Kept walking, and wrote …


Imagine you’re in your early thirties. You want to live – I repeat, want to live – in at least the same province as your family so you can see them once or twice a month, and you want to live in the same city as at least half a dozen old friends with whom you can hang out regularly. Imagine yourself wanting to be in a serious relationship, with perhaps a child or two. You want to be established in your work, with a satisfying social life.

Now imagine you actually find yourself in a foreign country on the other side of the globe. You see your family maybe once every two years. You have a few friends, but don’t see them often. You’re single, with no relationship in the pipeline. Your work is not fulfilling, and you often remind yourself, or are reminded, that time is running out to establish yourself in a profession.

To complicate things, you are not stuck in a situation where you can just resign and book a plane ticket back home. You have an apartment full of books and furniture and wall hangings and ornaments with sentimental value. Your income is sufficient to eat well and sleep comfortably, but you don’t have enough savings to survive for more than a few months if you go back to your own country.

Of course, you can leave all the furniture, the wall hangings, and a few ornaments behind and go back home, and hope everything works out. Problem is, you did exactly that a few years before when you were in a similar situation in another country, and let’s just say, it didn’t work out.

What do you do?

You can’t go home because you’re already at home?

Just accept it, and push ahead?

What did I end up doing?

I had no desire for packing up and trying my luck again in South Africa. So, I straightened my shoulders and kept walking.

And kept writing:


everybody runs away, the rats are fleeing
he is … like his ship, sinking

with solemn respect comes the salutation
middle finger held up high
pulls a recorder from his pocket
plays a death hymn, stops
with his forehead the smashing waves

calm flushes the depths
lives the fountain of abundance
manna, quail, island silence
in wisdom he bites, with razor-sharp teeth
into the sweet flesh of second life

so come on traitors!
creep closer mocker crowd!
one by one you’ll have to face reality
and if your eyes can’t see, and your ears can’t hear
then let me shout it out to sink it in:


even for the single survivor.

* * * * * * * * * * *


storms urge me on
my grotesque frame too large
for a nice tight keyhole fit
a closet too small and cramped
a golden cage too fine and much too cold
I rush forward at furious pace
with walking stick and day-old beard

* * * * * * * * * * *


shuffling wordless in dusty spaces
filling ashtrays one upon the other
full and empty again; cups full of coffee
fresh bottles of tea from the all-night cafe

old chairs give way
the weight of evening air sours
in the face of absent light
I rock back and forth, back and forth

it seems you have sometimes
to pull your claws from the mud of time
be more philosophical
about waiting for things to turn on their heel

so, if it can’t be avoided
I’d have to calculate yet again:

one thousand seven hundred and eighty
five one thousand seven hundred
eighty-four, one thousand seven hundred
eighty-three, one thousand …

nights without you

* * * * * * * * * * *


new housing draws
lines across my plans
my eyes narrowing, looking
through other windows at neighbours’ walls

suppose I know about more
than just life and death and pipes full of mice
if I had memorised the sermons of old
I’d have learned too much about retirement homes

sometimes I look too deep into the bottle of time
write notes on floors with pencil and chalk
sometimes I bite a little too much
off rules brittle and yellow from age

sometimes one must move to new housing
the work of a man like a woman ever not done
but I keep writing my lines and shutting my mouth
my eyes peeled until tomorrow, or next month, or next year

(Sunday, 14 September 2003)

* * * * * * * * * * *


I feel myself
irresponsibly close to you
less than your presence
unconditionally close to me
I feel, what’s more
myself untouched
while I live within you

* * *

forty tons of events stay mum
numb my love as it were
shall I ever, as long as I live, discover the axe
that’s been chasing me for so many years?

* * * * * * * * * * *


on your way to a 7-Eleven, you see it again:
a desert, in the middle of the sea
you want to sneak closer, crawl, aim for the other side
but time and place are shoes that squeeze

you think about coffee, then you buy tea
talk about holding out, holding on, then you give in
want to say “No” in confusion, then nodding “Yes”
wink apparently cool, then fleeing again in a daze

sometimes I say you give in too easily
too few see courage and daring as talent
vagabonds like to pitch a tent at night
clapping whips against trees on the break of dawn

say you want to go together, say you want to sleep
say you’ve had enough, please for once say “Yes”
suspect a little, believe, weigh things up again
because this time and place squeeze far too much

* * * * * * * * * * *

(another) night poem

I’m working my ass off, but
the night remains a bottomless pit
like a miner of a cleaner nature
I dig for words, light, figures, and signs

apt metaphors spoiled by pretence
stand like saints over my open grave
while I’m earnestly looking for dawn
the pick breaks, then the spade, then the lift to the light

and I remain
caught up
in yet another night poem

* * * * * * * * * * *



tumultuously burns the form
leaves the contents fresh, untouched
clothes from another century
hang upside down in my crumbling closet

look carefully at the streets, the markets
poke around in towns and cities
sneak barefoot through half-lit alleyways
wrap yourself in a transient’s blanket

too many preach about proverbs long forgotten
sing false psalms about damned old ideas
reconcile dogma with new science
steal slyly overnight, words from a dungeon library


dozens of descendants, ancestors in front
portraits against faded walls, half-heartedly shining on
books full of museums and ancient buildings
sketches in a thousand corridors full of thoughts

remind only, sing melodiously without stop

priests dance with animal hides draped
over shoulders hanging under the weight
fifty thousand years of searching for a truth
continue to dictate in mumbling chant:

that place and knowing
not only are where you belong
but in truth
is where the soul ultimately ought to be