Milton High School

Selborne Avenue, Bulawayo

Poetry

Taken from school magazines. Additional input from past students and teachers Derek Fenton and the notable John Eppel.

Here is no ancient pile all stained and scarred
By centuries of rain and blasting storm,
Yet in the few short years since thou was born,
No backward look thy spreading fame has marred.
Forth went thy sons when jealous races warred,
Died at Latema, and 'mid Flanders corn,
While Achi Baba grim and battle worn
O'er Milton graves eternally keeps guard.
Proud were the man whose noble name you bear
Could he behold the inmates of your walls.
O'er half a continent thy summons calls
Fathers to place their sons in Milton's care;
Throughout this land thy cry rings loud and long,
"Oh quit yourselves like men. Be strong, be strong!"
Newton Henry Dampier Spicer (circa. 1920)

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"You are as old as your doubts, as young as your faith;
as old as your fears, as young as your selfconfidence;
you are as old as your despair, but enduringly young as your hope."
Anthony Hall (1976)

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The blazing sun beats down,
On the agony of the tortured ground,
Sucking the last moisture from the sand,
Draining all life from the barren land.
Withered trees droop in battered rows,
Crouching leafless-lifeless as the dry wind blows,
Small grey lizards dart across the scorching stone,
Restless, primeval, of a time long gone.
Spiralling dust columns rise and fall,
Whirling viciously, slender and tall,
The harsh rustle of the sun-scorched grass,
Trampled flat as anxious animals pass.
The deathly silence is shattered by a buzzard's shriek,
As he wheels and turns in the milky heavens bleak,
Fiendishly marking his weakening prey,
Slowly perishing with the dying day.
Mark Foskett (1976)

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Dear little girl in plaits and ribbon bows,
Fat little tummy and pigeon toes,
Puffed-up cheeks all rosy red,
Sweet lips smeared in butter, and bread
Crumbs clinging to your dimpled chin,
Free from every kind of sin;
Except for the time when you strangled the cat,
And cut little holes in your father's hat,
And bit your brother's ear in two,
And smeared your mother's dress with glue.
Never smiling, always cross,
Always wanting to be the boss!
Always fighting, always eating,
Never scared to take the beating.
But lo! as the years creep slowly on,
Your girlish games will soon be gone.
Now you turn your mind to boys,
Away with pigtails, sweets and toys!
You'll leave the house and be a rover;
Yes, you're "busting out all over".
High-heeled shoes, and stockings too,
Nothing's good enough for you.
Dances, parties, moonlit nights,
Cotton frocks have changed to tights.
Love affairs with strange young men,
A life of wild romance, and then...
Matrimony comes your way,
To have and to hold 'til your dying day.
And as the good years come and go,
And as your children learn to grow:
As your beauty fades away,
And once-gold hair has turned to grey...
Think back, and remember years ago,
A sweet little girl with a ribbon bow,
And grubby hands and dimpled chin-
Isn't age a wretched sin?
Sleep well, little pig-tailed one
And make the very best of the shining sun;
For one day some old shady tree,
Will hide its light and warmth from thee.
John Eppel (1965)

John Eppel (My Dustbin and Rosewater) was born in Lyndenburg South Africa in 1947 and grew up in Colleen Bawn Zimbabwe from the age of four. After Milton he attended University of Natal where he completed his English Masters degree in 'A study of Keatsian Dialectics.' He teaches English at Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo.

A multi-award winning author is having a great year: this year alone Eppel has, together with Togara Muzanenhamo, won the NAMA prize for Outstanding Fiction for their anthology Textures, while John was recently named a winner in the 2016 Poetry Business Competition in which his collection, Landlocked, was chosen by world-acclaimed poet, Billy Collins, from among entries submitted from around the world.

He has published 13 books (so far) one of which has been translated into French (The Giraffe Man) He was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize for his first poetry book 'Spoils of War.' His first novel, D.G.G. Berry’s The Great North Road, won the M-Net Prize in South Africa.

His second novel, Hatchings, was short-listed for the M-Net Prize and was chosen for the series in the
Times Literary Supplement on the most significant books to have come out of Africa.

His other novels, The Girraffe Man, The Curse of the Ripe Tomato and The Holy Innocentsm, and his
poetry anthologies, Sonata for Matabeleland and Selected Poems: 1965-1995, have received critical acclaim.

His most recent publication is The Caruso of Colleen Bawn and other short Writings.

John_Eppel   John_eppel


List of Published Books

 • "Together" (with Julius Chingono), 'amaBooks/UNO Press/UKZN Press.
 • "Absent: The English Teacher", Jacana.
 • "White Man Crawling", (2007) 'amaBooks.
 • "Hatchings" (reprint), Republished by 'amaBooks.
 • "Songs My Country Taught Me", Weaver Press.
 • "The Caruso of Collen Bawn and other short writings", 'amaBooks.
 • "The Holy Innocents", 'amaBooks.
 • "The Curse of the Ripe Tomato", 'amaBooks.
 • "Selected poems 1965-1995", Childline.
 • "Sonata for Matabeleland", Snailpress/Baobab Books.
 • "The Giraffe Man", Quelliere.
 • "Hatchings" Carrefour.
 • "D G G Berry's The Great North Road", Carrefour/Hippogriff (1992) (Recently re-published in E-Book format on Amazon).
 • "Spoils of War", (1989) Carrefour.

TogetherAbsent_the_Ancient_TeacherWhite_Man_CrawlingsHatchingsSongs_My_Country_Taught_meThe_Caruso_of_Colleen_BawnThe_Holy_InnocentsThe_Curse_of_the Ripe_TomatoHatchings

TexturesState_of_the_Nation

John Eppel and Togara Muzanenhamo's poetry collaboration Textures has been nominated for a 2016 Zimbabwe National Arts Merit Award, in the Outstanding Fiction category

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The Class of 64
On looking at my class of sixty four
I know of three who were killed in the war:
poor old Robbie whose chopper was brought down,
Brian blown up by a landmine outside town;
then there was Noel who died from the drink,
caused no doubt by the war I think:
but what of the others, where did they all go?
The gifted, able, ordinary and slow.
How many are still left in our little town,
wondering how dreams came tumbling down.
John, the poet, stayed leaving in his mind.
Where else on earth would so few be left behind,
with so many scattered all over the world:
their fates unknown, their stories not unfurled.
Derek Fenton

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Poetry from Derek Fenton

Derek was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 1946. He was educated at Milton School and Natal and Harare Universities. He returned to Milton where he taught English before travelling to Europe.

After several years in London where he worked as a milkman, labourer and at numerous clerical jobs, he emigrated to Western Australia. On becoming an Australian citizen he returned to Africa for six years working in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa which served as the inspiration for much of his poetry.

He now lives back in Australia where he teaches Mathematics and English as a Second Language.
His poetry is informed by the experience of being a migrant and the difficulties of adjustment to a new country and alienation from the old.

He has had poems published by Les Murray in Quadrant magazine and a poem short-listed for publication in the Westerly. A humorous poem about the Australian and South African accents was also published in the West Australian.

Copyrights: Documents and information on this website published by Derek are the sole property and copyrighted materials of the writer. For a sample extract of Derek's poetry see below.  Tap on the book preview to read or purchase the book of poerty inspired by Africa and travels abroad.


derekfentonperthpoetryclubBlind_man


BLIND MAN ON A ZEBRA CROSSING - POEMS ABOUT AND OUT OF AFRICA

By Derek Fenton

WELCOME TO COUNTRY

They purloined your house,
Aboriginal Australian
and feeling guilty allowed
you to stay on in a tiny backroom.

Now that they are fully ensconced
you conduct a welcome to country,
but with all the rooms fully occupied
will never get the title deeds back
and they will seldom visit you
in your little room.

Who am I to talk,
a white Zimbabwean
evicted from my tiny room
from where I controlled the house
and fed the household:
Now they are starving
and with the title deeds
don’t want me back.

We are alike you and I
only our colour, justice
and good fortune
separate us.


PERFECT PLACE

Les Murray has his Bunyah.
John Kinsella his Wheat Belt.
Thomas Hardy his Wessex.
Dylan Thomas his Fern Hill.
Robert Frost his road to choose……

Blankets to warm and comfort them.

I have Matabeleland: as does my good friend John Eppel.*
For him the blanket is being ripped off, and he weeps poetry.

For me it is like someone long dead, whose face fades fast….

I once had the Matopos..*

* Zimbabwe’s finest poet.
* Granite hills outside Bulawayo, Matabeleland…Zimbabwe



LAST BOAT TO EXTINCTION

If they could, what might Dodos be thinking
as their comrades faded in Mauritius?
What of Tasmanian Tigers’ precious
last moments of winking and blinking
in the face of the Europeans’ guns?
What of doomed dinosaurs in the dark?
Their only hope a Jurassic Park
reinvigorating daughters and sons.

What of us, the last of the Rhodesians?
Comforting one another beside a grave:
clinking glasses afterwards at the wake,
defying tumours, murmurs and lesions.
But being Zimbabweans will not save
us from the Styx ferry ride we must make!


ON TEACHING A MATHS I.E.C. CLASS AFTER LUNCH

What do you see out of that window there
as kookaburras and magpies lure you
away from my lesson to places where
your life’s dreams and desires once grew?
Come back you students from where you have gone!
To Asia, Africa and the Middle East;
it is time to put your Aussie clothes back on
and tuck into an Antipodean feast.
Now let my equations coax you all back!
from your deserts, villages and terrain:
dragging you once more onto the right track
from the nostalgic reaches of your brain.
But who am I to ask these things of you
when to my Africa, my thoughts just flew!

TSHWALA *

It bore no resemblance
To the amber Castle
My father used to drink
Before going on to scotch;
Plopping ice into crystal tumblers
Cleaned and prepared by Dabson
The cook boy:
Delivered diligently
As soon as he heard
The car’s hooter
And the gate
Squeak open obsequiously.
Town, the garden boy,
Twenty something old
And younger than Dabson
By twenty five
Locked the working day out
With wire over a gate-post
And a bow to the baas.
The day done
Retired to the back step
For a tin of tea and a doorstep
Of white bread and jam
We kids still in the bush
A few miles away
Tracking the duiker
Supposed to still live that close to town
Chanced upon a forty-four gallon drum
Of “kaffir beer”:
“Sis, it smells!”
We rocked it off its brick base
And guffawed as a Sunday party
Flowed down a path fashioned by bare feet.
Dabson will not be able to afford
The mukiwa’s Castle or Lion beer,
And the few tots of scotch
He pilfered
Will not get him drunk enough
To shut out his life for the day.
There will be silence
from the bush this weekend!

* Beer
* White man


SOUTH SEA SHUFFLE

A cynic or medical scientist might say it is the Amiodarone kicking in
but my heart begs to differ.
The moment I placed both feet on African soil and removed the shaking left leg from the Antipodes
my fibrillation cleared and the sinus rhythm returned.
It happened eleven days before it should and my heart tells me it was when
the soutpiel* left leg straddling the Indian Ocean swung over to join the firmly planted right
in Africa.

At that precise moment the heart of Africa beat and welcomed me home;
my Africa, my home.

My head wonders…

* A person who cannot give up allegiance to an overseas country and has his legs in both countries, hence a ‘salt penis’.

OF MOUNTAINS AND MOLE HILLS...A PANTOUM

On that day we three began our climb,
Sir Edmund, the Queen and me:
It was a wonderful time
back in nineteen fifty three.

Sir Edmund, the Queen and me,
vertices of a triangle
back in nineteen fifty three;
edges of an Empire which dangle,

vertices of a triangle,
into three separate seas.
Edges of an Empire which dangle,
totalling one hundred and eighty degrees

into three separate seas.
England, Rhodesia and N.Z.
totalling one hundred and eighty degrees,
two still alive and one now dead.

England, Rhodesia and N.Z.
each with its own claim to fame.
Two still alive and one now dead,
the middle one having lost its name.

Each with its own claim to fame,
a Monarch, mutineer and mountaineer
the middle one now having lost its name
once led by Smith who knew no fear.

A Monarch, mutineer and mountaineer;
lady, gentleman and, to many, knave,
one Ian Smith who knew no fear;
and Hillary noble and brave.

Lady, gentleman and, to many, knave,
Smith who is recently deceased,
and Hillary, noble and brave.
While the Queen still at life's feast!

Smith, who is recently deceased,
lauded by just a few,
while the Queen still at life's feast,
and Hillary brave and true,

lauded by more than a few.
She at the top of her peak
and Hillary brave and true.
It is now left for me to seek

what is there at the top of my peak.
Chances are it will be a molehill.
It is now left for me to seek
my slightly elevated thrill;

but how could it have been clear to me
on that day we three began our climb?
Back in nineteen fifty three
it was a wonderful time!

TIMES PAST

Isn’t it a shame piccanin*
that days like those in Matabeleland
are over and ashamed
we face one another
in stuffy English railway carriages:
too far apart to feel as we did
on dry, dusty December days
when hot and thirsty we waited for
the gentle rustling
of syringa leaves just before
the chilling thunderstorm.
At last cooling breezes;
tiny spots splatter and splay
on dusty drives.
Tiny torrents tear through sun blistered cracks
to the Matsheumhlope
and you and I squelched in mud.
Till, stockinged in clay, laughing
we dropped to our knees
moulding mud into cars and cattle
and shoulders touching
chased guinea fowl not caring
that we smelt different
or our language was makeshift.
Until, tired
mud caked on our feet and hands
called home by parents the gulf of years
we returned…
You to your Khaya*
and I  to my shack!*

*Black child.
*Servant’s quarters. Small, one roomed house in the back garden.
* Term used by Whites for house.



DYLAN MIGHT APPROVE

Do not take it on the chin,
the cards that life has dealt you:
Strive instead to conjure a win.

Throw Jokers in the bin,
kick them out of the queue:
Do not take it on the chin.

Take your own hands and toss them in,
and start the game anew:
Now strive instead to conjure a win.

And if the pickings are too thin,
no point their loss to rue:
Do not take it on the chin
.
Seize the wheel and spin,
again, and see what you can do:
Strive instead to conjure a win.

Soon enough oblivion will be your kin,
but you’ll know it’s your own cards you drew:
So don’t take it on the chin,
Strive instead to conjure a win!


A QUESTION ASKED

I do not believe in God or an afterlife
God knows I have tried:
I’ve looked for them in a sunset
or in the face of a young child;
at the watchmakers
and in all the usual places
intelligently designed,
ontologically sound.
Perhaps like the Earl of Rochester I will find
them on my death bed.

On my gravestone inscribe
‘He looked and looked
but will only see
when He ceases to be!’


ON SEEING A MURDERED FARMER ON THE NIGHTLY NEWS

A farmer my age
Lies dead
His old dog guarding
His battered body
Covered
By the sort of bedspread
I used to shelter under
As a child
Its feel caressing
Sunburnt newly bathed
Shoulders smelling
Of Sunlight soap
And taking the edge
Off the cooling
Pre-thunderstorm air.
Later
The sun streaming
Through rondavel windows,
I’d Throw off the spread
And lie naked
Stroked by the searing
African sun
Unafraid of the future
And the plethora
Of perils outside.
Now
Cocooned by
Antipodean safety
I sit stunned,
While he
Gains none
Save from
His faithful dog
Who blankets his memory
And trembles
In mourning
And despair.

WHY NO BONNETS

Why at sixty am I writing sonnets beavering away at those fourteen lines,
instead of polishing my cars’ bonnets and paying off all those speeding fines.
There’re no sports cars, tucks or toupees for me
to ward off another mid-life crisis: no younger trophy brides will you see,
nor any Viagra introduced vices.
To keep the dreaded alzheimers at bay,
three stanzas and a couplet, I’ll create, mentally eating an apple a day,
keeping it up before it is too late. I’ll only be happy at getting old,
when at least one of these poems is sold!

SOMEWHERE TO GO

I was where I was before I was born
and where I will be when I die
when Cecil John’s pioneer column marched over the Limpopo
making me forever a white African .
I did not request it
as I did not request my parents
or the pariah status I acquired later
as a white rebel Rhodesian ,
or the time I spent in Coventry
when the English and others learnt of my origins .
And most of all I did not request
the love and yearning I feel for Africa
across thousands of miles of Indian Ocean .
Branded a Jaapie here
and rejected by the original inhabitants there
I shall finally rest in that place where I first was
Nowhere.

A SOUR TASTE IN THE MOUTH

Told we were to play soccer
against the local coloured school
our first multi-racial game
Solly Solomon said , ”Sis!
I won’t eat the oranges.
No bloody fear!”
And the question of drinking water
out of their aluminium mugs
was too ridiculous
to even contemplate;
“I’ll only eat the oranges
if I can peel them myself!”
He thundered after silently fuming
while our Master asked for volunteers
and handed out permission slips
to take home to parents.
That evening
his dad wouldn’t let him play
as was his right: and said,
while sipping the tea
poured by Philamon,
a black man
“Jussus that munt* makes a good stew!”

* Derogatory term for black person.

A TALE OF TWO HEROES

It happened in fifty-eight
on the south coast of Natal.
My brother and I called from the surf for lunch.
On our way up the beach with Mom;
screams and panic as a shark
attacked a fellow land-locked Rhodesian
taking off her arm.
Another Rhodesian, brave of course,
plunged in, punching the creature on the nose
driving it away
and , with a lifesaver, became an instant hero
carrying her through the hysterical crowd
scything screaming mothers with kindly shoves
to the newly arrived ambulance.

The black man who had earlier run down the no-man’s land
from the nie-blankes * beach
to warn the blankes one of its approach,
realised he would not make it
and rushed into a white’s only hotel.
”This is a net-blankes* hotel! No natives allowed!”
He stuck to his guns
and they phoned the hospital immediately.

I learnt of this later a twelve year old, reading over Dad’s shoulder.
“Thk thk. Shame. Terrible, bloody terrible!”
“What’s so terrible, Darl?”
“Julia, Ted’s daughter’s lost an arm!”

I looked at the Mercury’s* headline.
African Hero Saves Life.
Irony brushed me for the first time
but I barely noticed.

* nie-blankes non-whites
* net-blankes whites-only
* Natal Mercury: a left leaning, English language newspaper which tacitly condemned apartheid while having to self censor.
In the mould of Donald Woods in Cry Freedom.


WASTED LIVES
Twenty three years ago, I saw him
the man on today’s news:
tall, bearded, in complete control
interrogating a suspect who
he had bundled into a police van
an hour earlier at the border.

Now he shuffles, still tall,
but stooped, eyes haunted
by nearly as much time as Mandela in gaol;
his heart broken and diseased.

Back then, as I sped past to thwart ambushes
I saw him, framed in the side window, beneath a boulder
the peaceful sound of a dove in his ears
as he threatened a cowering black man.

Today, I see him as he dodges the media
who wait in ambush
and dazzle him with lights,
baying for his story.

Before, I knew him only by reputation
as he plied his devious trade;
convicted as a South African spy
for assassinating an innocent taxi driver.

Later, he spent several years on death row
only to be pardoned by Madiba* (Nelson Mandela)
arch enemy of his employers.

Now, he is freed by his deeds and whisked away
to confess to truth and reconciliation;
to bathe mothers, fathers, sons and daughters
and wash away their grief.

Later, in court, he will sit immobile
while parents rage or sob silently,
for their children reincarnated,
longing to touch them once more.

I shall not be there
but would like to sit beside him
and ask if he ever thinks
of the rights and wrongs of what he has done.

My friend, Robbie, cannot.
He died in the war
crushed in a chopper crash.

A MOTHER TOO FAR AWAY

My mother died in Africa today
while I was scanning a poem’s metre;
many thousands of kilometres away
as the Reaper decided to greet her.
I had iambic pentameters to write
and more rhythms and rhymes to create:
while her last moments were spent in fright
praying to God before it was too late.
Sons don’t give mothers the love they deserve,
whether the distance be farther or near;
a diminishing exponential curve
which, with time, makes us less and less aware?
If I were dying in my boyhood town,
would she not have put her knitting needles down?

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT AT TOUL SLENG*

Sombre students and tourists
shuffle past photographs
of people long dead
mostly terrified or dazed, disheveled:
eyes blank staring through the camera
and then two, just two, smiling....
Their eyes seeming to sparkle
Who has not lingered on the pair
and wondered how they could smile
knowing what was to come.

Their piteous photos bracketed
by classrooms converted to torture chambers
containing steel beds where many perished
in agony, pleading for death's balm.
Like grotesque works of modern art:
large photos on each wall, freeze
the last victims lying twisted
in tormented peace;
implements of torture adorning
each frame, left as they were.

Outside, in the gardens, people sit on benches stunned
shaking heads silently, unable to talk
while birds sing and Phnom Penh life
hums beyond walls that were
once unassailable.

A temple bell tolls in the distance
counting each skull
composing the map of Cambodia
on the wall just before the exit.

Two seem to smile just a bit.

Khymer Rouge torture and interrogation centre during Pol Pot's reign.


ZIMBABWE PROTEST POEMS

In 2000 Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party enrolled a number of dead people
onto the electoral roll and organised for live people to vote on their behalf.
It was one part of the election rigging which led to their victory and deprived the opposition of its rightful representation.
The ‘ghost voters’ had their fingers dyed to prevent them from voting again!
In March 2008 another presidential election will take place………



SONNET FOR SOMNABULANT SPIRITS

An election in my homeland today,
people queuing in the African way:
Patiently in whatever shade they can find
with democracy, peace and hope in mind.
The enfranchised will exercise their right
waiting stoically way into the night,
while some who are still on the electoral roll
wait silently in their allocated hole,
where they were buried so many years before;
their rights now impossible to ignore.
It is they who will get Bob over the line
with all their ghoulish marks one at a time.
But who will check their fingers, check for dye,
six feet under where their crosses cannot lie?

In 2005 Robert Mugabe set about clearing the cities of shanty dwellers who would be likely to support opposition
protests against his government’s draconian measures….



SONNET FOR SILENT SHANTY DWELLERS

Somnabulant spirits returned to rest
loyalty to Zanu put to the test;
not only just got Bob over the line,
but unmarked fingers pointed to the sign
that those who are still alive in the city,
are now targets of oppression and pity.
People struggling to keep families alive
finding it impossible to survive:
if they could just make it into the bush,
they would not be able to avoid the push
of government forces pulling shacks down,
and stopping trade on the streets of the town.
If they are strong enough to resist,
Mugabe will curtail them with a fist!

During Operation Marambatsvina , “Operation drive out rubbish” a two year old child was crushed under a wall felled by Mugabe’s forces!


HOME SWEET HOME

It wasn’t a mansion in Milton Park*
with bright chandeliers to keep out the dark;
no crystal glasses from which we could drink
no Wedgewood plates piling up in the sink:
without carpets, curtains, tables and chairs,
it was our home for a number of years.
We cooked our food on a makeshift fire,
drank our tea out of tins warmed on wire.
Our sadza* was muhle* but had no stew,
while during the day not very much to do:
Mugabe’s men came and tore it all down
forcing all the others out of our town.
As for me, two years old and not very tall
they extinguished my future under a wall!

* Milton Park- An affluent Harare suburb
* Sadza – polenta
* Muhle- good


It all happened again in 2008!


BORN TO RULE

At the final whistle we were way behind:
we had stretched the rules as far as we could,
knowing that our supporters wouldn't mind,
for our intentions were nothing but good.
There is no way we'll accept the result
for we have never done anything but win.
We've always been an unstoppable cult
who’ve never had to take it on the chin.

We demand another few minutes more
so that we can knobble the opposition.
That way we can definitely ensure
the impossibility of concession.
For our football team is ZANU PF
and Robert Mugabe is the only ref!


REGAL REMATCH

At the kick off we were primed and ready:
we had completed all of our training.
We knew there was no chance of its raining
as our captain’s faith in God was steady.
It was He, he said, who had won the game
the last time we’d beaten our opponent
without skill or luck as a component;
so we can expect much more of the same.

Now our adversaries have all pulled out:
a result of maiming their supporters.
Their hopes and dreams all efficiently slain:
our preordained result beyond all doubt.
We won’t listen to all those reporters
who say we’ve destroyed democracy again!


THE JOY OF VICTORY

The stadium was full to the rafter
with supporters from opposing teams.
One side about to realise its dreams
the other only sardonic laughter.
They were all compelled to attend the game
but only one team ran onto the field.
It wasn’t too hard for opponents to yield
or for the victors to get all the fame.

After the victory lap was complete
they double checked each supporters ticket
to make sure that they had enjoyed the match.
But with such a lopsided scoresheet
they certainly couldn’t call it cricket,
or claim to have taken a fair catch!



LAUGHABLE LAURELS

Our captain stood on the victory dais
his face a continent of beaming pride
knowing that our win was without bias,
in spite of the fact the goals were too wide.
Our supporters were overcome with joy
while theirs all seemed completely subdued.
We were so proud of our inspiring boy
for the opposition had not even booed.

As we began one more victory lap
our opponents began to shuffle out
while the overseas press had turned their back.
Madiba and Desmond stamped on their cap
of both their feelings there could be no doubt….
We all know Robert can resist any flak!


SHARING THE SPOILS

They called us back to the stadium
after securing their emphatic win.
Their captain beamed on the podium
bubbling French champagne dribbling down his chin.
“We want you to share this victory spoil,”
he said in a voice both soft and sincere;
“as a recognition for all your toil:
we consider each of you as our peer.”

Please forgive us for being suspicious
of this attempt at reconciliation:
past treatment has been nothing but vicious,
hardly a sound recommendation.
For when it comes to drinking from the chalice,
it will be filled with bitterness and malice!


CASTRATED CURRENCY

Zimbabweans searching neglected drawers;
behind cushions on un-vacuumed sofas,
frantically searching on all fours,
shaking out our old pairs of loafers.

Listening for the clink and clattering
on tiles, floorboards, parquetry and slate.
Scavenging through Christmas cakes, scattering
ancient tickies* which once they never ate.

Hunting furtive silver and copper coins
lurking in all of the nooks and crannies.
Once rejected, now everyone purloins
them: children, parents, grandpas and grannies.

Squirrel-like scurrying and hurrying
to deposit their hoardings in the bank,
putting an end to all their worrying.
For it’s only bankers who they have to thank

for wiping sixteen zeros off their note,
and castrating the currency quick smart.
The Governors are all happy to gloat
about giving them all a brand new start.

Well let them take all this coinage away
to store in shoe boxes under the bed,
where they can get down on their knees and pray
in a month’s time it will keep them all fed!

* Small coin worth two and a half cents in the old days.


TREACHEROUS TRIOLET

There are some of us who deny the part
many of us whites played in Zimbabwe’s fate.
Self deception had become a fine art
for those of us who had denied the part
we played in its calamitous start
by leaving our sharing until too late.
Why then do some of us deny the part
many of us whites played in Zimbabwe’s fate?

A gentle piss take…………


SONNET FOR A SICKIE

An epidemic at my place of work,
three colleagues have taken another day off;
but you could never say it was a shirk
here, where a sickie’s as good as a cough.
Where I come from it would be like a theft
for taking something you haven’t earned,
some might call you morally bereft
with your fingers ethically burned.
But here in this land of the long weekend,
it’s easy to make them a bit longer:
it’s not as if there is a rule to bend
as a right it couldn’t be much stronger.
It’s easy to take off just one more day
I have heaps, but will not give them away!

FIVE WEEK FEVER

It’s a virus which strikes with impunity
from which there’s no escape.
No way of building up immunity
or any kind of a protective drape.
It always strikes with clockwork precision
which the target body can never deny.
Just how does it make such a decision
to elicit a pre-programmed reply,
from teachers who think of themselves as sick
on the fifth week of a ten-week term?
Just how does it know the moment to pick,
it must be one hellava clever germ?
When the sickie fairy weaves its magic spell
how can any self respecting Aussie stay well!


PORK PIES*

It has been suggested that Australian employees be asked to take a lie detector test when applying for sick leave.

“It’s completely un-Australian!”
The union delegates were heard to cry.
“A concept which is totally alien:
making our sacred sickie fairy die!”
What need is there for a lie detector,
when the Aussie worker can be trusted
to tell the truth to any inspector
who is trying hard to have him busted?
He is always backed by fellow workers
with ,”You look really crook!” before and after.
No-one can see their colleagues as shirkers,
even in the face of ironic laughter.
Besides, polygraphs’ exorbitant cost,
will always outweigh pilfered wages lost!

* Australian rhyming slang for lies


A NOT TOO LONG TREEP!*

I had only been here for a very short while
when a dinkum Aussie told me his plan,
in an accent which was later to make me smile,
since I was concerned for this poor Aussie man.

“I’m going to Rottnest on a ship today”
he proudly announced in an Aussie twang.
“On a sheep to die,” I had heard him say,
while not too sure of Aussie Strine* and its slang:

I pictured him astride a Merino,
paddling away as if it was a board,
until the poor creature had begun to slow
a watery grave its only reward.

You should have used a sile* instead, old mate,
or better still a twin Yamaha motor,
to avoid such a terrible fate
and not use up your good luck quota.

I spent the weekend in a state of worry
at my Antipodean friend’s demise
preparing the ways to say I was sorry,
but I was to receive a pleasant surprise

When he arrived back at work on Monday
without even taking his usual sickie.
“It’s been so good to get really far away,
even if the weekend was such a quickie!”

“Not nearly as far as I thought you’d gone!”
I told him with both mirth and much relief.
“The holiday I thought you had been on,
would have required a rock solid belief!”

* Treep Trip
* Strine Aussie way of saying, Australian
* Sile Sail


THREE SONNETS ON A THEME

AN EXTENDED SONNET WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION

P oems tucked beside an s.a.e,
L ovingly placed in a pristine envelope;
E ach carefully folded in two, not three,
A nd each carrying its creator’s hope.
S estina, a pantoum, villanelle and
E specially, of course, good old free verse:

P erhaps with a sonnet though not too bland;
U nless a haiku might suit: nice and terse.
B allad with an arm around the others:
L ight verse (perhaps a bit to too un-p.c.)
I ncluded only for a band of brothers,
S tationed to the right of prose poetry.
H eroic verse not needing a disguise,

M aybe envelope rhyme as a surprise
E ach hoping to snare the poetry prize!


A NUT FOR LEAVING HOME?

Did all the gum trees I once saw at home
migrate from Australia and then roam,
as so many have done all over the world,
their nuts picked up and summarily hurled
to lands needing a fauna to endure.
Hardy pioneers planted to ensure,
windbreaks protecting many a farmer’s wealth,
or, in Vietnam, predicting a soil’s health;
but when they get there they are never the same
metamorphosing again and again.
Ugly foreigners looking not quite right
who won’t budge or disappear overnight,
just like migrants coming the other way,
like it or not, we are all here to stay.

T0 TEST OR NOT TO TEST

There are some teachers in Australia,
who say a test can never really be a test
of a student’s success or her failure,
because that person is never really at her best.
When having to perform under pressure,
how can she show what she can or cannot do?
It cannot be an accurate measure
of the skills she is able to get through.
Better to let her show her worth in class,
or even in a task which she can take home,
for then she is guaranteed a good pass,
in her producing a quality tome.
As for the others, they are not really so sure.
‘Tests test one’s ability to endure!’


INDIAN SUMMER

Prepare you cricketers who visit this land
for your reception will be far from bland
and you will be sledged by the Media first,
who pretend it’s after the truth they thirst:
while what they do is to demonise you
so that even you, will not know what is true!
Then the spectators who swallow their slant
and when taking up the distorted chant,
are fully convinced that what they see is right.
Whatever happens, ‘it is not a fair fight!”
If you get past the umpires all swayed
by ferocious appeals and cricket well played,
is it possible to beat this sledging band
of pampered cricketers from this hard land?


RISING IN THE SPRAY

He asked that his ashes be scattered
over the Victoria Falls, ’the smoke that thunders.’
Although I shall not be there,
I’ll picture them cascading over
the mighty chasm as it roars its approval:
and his indomitable spirit rising
with the spray into a dazzling blue sky
only Africa can produce.
David Livingstone said that it was a sight,
so beautiful that angels must have gazed
down upon them in their splendour.
Fred will be with those angels now,
regaling them with stories and charming
them as only he can.
They will taste his friendship and love,
as we once did,
and will still do
in our memories of him.


A SESTINA WITH ALTERNATE ENDINGS

A TRUE STORY WORTH TELLING?
A Sestina
If I told you about my life’s story,
you might not think I was telling the truth.
“Not another Danny Archer* wanna be!”
you’d cry, for every Zimbabwean had
experienced so much more than us, they say:
while we have no way of checking their worth.

I begin my tale for what it is worth.
It can’t be like any other story,
for everyone’s is unique they say
with its own particular brand of truth.
Mine began uneventfully and had
taken quite a long time for it to be

one which is exciting enough to be-
come so much more than just a few bob’s worth.
Someone lying asleep in the park had
been,” brutally murdered end of story!
I swear Mom that is the absolute truth.”
Or some other fantasies I would say.

“Some drama in my dreary town,” I’d say,
for that is how I wanted it to be.
But all too soon I was kicked by the truth
coming to realise life and its worth;
in learning my old schoolmate’s sad story.
It’s poor old Robbie who suddenly had

lost any future he might’ve had, and had
died without being able to have his say
in the tragic unfolding of our story:
for he, poor Ian, was not destined to be
able to get all of his money’s worth
or contribute to our personal truth.

I have attempted to tell you the truth
about a small part of my life which had
been representative of all its worth.
There is still so much more that I could say
of ambushes and murders, which would be
a validation of my life’s story.

If it’s told the truth, it’s for you to say.
If it had, it’s up to readers to be
judges of its worth as a true story.

*A swashbuckling Zimbabwean soldier of fortune in the film Blood Diamond.

A TRUE STORY WORTH TELLING? (2)
A Sestina
If I told you about my life’s story,
you might not think I was telling the truth.
“Not another Danny Archer* wanna be!”
you’d cry, for every Zimbabwean had
experienced so much more than us, they say:
while we have no way of checking their worth.

I begin my tale for what it is worth.
It can’t be like any other story,
for everyone’s is unique they say
with its own particular brand of truth.
Mine began uneventfully and had
taken quite a long time for it to be

one which was exciting enough to be-
come so much more than just a few bob's worth.
Someone lying asleep in the park had
been,” brutally murdered end of story!
I swear Mom that is the absolute truth.
They are not tall tales, I swear Mom” I'd say.

"Give me some drama in my town,” I'd say,
for that is how I wanted it to be.
But all too soon I was kicked by the truth
coming to realise life and its worth;
in learning my old schoolmate's sad story.
It's poor old Robbie who suddenly had

lost any future he might’ve had, and had
been killed without being able to have his say
in the tragic unfolding of our story:
for he, poor Ian, was not destined to be
able to get all of his money's worth
or contribute to our personal truth.

I have attempted to tell you the truth
about a small part of my life which had
been representative of all its worth.
There is still so much more that I could say
of ambushes and murders, which would be
a part, a small part of my life's story.

In truth there's so much, so much to say.
If only there was time, time for it to be
a tale worth telling, a valid story.

*A swashbuckling Zimbabwean soldier of fortune in the film Blood Diamond.

CUP CLERITHREW HIDING IN A SONNET

The brothers Du Plessis:
they were two not three.
Each very good at rugger
which was a bit of a bugger

for the England front row
and their lineout throw,
which they couldn't keep up
and it cost them the cup.

For a giant called Matfield
was the one who steeled
their hopes and their throws:
but that's how it goes...

You can't win them all,
especially without the ball!


A HOLIDAY INTERRUPTED

A carefree European woman tossed
into a bubbling Bali surf cauldron.
Moments before gambolling like children,
no thought of holidays cut short, life lost.

Scythed down by a foaming, furious snake:
flung over in a ferocious death roll,
speared into the ocean's ant lion* hole
while her husband and son scream in her wake

helplessly watching her slipping away.
Until a lifeguard gliding on a board
offering a brown umbilical cord,
plucked her gently from the venomous spray.

Bargains with God over, soothed by the sun,
sobbing uncontrollably until calm:
softly healed by a family's balm,
no need for promises to become a nun.

Will she look at life differently now
savouring each moment as if her last,
or rekindle love for future and past
as minutes, hours and days slip by her bow?

*An insect which digs a conical pit in the sand and buries itself at the apex. When ants stray into its lair they
are unable to negotiate the slippery slope and slide into its jaws. Found in Africa.


LITIGIOUS LITANY

The two of them could not see it coming:
both of them, the owl and the pussycat.
They could not hear the warning drums strumming,
they could not hear the drums, rat a tat tat.
Even with its big brown eyes the wise owl
could not see it coming, hear the drumming
as lawyers, accountants and chainsaws prowl
the old trees used only to insects humming.

But she should have! The roots loom large and thick
and by looking down and treading with care
she should have avoided that awful brick
seeing the dangers that were lurking there.
Now owl and trees will have to pay the price
for our fear of the litigator’s slice!


BLACK SWAN

Charred southern cousin, black parabola
etched against a shimmering perpspective plane:
a red tipped black ray, a sine curve dipping
below the x-axis searching for food.
Straightening linearly to swallow
morsels racing along equation’s line
past the origin to the third quadrant:
to be digested and then expelled
perpendicular at y equals minus three.
Joining a myriad of atoms on
an infinite multidimensional
plane bounded only by the universe,
itself a point on infinite numbers
of planes themselves points on an infinite……….


THE OLYMPICS

ROSE-TINTED SONNET

Say anything bad about Stephanie Rice
or any other Olympian greats,
and you will pay a terrible price
by suffering the very worst of fates.
Robert Drewe knows this exceedingly well
and keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek,
writing how Steph has him under her spell.
He knows that whenever you want to speak,

you must be effusive like Bruce on Seven,
or old T.J about Warney on Nine.
Then we'll all be there in golden heaven:
sipping on glasses of victory wine.
But, hey, what the hell, when it comes to sport
any doubts we have, will all come to nought!


SOAP ON A ROPE

John Coates, a Pom presents you with some soap
to wash medals of bronze, silver and gold:
but please John Coates, there’s no reason to mope;
try your very best to be brave and bold.
We Poms might not have enough swimming pools
and our hygiene is not as good as yours,
but which of the two of us are now fools
as we talk with our legs and not our jaws.
You Aussies are now starting to worry,
about how much money we have spent
on making old Coatsie very sorry,
for being a rather silly old gent.
For we were really way, way above you:
we smelly ones in the red, white and blue!


DEAR OH DEAR!

Dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,
what is that sound I hear loud and clear?
A Pom behind us on the table.
Coatsie told us they weren’t able.
Without swimming pools and without soap,
he swore to us they were without hope.
Where, oh where, oh where, oh where, oh where,
are Thorpie, Cathy and others dear?


SILICON SONNET

Nipped, tucked, plucked, liposucked and enhanced:
up a cup size or two, silicon steady,
into the airbrushed pages of Ralph I danced;
proud as punch, deprived of lunch, ever ready
to face the world with heightened self esteem.
Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s fairest
of all? The me I can see in the steam,
or the me I used to be when barest,
making me recoil in disgust and shame.
Now, thanks to all the surgeons plastic,
I am proud of my sexy deed-polled name
and won’t all my friends think I am fantastic?
They probably will if they think like me
where appearance is everything, all they see!

PACK A BRA….(A double sonnet)

The next time you go topless on a beach
in Bali, India or Sham El Sheik,
will you wonder just how far out of reach
your lifestyle is to the locals who make

your lunch or bring you cold beers on a tray?
They cannot afford to have breasts enhanced
or to pay ten year’s wages on a stay
in the luxury resort where you danced

all night, braless, while they yawned between smiles
before returning home to a tiny shack
and the loving embrace of a family’s wiles.
They have a little more than you can pack

in your Louis Vouttin or Gucci bag.
Your portfolio might be filled with wealth
and your garage occupied by a Jag;
but time lies waiting for you in stealth

to paint lines even Botox can’t stop.
Your silicon will eventually leak,
surgeon firmed buttocks will surely drop:
once lithe bones and joints will begin to creak.

Then will you wish you had stopped to think
about sensitivities and culture,
instead of how you might look in mink
a voracious consumerist vulture?

Your bare breasts, buttocks are a slap in the face
to them, and your behavior a disgrace:
don’t look in the mirror, look in their eyes,
the reflection you see, will not tell lies!


BECOMING

The young ignore us...

We are not handed out flyers
To clubs, on the beach.
They speak among themselves
in strange tongues
which we once understood.

We are ghosts
who inhabit their alien world
and they only see us
when they want to sell us
something, or buy from us.

If they could read
our diaries when we were young,
they would see
that we are what
they will become.


MAD ABOUT THE TAJ

When you make a trip to the Taj Mahal
do make sure that you are mentally strong.
Its stunning beauty is far from banal
in spite of the teeming adoring throng.

It’s a sight that can take your breath away;
it seems to float in a brilliant blue sky.
One to make the hardest atheist pray
or the most unshakeable cynic cry.

From there you will visit the Agra fort.
Your guide might tell you a little known fact,
especially if you are Western taught:
and your response will require some tact.

To tourists Agra means only the Taj
and not a place for the mentally ill.*
For Indians not only a shrine that’s large
but somewhere for the troubled to be still.

Knowing this I told my guide of my fear
of entering the redoubtable fort,
but pluckily he continued to steer,
thinking my concern would come to nought.

“I cannot possibly do it!” I cried,
“I am worse than an Aussie with no beer!”
When he tried to coax me in, I replied,
“I suffer from agoraphobia!”


*Agra is the site of India’s largest mental hospital. When an Indian says he is going to Agra, it has a different meaning than to a tourist.

RAJASTHANI ROULETTE

Life in Rajasthan can be hazardous
especially for a gypsy dancer.
Even more than for a Bengali lancer
or the driver of a Rajasthani bus.
After dancing on swords, crushed glass and nails,
gyrating like a cobra to the music;
she chooses just the right moment to pick
to break the trance, a dance which never fails

to celebrate life after its dangers;
a joyous riot of ululating colour
dazzling pots of fire perched on her head,
slowing down before mesmerised strangers,
tourists applauding her skill and valour
in Bikaner at a palace of red.


TOO MANY GAPS

I’d like to sit down with my oldest friends:
and discuss how we have come this far,
how chance had allowed us to scrape past sixty.
We could compare prostates, cholesterol counts, brushes
with death: and tick off debits and credits
in life’s laconic ledger.

I’d like to see how we all fared in love
and children, with careers;
to sit around a dining table and chat
about plans, beliefs and degrees
of certainty about where we go from here.

I’d love to, but there are too many empty
places where the youngest friends should be:
torn away by a forgotten, futile war.
Others by accident, disease and fate.

I’d love to, but we are too far apart,
scattered to every country,
reluctant, recalcitrant refugees.

And even if we could, there are too many gaps
to link hands and say a prayer of thanks…


FRIENDS

I have friends, you would only read about in books:
like friends who have fought as mercenaries
and hijacked a plane from the Seychelles.
Friends, who have shot at Portuguese train drivers
to prove to black comrades that they didn’t only shoot their kind.
Friends, who have ambushed white missionaries
to discredit terrorist enemies.

Friends, who were, in the main, decent people
and felt that they were forced into evil things.
Friends, like your dads and grandads
who fought in Vietnam and returned misunderstood.

Friends, who if they weren’t yours, might shock you.
If they weren’t so much like you, you would rage
against all that they have done, rejecting excuses.

Friends, who you might have been like, had you not
escaped overseas on a working holiday,
only to return when the war was over!


IT’S ALWAYS CRICKET

A poem read silently alone,
or whispered to capture its rhythm
is like watching a finely balanced test match.

A poem read at a presentation
to a respectful audience
is like a paced fifty-over match.

A poem performed at pace,
at a Slam, to a baying brood
is like a twenty-twenty slogathon.

Either way the poem persuades
if it is good enough;
ripping horripilations from its audience.


WHY NO BONNETS

Why at sixty am I writing sonnets
beavering away at those fourteen lines,
instead of polishing my cars’ bonnets
and paying off all those speeding fines.
There’re no sports cars, tucks or toupees for me
to ward off another mid-life crisis:
no younger trophy brides will you see,
nor any Viagra introduced vices.

To keep the dreaded alzheimers at bay,
three stanzas and a couplet, I’ll create,
mentally eating an apple a day,
keeping it up before it is too late.
I’ll only be happy at getting old,
when at least one of these poems is sold!


ON TEACHING A MATHS I.E.C. CLASS AFTER LUNCH

What do you see out of that window there
as kookaburras and magpies lure you
away from my lesson to places where
your life’s dreams and desires once grew?
Come back you students from where you have gone!
To Asia, Africa and the Middle East;
it is time to put your Aussie clothes back on
and tuck into an Antipodean feast.

Now let my equations coax you all back!
from your deserts, villages and terrain:
dragging you once more onto the right track
from the nostalgic reaches of your brain.
But who am I to ask these things of you
when to my Africa, my thoughts just flew!


A RETURN VISIT TO MOUNT DARWIN

Is that the baobab which shaded him
thirty five years ago as he prised
landmines and booby traps from lethal lairs
knowing that every second could be his last.

Is that a descendant of the baboon
who mocked him, an unbeliever, as he
crossed himself ironically back then
and took the go away bird literally

staying away from the land of his birth.
Until now; a bible not an F.N.
to protect him: a weapon to convert
people whose parents and grandparents
once wanted him dead.

Later that night, lying on his back
gazing at a dazzling sky, convinced
of the existence of a caring God,
he feels at home again thanking
his training for allowing him eternal life.

In the dishevelled cemetery nearby
a comrade’s bones are chewed by ants
as they have been for centuries.

The baobab’s deformed arms tickle tinkling stars
bohowing baboons breed boisterously
and platoons of ants march in time to the cemetery.


AIR-BRUSHING

Like an archaeologist gently brushing a precious artefact
she caresses an old photograph from a crumbling envelope
and the face she has struggled to recall snaps into clear focus.

She has settled for second best knowing that this, her first love,
is out of reach.

It is not a matter of attractiveness or suitability, for he has passed
on both counts. She has been passably happy and experienced more love
than most.

She puts on her reading glasses and in the background
notices for the first time the balancing rocks
of her homeland.

Her childhood reaches out and wipes a tear from her cheek.
She looks out of her window at her second home, smiles,
and accepts where she is.


BARRACKING* FOR OBAMA

The joy felt like it did all those years ago:
close your eyes and picture the quiff and smile.
Promise of Camelot, no hint of guile,
until that day in November, a blow
to baby boomers’ hopes for the future.
Now barrack for Obama, a new dawn,
a surgeon for the brave new world is born
who fixes gaping wounds with a suture.

Country like a patient anaesthetised:
a trusting smile on a slumbering face
surrendering itself to healing hands;
but what lurks there, on that table disguised,
waiting to ride on a needle stick trace?
A virus we hope Obama withstands.


WELCOME TO COUNTRY

They purloined your house,
Aboriginal Australian and feeling guilty allowed you to stay on in a tiny backroom.

Now that they are fully ensconced you conduct a welcome to country,
but with all the rooms fully occupied will never get the title deeds back
and they will seldom visit you in your little room.

Who am I to talk, a white Zimbabwean evicted from my tiny room
from where I controlled the house and fed the household:
Now they are starving and with the title deeds don’t want me back.

We are alike you and I only our colour, justice and good fortune separate us.


PERFECT PLACE

Les Murray has his Bunyah.
John Kinsella his Wheat Belt.
Thomas Hardy his Wessex.
Dylan Thomas his Fern Hill.
Robert Frost his road to choose……

Blankets to warm and comfort them.

I have Matabeleland:
as does my good friend John Eppel.*
For him the blanket is being
ripped off, and he weeps poetry.

For me it is like someone
long dead, whose face fades fast….

I once had the Matopos..*

* Zimbabwe’s finest poet.
* Granite hills outside Bulawayo, Matabeleland…Zimbabwe



DON’T POO POO THE DUNG HO MIGRANT

Industrious little dung beetle do you ever miss
the shadow of an elephant upon your back,
the reassuring cadence of a cobra’s hiss
or a friendly puff adder on a wildebeest track?
Do you find the dung here to be a little bland
with only roo, sheep and cattle to keep you fed?
In the west do you like to feel the texture of the sand
rather than thick red clay upon your head?

Does the beautiful song of magpies bring music to your ear
or does the go away bird still haunt your tiny brain?
Do winter showers come at the right time of year
or do you prefer the warmth of African summer rain?
“Why do you ask me such questions when I have work to do?
The only thing that concerns me is poo, poo, poo!”


LAST BOAT TO EXTINCTION

If they could, what might Dodos be thinking
as their comrades faded in Mauritius?
What of Tasmanian Tigers’ precious
last moments of winking and blinking
in the face of the Europeans’ guns?
What of doomed dinosaurs in the dark?
Their only hope a Jurassic Park
reinvigorating daughters and sons.

What of us, the last of the Rhodesians?
Comforting one another beside a grave:
clinking glasses afterwards at the wake,
defying tumours, murmurs and lesions.
But being Zimbabweans will not save
us from the Styx ferry ride we must make!


TSHWALA *

It bore no resemblance
To the amber Castle
My father used to drink
Before going on to scotch;
Plopping ice into crystal tumblers
Cleaned and prepared by Dabson
The cook boy:
Delivered diligently
As soon as he heard
The car’s hooter
And the gate
Squeak open obsequiously.
Town, the garden boy,
Twenty something old
And younger than Dabson
By twenty five
Locked the working day out
With wire over a gate-post
And a bow to the baas.
The day done
Retired to the back step
For a tin of tea and a doorstep
Of white bread and jam
We kids still in the bush
A few miles away
Tracking the duiker
Supposed to still live that close to town
Chanced upon a forty-four gallon drum
Of “kaffir beer”:
“Sis, it smells!”
We rocked it off its brick base
And guffawed as a Sunday party
Flowed down a path fashioned by bare feet.
Dabson will not be able to afford
The mukiwa’s Castle or Lion beer,
And the few tots of scotch
He pilfered
Will not get him drunk enough
To shut out his life for the day.
There will be silence
from the bush this weekend!

*beer
*white man



LAST RITE FOR A WHITE

What rite gives him the right to write
about his love for Africa:
after all he is only white
no made in Africa sticker

way before 1652.
Some say only black Africans
can go to the head of the queue
from where they can make amends

for injustices done in the past.
Does the same apply to others:
Afro American slaves cast
among ‘ Red Indian’ brothers.

But how can they love a land where
they have been but two hundred years:
just like the Australians here
how dare they, in a blink, shed tears.

I understand this argument,
the logic of it seems pretty sound.
What of Obama heaven sent
will we deny him sacred ground.

Which half of him can we accept:
that part of him which is Kenyan,
perhaps the white part which is left,
or the bit that’s Indonesian.

Can only time give him the right
to love the place where he was born.
What about love at first sight,
love is love, at both dusk and dawn.


SKIN DEEP
During Apartheid all citizens of South Africa were classified according to race. One test to see if one
was ‘non-white’, was to place a pencil in one’s hair to see if it would stick. In 1955 Sandra Laing, a black girl,
was born to a white couple. They fought for years to have her classified as white, but eventually the weight of
the system was too much, and she was estranged from her family. Her story has been told in the recent film ‘Skin’.

They did not fail the pencil test
for they were classified as white.
Not victims of Apartheid’s quest
to ensure that white was right.

They were Afrikaners and proud
ID documents told them so.
Their skin was a protective shroud:
membership of the status quo.

Until they had a tiny girl
who was as black as black could be.
Her hair was a beautiful curl
supporting the heaviest key.

Their little girl thought she was white
wallowing in her parent’s love
unaware of her pigment’s blight
or the pernicious system’s shove

compelling her to cross the line
from which there was no going back
and where she could no longer dine
with kin, only with those who were black.

Separated from her father
until the day of his demise,
reunited with a mother.
Unaware, in a bed she lies.

Now she’s in the Rainbow Nation
where her tragic story was told.
It’s a different situation,
a woman fifty four years old

who has five children of her own.
They will not care, when they have grown,
about the colour of their skin:
black, or white, it is never a sin!


RHODESIAN RECRIMINATIONS
A Sestina

She left when she was only five
too young to be responsible,
too young to feel any guilt.
The smell of a wooden cooking fire
and the black woman who brought
her up carrying her on her back

lingering, and taking her back
to Zimbabwe before she was five.
It was her white parents who brought
her here, being responsible
for the ethical traits which fire
her feelings of shame and guilt.

Her sensitivity to guilt,
inability to look back
without a conscience on fire
to times when she was only five
To when she felt responsible
for all the injustices brought

to her beautiful homeland, brought
before she could know the guilt,
before she felt responsible.
Now she wants to take it all back
to way ,way before she was five
to stamp out the raging fire:

way, way before the guns would fire
and young men in coffins be brought
home , after nineteen sixty five.
Before duty had turned to guilt
way, way before the looking back
knowing who was responsible….

knowing who was responsible
for starting the raging fire.
If only she could take it back
and her birthplace be brought
to a sanity without guilt;
without Mugabe’s gang of five!

Put out the fire, be rid of the guilt,
be responsible for good times brought
back, to way before she was five.


OF MOUNTAINS AND MOLE HILLS...A PANTOUM

On that day we three began our climb,
Sir Edmund,the Queen and me:
It was a wonderful time
back in nineteen fifty three.

Sir Edmund, the Queen and me,
vertices of a triangle
back in nineteen fifty three;
edges of an Empire which dangle,

vertices of a triangle,
into three separate seas.
Edges of an Empire which dangle,
totalling one hundred and eighty degrees

into three separate seas.
England, Rhodesia and N.Z.
totalling one hundred and eighty degrees,
two still alive and one now dead.

England, Rhodesia and N.Z.
each with its own claim to fame.
Two still alive and one now dead,
the middle one having lost its name.

Each with its own claim to fame,
a Monarch, mutineer and mountaineer
the middle one now having lost its name
once led by Smith who knew no fear.

A Monarch, mutineer and mountaineer;
lady, gentleman and ,to many ,knave,
one Ian Smith who knew no fear;
and Hillary noble and brave.

Lady,gentleman and ,to many, knave,
Smith who is recently deceased,
and Hillary,noble and brave.
While the Queen still at life's feast!
Smith, who is recently deceased,
lauded by just a few,
while the Queen still at life's feast,
and Hillary brave and true,

lauded by more than a few.
She at the top of her peak
and Hillary brave and true.
It is now left for me to seek

what is there at the top of my peak.
Chances are it will be a molehill.
It is now left for me to seek
my slightly elevated thrill;

but how could it have been clear to me
on that day we three began our climb?
Back in nineteen fifty three
it was a wonderful time!

ON SEEING A MURDERED FARMER ON THE NIGHTLY NEWS

A farmer my age
Lies dead
His old dog guarding
His battered body
Covered
By the sort of bedspread
I used to shelter under
As a child
Its feel caressing
Sunburnt newly bathed
Shoulders smelling
Of Sunlight soap
And taking the edge
Off the cooling
Pre-thunderstorm air.
Later
The sun streaming
Through rondavel windows,
I’d Throw off the spread
And lie naked
Stroked by the searing
African sun
Unafraid of the future
And the plethora
Of perils outside.
Now
Cocooned by
Antipodean safety
I sit stunned,
While he
Gains none
Save from
His faithful dog
Who blankets his memory
And trembles
In mourning
And despair.


A TALE OF TWO HEROES

It happened in fifty-eight
on the south coast of Natal.
My brother and I called from the surf for lunch.
On our way up the beach with Mom;
screams and panic as a shark
attacked a fellow land-locked Rhodesian
taking off her arm.
Another Rhodesian, brave of course,
plunged in, punching the creature on the nose
driving it away
and , with a lifesaver, became an instant hero
carrying her through the hysterical crowd
scything screaming mothers with kindly shoves
to the newly arrived ambulance.

The black man who had earlier run down the no-man’s land
from the nie-blankes *beach
to warn the blankes one of its approach,
realised he would not make it
and rushed into a white’s only hotel.
”This is a net-blankes* hotel! No natives allowed!”
He stuck to his guns
and they phoned the hospital immediately.

I learnt of this later
a twelve year old, reading over Dad’s shoulder.
“Thk thk. Shame. Terrible, bloody terrible!”
“What’s so terrible, Darl?”
“Julia, Ted’s daughter’s lost an arm!”

I looked at the Mercury’s* headline.
African Hero Saves Life.
Irony brushed me for the first time
but I barely noticed.

* nie-blankes non-whites
* net-blankes whites-only



SOUTH SEA SHUFFLE

A cynic or medical scientist might say
it is the Amiodarone kicking in
but my heart begs to differ.
The moment I placed both feet
on African soil
and removed the shaking left leg
from the Antipodes
my fibrillation cleared
and the sinus rhythm returned.
It happened eleven days before it should
and my heart tells me it was when
the soutpiel* left leg straddling the Indian Ocean
swung over to join the firmly planted right
in Africa.

At that precise moment
the heart of Africa beat
and welcomed me home;
my Africa, my home.

My head wonders…
* A person who cannot give up allegiance to an overseas country and has his legs in both countries, hence a ‘salt penis’.


THREE TRIOLETS ON A THEME.......

PERTH POETRY CLUB

They transport me to other places
these poems I hear on Saturdays:
they show me other faces .
they transport me to other places.
I wish I could remove the traces
of all my original ways
as they transport me to other places;
these poems I hear on Saturdays


SHAKING THE CHIPS FROM MY SHOULDERS

Mugabe sits on one shoulder
and Ian Smith sits on the other:
it doesn’t change as I get older.
Mugabe sits on one shoulder
perhaps I should let them moulder
because neither is my brother
then Mugabe will slip from one shoulder
and Ian Smith will slip from the other.


DYLAN MIGHT APPROVE

Do not take it on the chin,
the cards that life has dealt you:
Strive instead to conjure a win.

Throw Jokers in the bin,
kick them out of the queue:
Do not take it on the chin.

Take your own hands and toss them in,
and start the game anew:
Now strive instead to conjure a win.

And if the pickings are too thin,
no point their loss to rue:
Do not take it on the chin.
Seize the wheel and spin,
again, and see what you can do:
Strive instead to conjure a win.

Soon enough oblivion will be your kin,
but you’ll know it’s your own cards you drew:
So don’t take it on the chin,
Strive instead to conjure a win!


A QUESTION ASKED

I do not believe in God or an afterlife
God knows I have tried:
I’ve looked for them in a sunset
or in the face of a young child;
at the watchmakers
and in all the usual places
intelligently designed,
ontologically sound.
Perhaps like the Earl of Rochester I will find
them on my death bed.

On my gravestone inscribe
‘He looked and looked
but will only see
when He ceases to be!’


ANACREON BITES THE DUST

Anacreon :a Greek poet whose writing extolled the virtue of eating, drinking and being merry.

It’s easier to write when young
an anacreontic poem(s) with Dionysus’songs sung:

affirmation given among
peers as bullet proof as you are where all future concerns are flung

out and every drop of wine wrung
from the fruity flagon of life(s). Until, in old age, you are stung

by mortality who had slung
its opposite far, far away killing each vestige of the gung

ho in you to which you had clung;
and now to preserve your body on life’s ladder’s last rung

when your organs have all gone bung
you cut back on Bacchus’ brew and your debauchery is hung

up, to rest your liver and lung
giving you a few years more before your body becomes dung!