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.
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
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
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.