Archives for posts with tag: mortality
"Midnight Harp" by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Midnight Harp” by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Bell-like, round and clear
Hopeful and transparent 
as a copper bauble,
it lifts the congregation.
From the sanctuary 
the maiden’s voice soars
and plunges
as she elongates the siren call.

 

I am not a groupie. I’d rather spend my days in a hermit’s hut on a mountainside with books, green tea and yoga for company instead of people. I find people politics and inane conversation immensely annoying. But I keep seeking out institutionalised assemblies. In these experiences I find vestiges of tribal inheritances, which seem to inspire my creative work. At least, this is my theory as to why I keep seeking out groups and gatherings which jar with my loner’s soul. Being part of a martial arts academy is one example. Volunteering in various organisations and an ongoing relationship with institutions of learning, such as schools and universities, are others. Then there’s church attendance, which has influenced a few recent poems (Just Punishment, Let them eat).

Attending church takes me back to my childhood and familiar language patterns. My father claimed a deep personal religiosity. When we were children, it was a weekly parental pleasure for him to walk me and my brother to Sunday School. After the morning’s service proceedings we would play outside. He would siphon egg sandwiches, Salticrax with cheese and little cakes from the adult’s tea-table for us. (The Anglican Church to this day offers an excellent post-service tea spread.) He would spend a long time explaining things to us like the flat stones in the graveyard, the gruesome Stations of the Cross and the purple covering-cloths at Lent.

Today’s poem is drawn from a recent church experience during which I was struck by the clear, enchanting voice of the young woman who lead the singing. Her voice was neither trained nor very brilliant, but it moved me. In that moment, a flood of young maidens singing swept over me. I saw maidens with harps in old villages. I imagined maidens next to seas and riverbanks singing as they worked with others or alone to keep themselves company. I saw maidens next to firesides singing with the transparency of youthful hope, watched by audiences of older women and men, who in that moment were reminded of their youthful expectancy. This memory suspends itself like a copper bauble, picks up the fire-light and lifts them in the moment. It was all this that propelled me to write the poem.

The title references the “Libera me” at the end of Verdi’s Requiem. Instead of an awe-inspiring chorus with trained soprano, the single lay voice of this poem rings out unaffected and haunting. The siren call in this context is not entirely destructive. It is hypnotic, but it re-directs its listeners towards hope. The catch is that for many of them this hope is a bauble of the past, but it still frees them.

It only occurred to me years later that our absence from the house on a Sunday meant that my hard-working, music teacher mother could have a morning of quiet respite. At the end of 1987 and in early 1988, my Mum was also pregnant with my sister. Now when I look back at those memories, I add this layer. While we were running around the grounds of Christ the King on Lower Milner Road, stuffing our kiddie faces with egg sandwiches (on white bread! With crusts cut off!) and staring at faux-granite gravestones, my Mum was at home with a growing belly which contained my little sister.

My sister is now big – a maiden herself in her later twenties. She plays the harp and occasionally sings, though not in church. Her siren work with words is in a different field. She is a journalist.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry 
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys 
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012 

Roll up! Roll up! To see
the hairy Caucasian lady
with her mandible chin hairs
protruding since she long gave up
plucking or pulling
or waxing them off. And
nobody else cares to do it for her.
Hairs and cavernous wrinkles! Roll up!
It’s not a wig. That’s naturally grey.
Under the chin? A wattle of flesh.
Stare on at those mandible chin hairs
sprout afresh.

For Doris, 1911 – 1998

My London-born granny, my maternal granny, was considered a handsome woman. She told me as much herself, proudly holding up a 1940s studio photograph as evidence. She remained a strikingly attractive. In these early memories, she was a formidable, confident and vital woman.

In the darkness of her bedroom, she had once shown me how she pinned her long, white hair into the trademark chignon she wore. After twirling her mane into a pony and tucking it under itself, one by one, she picked up and inserted the hairpins laid out on the white windowsill.

Gan Gan had impeccable style and a polished fashion sense. Her home in Newlands was furnished with complimentary imbuia furniture, always gleaming. She did not believe in wearing trousers, but was fond of a jacket and skirt suit. Perhaps this was an influence of her youth in London of the 1920s and 30s.

In my early teens she fell and broke her hip. Over the next five years, as she was shunted from one smelly, dismal old age home room to another, she grew more and more frail. Sensible elasticised tracksuit trousers became part of her wardrobe. Her once well-fed, upright frame crumpled. Her sturdy voice became a wobble.

“Nurse, nurse, don’t hurt me,” she’d plead.
“Gan Gan, for the zillionth time, I am not the nurse!”

Even her magnificent hair became “too much to manage” and it was chopped into a practical bob.

Then there were the chin hairs. We gave up plucking them; too fiddly for us, too painful for her. We tried waxing; also too painful for her. For a period we used depilatory creams. In the end, we simply left them for longer and longer periods of time.

As the plumpness of life left her body and face, she developed this jowly flap of skin under chin, like a turkey’s mandible.

Gone was my beautiful, fiery grandmother who terrified us all a little and would merrily sing “Knees up Mother Brown” or “Pack up Your Troubles”. Instead there was the woman with the mandible chin hairs.

My granny passed away in 1998 when I was 17.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys 
Shining in Brightness

It’s Thursday, 06:15
You wake up to the alarm
knowing you will never 
  win an Olympic medal
  publish a novel
  that would win the Man Booker,
  finish your degree
  or even pay the last R150 you owe
Woolworths.
Your first grandchild will die before 
you and each of those candles you lit
in the cave of the chapel
might have been for your lost
dreams.
	But those little flames did not save you
from the canker fire in your gut and liver
that burned lost dreams and life
in slower motion than every workday Thursday.


This is the second in a set of ‘difficult’ poems.

Woolworths is a South African department store akin to the UK’s Marks and Spencer (rather than the now defunct UK Woolworths).

The described persona of this poem is based on my Dad.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

Lento con agitato, for 10 minutes

to to to

tomorrow

tomorrow

tomorrow

too morrow

to

to morrow

tomorrow

row tomorrow

morrow

tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow

After the stroke

Aunt Edie struggled with tomorrow

and words. We performed patience

with wrapped chrysanthemums

for twenty minutes

each week.

She lay tied up in tubes.

In much printed Western music, there are performance instructions in the top left-hand corner. These instructions guide character and tempo. The poem above adopts this idea.

If you enjoyed “Stuck,” have a glance at my first published volume – SHINING IN BRIGHTNESS.

I tweet about my observations on life, my current practise and this abiding interest in writing. Please follow me. I’m @BeadedQuill