Zimbabwe, January, 1990 an extract
Something is banging. The firelight shudders,
crashes the walls to the sound ramming the room.
I look out groping the darkness and touch
eye to tiny eye a bird’s bleak stare.
A whirl of feathers hurls in fury at the glass
tripping fears of possession, of the familiar
shorting to the feral. Its mate attacks our flank.
Only the blinds restore night’s equilibrium.
“Where is chicken cooked in chocolate?”
Only trivia appealed from the meagre bookcase
of romance and murder and old magazines.
“Two men disappeared in 1974, name one.”
Inyangani, mothballed in cloud, waits like a lion;
Patrick warns us to first ask permission from
Chief Tangawera’s tribe, they built it after all;
those who trespass have vanished off its slopes.
Preserved, a transparency of flowers bobbing
on riotous currents of air the window resists.
An exuberant butterfly attempting to land
on a vase of flowers bounces off the glass.
I want to climb Inyangani but suspect
that it’s much further than it looks.
Cloud is spewing its guts off the mountain
they belong here together, wind and mountain.
A decade old Illustrated London News announces
`Reconciliation in Zimbabwe’, a paean to Rhodes,
who alone and unarmed quelled the Matabele while,
‘At the time one of the richest and most powerful men
in the world . . . Peace, Justice, Liberty
were the three principles Rhodes maintained.’
The anger of the dead drops from the thorns to dust,
blood belongs to the earth and belongs to the dead.
“Leave the wife, push her aside”; “Grinding up
the water gourd”; “Carry off, throw away”.
These famines are host to history
but over the mountains a day’s walk away
people starve and more mass graves
materialise from the war ten years ago.
Aids is an epidemic blamed on aid workers,
vultures circle a corrosive blue sky.
Fifty years ago this continent exported food.
Thirty years ago she was self-sufficient.
The trend is a herd of elephants grinding poverty.
Let’s blame dictators, witches, wars, corruption.
Let’s blame subsidies, drought, difficult topologies.
Let’s blame investment and obsolete technology.
The open palm of my hand is very soft and white,
more gold repays debt than arrives in aid.
We act disappointed democracy is avoiding Africa
but it’s a process to work on, how to live together.
It’s not enough to say there’s no democracy, there’s more;
we forget the bloody past that paid our account
the legacy we left, of crazy borders, insecurities
and roads to cash crop infrastructures.
Pliny wrote “Always something new out of Africa”
but not while tribal oligarchies and armies save the world.
In a famous exploit from the war of liberation
a nun smuggled Mugabe and Tekere past here
to Chief Tangawera who’d taken to the mountains
when his land was zoned for white farming.
Mugabe now one of the richest men in Africa
is asking the people for a one party state.
Tekere, the only opposition, is unprincipled,
perverse and will not be given a chance.
What if Jefferson delayed, sent Thoreau west
instead of Lewis and Clark? Or disinterred
Anne Bradstreet. Or what if Rhodes ordered
Tennyson here instead of Starr Jameson?
Interested in the lot, following Pliny
wanting a poem from the scraps of data,
a native cyclopedia from one end of the garden
to the mountains, from Aardvark to Zhiza.
Patrick was surprised I wished to hear
an African mass but not so surprised
that he remembered to ask at the store.
No consumer durables available:
No bamboo lute or radio
No beggars eggs ice or pain,
No grief no rhyme no full moon
lightened lightened lightened lightened
The view is liberating, elements evolve daily;
Chikemo, a distant granite asteroid has become
detailed as a barnacle. The clouds tumble
into patterns and birds are revealed in pairs
bossing vague territories. Solitude’s elusive,
even for Plotinus ashamed of his body, Sarapion
who sang “I’m deader than you” or Sostratus
the pagan who lived off honey on Mount Parnassus.
Han Shan’s six arts are evading practise:
Etiquette – well, Patrick calls me Sah;
Music – I’ve whistled back at the ravens;
Archery – The grass stems would break;
Charioteering – None; Mathematics – Compass bearings;
Calligraphy – Fashioned on my T shirt.
But a practise is just that, praxis,
for its own sake, more tai chi than poetry.
“A ragged coat will cover this phantom form.”
‘Repulsing the Monkey’ my feet catch in the springy
turf, a butterfly flutters through cloud hands
but I lose it, seeing a sunbird for the first time,
in the iridescent hovering I feel mortally inept.
I loosen up, breathe, draw the crisp air in
through my soles and kick as if my foot would
fly off and disappear down the mountain.
“Out of work our only joy is poetry.”
I’m inside,recording a magical process, on the edge,
a practise like the form, flexing the unexpected
into life, or death in obdurate language that
asphixiates bird song and drags on its flight.
How much lyrical interference can Cold Mountain take?
This morning I woke with a phrase reverberating
inside my skull – DEAD ADVERTISING SPACE.
“Reading books won’t save you from death.”
I’m writing on paper bleached close to my skin
a happy medium for touch & exploration.
Today’s fun filling the empty colours of the page,
my eyes nose the window’s depth indigenous
to an accelerating script and its gradual accretion.
The other senses satisfied sometimes engrossed,
dependent appetites confirmed, the body working well.
“Everything, I guess, is a matter of fate;
Still, I’ll try the exam again this year.”
I did it as a joke then enlisted, am lucky to be here
celebrating my birthday. Morning again, another chance
to ask what to do with the rest of my life.
I never do, but reading Han Shan am aware of how
we are much too easily satisfied; tai chi Mondays,
Das Capital evenings and reincarnation weekends.
A painful slog over the ridgeback is rewarded
by lunch at Troutbeck, a birthday treat with
drinks on the terrace, Swiss chalet in view
of the golf course and a brace of waiters repeating
“Yes, thank you sir” when asked a question.
“Oh this must give you wonderful inspiration”
said a Rhodey we’d got talking to. ‘Well usually,
it’s a delayed reaction, like shock”, I replied.
We were warned of torrential rain and terrestrial cloud
but Inyangani frequently appears sealed for freshness,
each detail of depression/orientation revealed,
sometimes sunsets repeat sunrise and stars compete.
Somedays the mist pumps through either side of us
banks below and feathers a slight slanting rain,
and the waterfall, a bright cut in the skin,
disappears together with the whole mountain.
Lying back childwise, I read the clouds:
a woman is lying on her back, opening her legs,
black cloud pushes through her stomach;
huge sponges that mop up the light,
the heavy stuff is on its way back again.
I’m still waiting for the one hot day
Patrick says will come, when the kudu rise
from the hidden gullies and graze the open ground.
“What artists have accomplished is realising
that there’s only a small amount of stuff
that’s important . . . I truly do want to know
how to describe clouds. But to say there’s a piece
over here with that much density, and next to it
a piece with this much density, to accumulate
that much detailed information, I think is wrong.”
The future of poetry swallow dives onto the present.