Three poems from Staffrider

I was going through a box of old diaries and papers last night (there are things in there that will go with me to my grave!) and came across a few copies of New Coin, Sesame, Staffrider – small South African literary magazines from the 80s and 90s. I knew there were a few old poems of mine in there somewhere, one that I remembered in outline, and others I had more or less forgotten about (though I doubt you ever forget these things, these words you have struggled over, completely).

Here are three that I published in Staffrider, in 1989 and 1990. Those were different times, back then.

Emergency

The neck is the place the yoke rests

heavily; after all it was made by god

or whoever to suffer

submissive the pull

of the plough

something like that

 

which is a way of saying

finding the escape route of the poem

the bars of the police state

are erected in the muscles of the neck

like fate

 

On the Wire

A dislocation: this

lapse in our voices

immobility of branch of leaf

the locked grip of the shrike

on the telephone wire:

 

life in its full sudden flood.

Observe how telephone wires

link cortex to cortex: wars

torture detention killings

the intolerable suffering

 

and our silences, syllables of love.

Consider. It is our silences

that leap soft-tongued

into the ear; that lavish

gestures of tenderness, hope

 

the strong warm wine of the flesh.

But this nausea rage

the daily news makes speech brutal:

the swift bloody thrust of the shrike

off the wire.

 

This is Not the Time

This is not the time

for leading the Lippizaner horse

of diction clip-clop-clopping

over the coarse sawdust: asses waggling

in the acid brilliance of the

circus ring:

 

this is the time for straight talking.

The dead are hauled behind fences while

teargas rolls off the steel flanks of behemoths

in our townships. The regular procession

paces itself: the mounted military grinds

blindly past watchers

who are mostly hidden

who are bent over their dead

who call for guns.

 

Poets who eye

the grass thick as butter in the paddock

horses nuzzling moving easily

in the cool of the morning

who know love’s fecund ellipses:

 

this is not the time.

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