Russel's Revolution (published Gutter 14, 2015)
Lucas, Russel explained, it's no use making a big noise cos they'll fucken hear it. Softly, that's the way we infiltrate and gain ground. Then one morning these Dutchmen will wake up and pffft!! The whole thing will be bellyup. See, he waved an unlit joint at me, that's how true revolution works, bru. It's the Trojan horse principle. They sleep while we go in and do the damage.
Without intending for this to happen, I have somehow drifted into Russel’s world, a world of semi-military confusion, grand schemes for dismantling apartheid and the paranoid mindset of a heavy ganja smoker. If I’m honest, sometimes when we’re stoned, things seem a little less hopeless and his plans have a kind of humorous logic to them. I tell myself when we head off for another covert op that he may be right, it may not be the grand action that kills the beast.
Fragment from a Johannesburg memoir
She and me and foursquare walls. I am in their life now. New baby in number twofourtwo Acacia Gardens. She and me. We look at each other, her blue eye, mine. We are as big as the sky our world so round and full of each other. Alone together we circle. When she looks at me she leans. Over and over her blue eye swallows mine. It is the eye of love. How do I know this? Her blue gaze, a soft arm to scoop me up. I am the perfect baby, a creature with the chance to be anything.
Published in New Writing Scotland, 34
Augury (published in Poetry Scotland)
Reaching deep to clear
debris from the burn
I scoop a bird
wrapped in rotten leaves
an unlikely augur
in remnant bones
this awful angel
slippery in my hand
my fingers sink
through matted feathers
caught by quill and beak
Not expecting more –
weeks later, three dead gannets
washed ashore from Bird Rock
splayed on seaweed
mourned by a hunched
a perfect clouded sun
Yeoville Water Tower
Image courtesy Johannesburg Heritage Foundation
States of Emergency, published in New Orleans Review, 43 (2017)
Halley’s Comet streaked across the Southern sky in February 1986. This was a time when information was thin on the ground; a time to read signs wherever we could find them. It was not lost on us that Halley’s Comet, that red star shaking down disease, pestilence and war, had become visible at times of great historical turbulance: the Battle of Hastings, the Great Plague of London, Napoleon preparing for his fateful invasion of Russia. In Governor Van der Stel’s Cape diary of 1682, he records a sighting of the comet linking it to ‘heavy rains and an insect pest that has destroyed the crops. What will happen when the comet has sunk right down God Almighty alone can tell.[i]’
According to my Calvinist middle class upbringing, the Bible was clear about our state of sin and God’s inevitable punishment and although I no longer attended Church or believed in these notions intellectually, during this time I became deeply superstitious. The Comet was a harbinger of something and I gave it the mystical attention it deserved.
The Comet had been visible for a few months in the early hours of the morning and what I remember of this time is a warm April evening climbing the hill to the latticed dome of the Yeoville water tower with a six pack of Black Label, a roll of blankets and a copy of the I Ching I had stolen especially for this occasion. The night was shrill with crickets as we stared into the sky trying to discern the trail of the Comet from millions of starry points. I threw coins on the blanket, squinting at the I Ching, deciphering the hexagram by torchlight. ‘Listen here! I shouted to the company, trying to make myself heard above the noise of the party. ‘It says that strength in the face of danger does not plunge ahead but bides its time.’
Hours later, still trying to see a sign in the sky, I fell asleep. The comet amounted only to a brief smudge across the sky that night; disappointing by all accounts. When I woke, shivering and hungover, like a disciple in Gethsemane it had passed while I slept.
[i] Quarmby, R. (1985) Halley’s Comet in South Africa, October 1985-May1986, Delta Books, p. 11