar of the surf
takes over
louder and closer
even as the sea
stretching a blue cloth
into the sky
and the rocky
crust of land it licks
lies small at our feet
each curling wave
dragging torn petals of foam
every step mediated
for the 2 year old
when she is set down
to walk for short distances
it’s one song, one rock
one leaf, one cone to undress
at a time
except when she spots
the harbour way down below
and then it’s time for ice cream.



A cloud
of soft warm grey
I have you summited

Clothes hangers

A flock rises up the wall
escaped from dark cupboards
and the burdens that weigh them down


Head over heels tumbled
from half of two
to none of one


Piercing the liquid mirror
Cut glass victory
in their wake


Last night at 17 Roosevelt Road

It is knowledge
that turns tonight
into something other
than the usual.
It is the past and future
that are colliding
but only hum lightly
in the now.

A fridge
A light
A mess
The house speaks
its usual soothing
or infuriating words.

I will go to sleep
with wet hair
after a hot bath
the last but the same.

Come tomorrow
a whole new story



baby dove in kitchen
two days now
will not leave
through open doors
and open windows
despite coaxing
perches on tall places
hanging pots
fish traps
paper boats
creaks her wings
to fluff her way
to new views
down on
dog interest
a polite guest
hard to believe
that she is trapped

Finally she flies out
her tail feathers in my hand


Staghorn fern

droop and rise
from a plastered heart



For days now
A demented duck
Topped on a house steeple
Has called and called
Across the water
A sound of unflinching
Except it’s not a duck
It’s an Egyptian goose
Lost her children
Or looking for its mate
Complicated grief
A diagnosis delivered
By the doctor in her cosy rooms
Complicated. Yes.
A call that recalls
A note received
40 or more years ago
After a lover’s betrayal
In the backsloping hand
Of a leftie
What’s good for the goose
Is good for the gander


Waiting for the Ferry, Valetta

Crossing the river Styx I
said like dark moths
fluttering over the black
slippery water sucking up
drowning and displaying
lights in Morse, teasing
language of splishsplash,
tourists in their rickety
vessels crossing over paid
ferrymen at the rear, a
cruise ship humbled
against massive stone all
buff no go, the giddy
streets stepstep behind, a
fairytale of spires and
illuminated onions stained
stone and giraffe cranes
stretching up to feed on
black air of great cooling
sweetness it’s just a dream
I told my son I’m next


If and when

If and when you come
I will not pounce
I will not question
I will refrain from showing you around
At all that is new
I will rinse pride right out of my pridefulness
Perhaps it is better that our eyes not meet
So I can keep hope alive
I will strip and lie on the bed
Where we can have old people’s sex
For as long as you like
Or can
I will squeeze your warm brown flesh
While I can
Then you are free to leave
By way of any door
Without so much as bye
I will not cry



Wonderfully oblivious to the adult obvious
And lovingly named Peter Pan and Wendy
The blackamoor dollies sit on her lap
Pointing and thumping with their blunt plastic hands
On page after page of coloured plates
Shrieking and laughing
“That’s me! That’s me!”
Boy dolls Girl dolls Haystack dolls
Dolls from Uruguay Norway Trinidad
Eskimo dolls Naked dolls Flying dolls
Wooden dolls with folding arms and legs
Scary dolls and Pretty dolls
Dolls self identifying
What makes me me and you you?
There’s a serious joke in that.



In the midst of great joy is a knock-out punch of such pain it takes away your breath, and in the midst of that aching sadness is a happiness – oh, what joy! – each nesting one in the other, telescoped on and on like those red Royal baking powder tins I so loved as a child which continue in your mind when you can no longer see the tiny tin painted on the tin and it is merely the idea you carry driving deeper and deeper skewering through the core.



Yes at times
There was making the beast with two backs
Mostly it was a beast of two heads
Under a shared blanket





What can be more important
than sorting the living from the dead?

100 coffins in red crayon
each carrying the two fundamental

Horizontal and Vertical
Standing and Sleeping
Alive and Dead

Crossing in crosses

And who do you think they be?

Granny Dee

Johnny Clegg



And some waiting to be dead like Saphta

Needing ready coffins-in-the-waiting