School holidays

Just after dawn
while the sun is still a red ball
and the ground mist rises
from the veld

we make a fire
and brew coffee
in a tin can with a wire handle.
Milk, sugar and Ricoffy,
stolen from the kitchen.

We squat in the dust
and warm our hands
at the embers
wait for it to boil.

The coffee tastes of smoke,
promises aardvark dens,
snake hunts, paper thorns,
stubbed toes and squabbles.

The problem with Dave

is that he doesn’t like surprises,
needs to practise his conversations
so as not to be left bereft of words.
Small talk is easier now,
he’s thirteen and knows
a series of phrases
repeated in the right order.

His words are not filed like yours and mine,
conveniently grouped by subject,
but clumped together in a sticky mass.
He has to search for each elusive one,
has learned to say,
“I’m going to change the subject”
before he talks.

But I have seen him, seated in the train
winking at pretty girls
raising his ginger eyebrows
and smiling, his rosy lips a perfect curve.
I have seen him in the waves, surfing,
laughing ’til his breath runs out,
and I have watched him
talking to his striped cat
with his hands
on the windowsill in the sun.

Spring equinox

I’m down in the valley
fingering the fat furry pods
of lupins
and up above in a cave
people have gathered
I hear them singing.

I wonder if I could
piggyback my pleas
on their prayers
but then I see that god is here
in the plump seeds
and in the wind that sets
my teeth on edge
like bad chalk
on a blackboard.

it’s a fine time to climb a mountain
to be closer to heaven,
or to be a tadpole tumbling
in a river swollen
by late rains,
while the full moon hides
behind the sun’s skirts
waiting for dark.

The other side

We are the children of Africa,
the brotherhood of unwanted strangers
if our faces don’t mark us our accents will
we keep our heads down and walk next to walls.
The church feeds us,
the university canteen feeds us
we stuff our pockets with sliced bread,
take it home for a stale breakfast,
soak it in instant coffee, black and strong,
made with water from the hot tap.

At night we walk the streets
search the gutters, the pavements.
Stand on cigarette packets
to see if they are empty,
check the return slots in the phone boxes.
If they’re jammed we kick them
and the coins fall like water into our hands.
We climb into skips,
open black bags on rubbish day,
find mattresses, shoes, jackets, a suitcase,
burn fruit boxes in the stove,
watch the snow blow through the streets.

In summer there are figs and cherries,
They’re free, anyone can pick them.
The shelf is lined with bottled fruit,
we find an almond tree.
The days are long and hot.
We are happy for a while.

The end of the world

All my life I’ve dreamed of the apocalypse.
When I was a child I barred the doors
and windows against the invasions
that came when I slept.

Now that I’m grown
I still dream that it’s coming
I pack a bag and flee,
home is no longer a refuge.

When I’m awake I believe it will come
in slow small steps, unnoticed,
until it’s too late to get away.

Today I saw it
in the bodies of children
sleeping in the forest,
sprawled in town squares
on the other side of the world.

Then I turned and looked and knew
that it’s been here
all the time
behind me.


Jasmine hangs heavy in the air,
a sweet caress.
Dusty urchins sell bouquets
the flowers bruised, bleeding fragrance.
Night-flying moths whirl, cascade,
drunk with the promise of love.
Shadow-hidden, veiled women pass.
The hot sky is star-scattered.

Water-carriers lay the dust,
drops flying from sweeping hands.
The men lie outside on cushions
hookah smoke curling in lazy wreaths,
Oum Kalthoum sings of heartache and loss
longing etched in every word.
The men touch their hearts,
kiss their fingers, speak of passion
in whispers, so that the women cannot hear.


My black cat lives in night’s pockets,
screams like a peacock in the dark.
I hear his wail and try to think of God
as the Sufis say I should.

He cannot remember
where to find me.
It’s the suffering of old age
that cries out for company, for food, for love.

He is empty,
stuffed with nameless desire
that lives in his stomach,
in the hollow above his pelvis
in the sway of his back
and in the stink of his breath.

I hear the cry and awaken to memory
wrapped in night’s garment, calling out
“ here I am, I am here, you are not alone”.

June 2017
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