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Poetry One


I always feel sorry for the silverware.

Only a princess to gold the king.

Only a place for second best.

And not the concern of the financial markets.

I float my silverware on the shiny surface

of the swimming pool. Trays and gravy trains.

Spoons spin to the bottom and rest easily.

Making small whirl pools on the gleaming water.

There is a poorly sleight and grave death to silver.

Arrogant people spurn it and toss its offering away.

I put a candle on my silver tray and watch flames dance

into the early morning, telling stories of Arabia.​

Emblems on the Grass

Her name is Old Granny Carmichael and

she’s as mighty an old woman as all

who’ve gone before her in the world.

In other words, she has loved and lost.

Old Granny Carmichael sits in her chair

and watches television all day long.

She has nothing to say to anyone.

Perhaps she mutters about knitting.

And this old woman decays now

like the great quarry of Nefertiti,

as her words of wisdom fall into

the air on deaf ears and blind eyes.

What is her purpose in the whole

great scheme of things, we wonder?

Who has crossed her path and been

cut to shreds by a swiping woman?

We look at Old Granny Carmichael and

the world seems a cruel, crafty place.

She has been there and done that and

survived it all. What is she worth?

Like emblems on the grass which do

not exist, she harbours her love on a

memory, cut clean and carpeted and

kept neat for others to walk over.

Death Scene, with Bulldog

She pulled back the sheet,

white peeled to white.

The white fur a velvet sheen

across a heap of bones, a bag.

I knelt in homage, sweeping

down on closed eyes sleeping,

squeezed tight on a dream eternal:

the concentration of death.

It takes so much to be nothing.

The memories stack up then

tumble on invisible air,

the meaningless fall to white bulk

sprawled in a basket of drying dribble:

the last traces of liquid life.

And my mother standing over me

quivering and grey with grief.

“She looks like she went peacefully.”

That wasn’t a question, or a statement,

I knew, but a hopeless grapple

for the thin affirmation of life.

I stood. It had taken so long

to see death, to touch its hard

homeliness, to feel the coming on of a

little sorrow, a little twinge, feeling itself.

Circle of Life

A tobacco farmer sways in his field at dusk

wondering whether he’ll ever smoke his labour.

And a fisherman whether he’ll ever eat his

salmon smoked, buttered, with a hint of garlic.

The labours of love are a circle of life.

We never know when we are killing

what we have made or when we fall

if we are falling still. Circle of life.

If we produce something, does it also

produce us? Add to our sphere of spiralling

knowledge, instigate our mentalities?

A pianist plays a C minor chord, heavy and

shocking. He never knows when or if it will

come back to haunt him. To disturb him.

In the blank sky a bird circles over the scent

of blood. A carcass has a scent of destiny.

The bird has no way of knowing why it flies

or why it circles in this chain of evolving nature.

A painter adds strokes to a canvas and fails to

realise he’s actually painting himself.

Trees produce leaves which fuel their own

compost in the warm humus layers, and a

bank teller trades in notes that once bought

his bread and milk from an Indian store.

Such as it is our best thoughts come from

the air we have already breathed. We clean

our bodies in the water which embalms the

cemetery of fish. Eat beef we once stroked

and nurtured with a milk bottle on a farm.

Our semen is more protein than anything

else; stolen from the eggs and milk which

were all stolen before. A cabbage is ninety

percent water captured falling from a re-cycled

sky. Our brain floats in thoughts untraceable

in origin. Our soul lingers in the metaphysics

of infinite carnations. Our heart beats a pulse

in a time frame which exists in repeating numbers.

Circle of life. Creation does not exist. Or extinction.

Merely circular transformations.

A tobacco farmer sways in his field at dusk …​

The Bard’s Trio – (Riffs on Shakespeare)

i – Viola’s Utopia

Even around the corner we cannot see it.

Sea mist blows in the midst of our vision,

some fine scented spray, light and salted.

All along the railings we stand – a row as long

as the funeral parlour will permit and we’d

have to admit this scene is far more promising:

bright weighted clouds appear overhead.

The dead will say they have missed out, no doubt,

while we go down to the cabins to dream about

the day ahead. Will we see it? Our Utopia?

Cousin Viola reads a cheap novel strewn

across the narrow squeaking bed, sullen as wind,

and we’re at a loss to explain why she

flicks grey ash skywards, knowing we’ll watch

it float sadly, slowly, towards the soiled, spoiled carpet.

In the galley they prepare boiled eggs with a

pinch of salt, toiling over steaming ship pots.

But we are too nervous to eat, even after all

this while; we find tight laughter grips us,

a sore dull beat in the pit of the stomach rises high

to the count of three: one, two, three.

One. Two. Three.

And even now Viola cannot read,

she puffs uncontrolled at the sick stick of tobacco.

She flicks back pages with a nervous disposition.

The trick, they keep telling us, is to relax and wait.

Relax and wait. 

What happy state is this? What composure?

The nightmare rolls on in bright flashes.

The wave’s white-topped foam is breeding,

kneading its way into danger, ready to strike.

The pools darken and deepen round the rudder.

There is a coldness we have never known;

the wind is poised to bite our soft flesh.

Ahead the sky turns black, beginning to purge.

Cousin Viola behaves in a strange way,

even we have not seen her like this before.

She says, between short puffs, very candidly:

“I have left my pink bikini on the dressing

table back home. I don’t suppose we can

go back and fetch it? It’s perfect weather for

bathing; the deck must be so splendid.”

Our luck runs out just as Utopia becomes the horizon.

The ship is bruised and brittle. We can feel it.

They bring us sour tea on deck and we see how

the waves burrow below the metal adrift, the

bulging sails do not exist: they have not been lifted. 

Now we glance at Utopia from the ship in

deep waters off a gold-sanded coast line.

We throw anchor and dive pale seas.

The battered ship droops in the still lagoon.

Where is Utopia? Something is wrong.

Viola says, quite out of the blue,

In Act One, Scene Two:

“What country, friends, is this?”

ii – Hamlet’s Sick Fancy

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are dead!

The blood runs full-bodied from stab-wound hole,

the slashed necks, pooling, streaming, collecting.

Below the sullen ship lurk grey whales

singing sea songs, shanties in their

own language, unfathomable.

And the belly of the boat, bloated, 

rests fat in green waters off cold Denmark

where icebergs form a quadrangle, breed guilt.

Hamlet all the while

digs in muddied graves,

unearths skull and skeleton, the broken bones

of benevolent bodies, bogged down in the

canopy layer, thick with humus.

The rats, all too festive, feast at the thick boot feet,

the grave digger, and snigger silently.

“This is his face, I remember.

Look – those are his eyes, the holes where warm

stares shot and emeralds sat happily gorged.”

Behind heavy-hung tapestry, gold crest embroided,

Polonious lurks, nose pressing against malice.

His ears tempered to the chamber of this his

white-haired queen, where skins of polar animals

cover the wooden floor and black

silk drapes the gilded bed.

Hamlet pleads with mother, a furious dance.

The weeping sounds stiff to silent air;

desperation and lust combined.

Just then the knife enters the arras and death drops him.

Then to Ophelia

mad in muddled sanatorium,

grappling painfully with what is real,

what an illusion. Still she feels her prince’s thrusts enter,

the semen egg-streaking across her sprawled loins.

Now singing songs of lonely apprehension,

regarding the death of the yellow-moon.

She beats walls, walks

paper thin ice to blue waters where death calls out.

Behind her towers tall, cloistered, designated nunnery.

The Ghost whispers

to the still night along the hooded forest,

his armour bracing the uneasy light,

his bloodied ear leaking pus and poison.

He’s attentive to feathered

cock’s calling of the morn.

He transmits treason and treachery;

of his son’s uncle’s envious ploy; rapturous brain

of greed and jealousy.

He sets the play in motion, gives plot to weak heir

who lurks round castle towers brooding, musing.

And Claudius to the chapel swiftly flees,

kneels down to altar, praying hands out-reached

to unheeding God, pours his sinful soul heaven bound.

His cathartic heart, soaked sponge to press

with the heavy hand of a heavy conscience. He has

fallen through a trap open wide on the stage floor.

His hands stink of murder.

Hamlet trembles in the confessional,

taps knife to repentant head.


it will come to nothing,

this sick fancy of his.

All the soliloquies in the world will not save him.

Laertes slain by dagger lies,

mother foaming at the mouth,

Uncle’s eyes the colour of petrified villain.

To his knees he slowly falls. The world comes falling.

With soft silken wings to Heaven he will not fly.

And Norway’s triumphant Fortinbras will regret the

cold winter; arriving numb to a sick, morbid kingdom.

iii – Cleopatra’s Lie

Cleopatra, great woman by dubious deeds,

sat on her gilded throne and was attended by

eunuchs during both morn and eve.

Antony did come sailing down the Nile

when the sun blazed over the burnt desert,

sandstone roasting its pale tan timidly against

the hazed sky; birds sweltered in poised flight.

Imperial fabric strapped to his firming flesh;

we suppose his Roman nose is Roman.

His hair is an auburn brown, close to black.

It’s failed to have been bleached by the sun,

the Ra-god, capable of harvests and beautiful

blonde sons to inherit his un-won throne.

The meeting is planned in sartorial bliss;

Antony will stride to her chamber after the

revelling has commenced and lay upon her

Egyptian stomach, suck from her the worth

of her water kingdom and promise her the

earth as far as the Roman lands extend.

She will embrace him, open herself to him, induce

his warm semen to swim her royal body,

excavate her warm humid cave and there seal

her a prophecy, secure her grasp on power.

They turn under the dim flicker of the candle.

They love each other enough to kill each other.

He enters her and stokes her femininity until he

has conquered her politics; he caresses her breasts.

She endures him and thinks of her country.

She places her hands on his buttocks which

have known other buttocks and strokes away

the moment. She is not even as beautiful as

history will choose to record. She is a cheat.

But she sees herself clearly. He rather adores boys

he can manipulate or women weaker than himself.

He suffers under no great illusions. He is liberal.

And Cleopatra makes no excuses for the lies she tells.

All Across the Desert

And so here we are, arrived at long last after

being chased fast and hard across the

boiling sands of the stretched Namib desert.

Scolding, blazing gold and raw beaten brown.

I remember – so clearly, so opulently – the dunes

heaped, the crisp whiteness of the sand.

Now, there, rocks, like glass, can tear up your feet.

The heat weeps on your stunned body, disease

creeps upon you; a locust plague in bleak mid-winter.

Death assumes the air. There is no escaping.

Dew in the morning on cactus plants

is all very fine and well, bulbs and roots,

but it won’t stop the head spinning by noon,

the belief in monsters, the sweating hallucinations,

dead skinny children thinning the forgotten track.

Most of us lacked the ability to survive;

the desire to dive under sand and furrow

half way to hell was easier, far less taxing.

But we’re here now. We have been called to

farther lands where grey rainbows, they say,

breed out of the pregnant sea.

It would be interesting, so interesting.

Two Proust Poems

“I cannot express the uneasiness caused in me by this intrusion of mystery and beauty into a room I had at last filled with myself to the point of paying no more attention to the room than to that self. The anesthetizing influence of habit having ceased, I would begin to have thoughts, and feelings, and they are such sad things.”
― Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann

i – The Moments of Happiness

I recall those times, deep of winter,

when the sun shone so bright we

thought, we felt we were being blessed.

Those youthful days, long gone since,

living as though life were endless

never knowing when to stop or to begin.

Nothing restricted us, not even stern words

from crude American preachers who invaded

our life to tell us the sins of the flesh.

I remember quite clearly standing up in a

guidance class and protesting the need for

freedom and the gift of undying love.

Many laughed that day and batty Mrs Fryer

slapped the desk and digressed into a selfish

monologue about God’s sudden loss of hair.

God loses hair each time we profane him!

Those were the moments of happiness,

approaching one another without caring

and no one bothered to worry about morals.

Love was so simple then and undefined.

It was disguised into a series of rules and

regulations: people broke them on purpose.

I asked a girl in an English lesson to go with

me to a movie. She agreed. It was simple then.

She had a good voice, she broke my heart.

The moments of happiness when you were

not sure what to do next and the winters so

unreal you believed you had been blessed.

ii – Remember Mondays

In wakeful eyes I strayed from bed, all

its tight nocturnal lures.

Its absence of women, its tautological stars.

Monday, day of wrath.

On the school bus I stared at concrete road,

the occasional squashed dog, cat, goat.

There, scoring a requiem mass at half-six.

Through the industrial billows we ploughed

onwards, the green valley of laconic surprise.

I stood in my long grey trousers,

long sleeve Van Heusen, maroon blazer,

the gilded insignia. The halo of supreme

entity. The buying of sentimental endings.

Then came Monday morning heat and I sweated

through the assembly. Systematic colonialism.

I remember those Mondays. The stilted Headmaster

standing three feet low, bald shining scalp of

soulful regression. In his academic robe.

And the staunch pastor with his Afrikaans timbre

and florid leather bible and blue tie.

The Senior Master slept, kept his eyes open through prayer.

The sports reports tittered, dragged out, dull,

the school flag flagging in heat sagged wind.

At the piano I once caught a rat in the hammers,

remembering that Monday event.

Suicide by seven. Bed by eight.

©Neal Hovelmeier (Ian Holding), 2020

Poetry One: Text
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