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