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Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk

This poem is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

Three Poems Tatamkhulu Afrika

Devil in the Stone

Sometimes I think I glimpse
a glitter of its glance within my own,
an insolence in a smile that is not mine,
and know, then,
that the bold-eyed devil my heart hides
is wanting to be out
of the straitening stone that would have me believe
that I and it are one,
that all I am is a stone.

But my blood knows,
as do my nerve-ends,
even my passionless amends,
eddying, wavering,
with a life that is the variable wind's,
that I am cunningly other; am
desires that I laser in the womb,
or let be born though they are doomed
to the sterile seeding of my own stone.

And I am the trash bin
at the leftwards kinking of the lane,
its cover that I let fall,
clangingly, to the stone,
its telling like a bellowing bell
of the shames that are my lies because
I lie in denial of the wildhaired,
honed one
in its trap of stone.

And I am the junkie at the end of the line,
shafted and reeling as a bull in a ring,
death row killer smelling rain
other side the alienating iron,
but still the back-to-the-wall,
never-so-alive,
rebellious beast that I am though I smile
with the grimaces of griffins or goons -
or ape the impassivity of their stone.

And I am every other such
twilight or deep-night
irreverent flesh,
pulsing the punk
washboards of my sides,
weeping my marijuana tears,
shearing my soles as I walk
the razor-edge of my wild
side's pretending I am stone.

Sometimes my bones grow light
as with an imminence of flight;
I blaze with a red
rebelliousness of eyes,
gather for a cleaving of the iron of the sky,
shattering of the mosaics of restraint,
pace, then,
my unchanging slow,
acquiescent step of stone.


Street Kid

Ripped men's jersey hangs
to below his knees.
Shoulder, bared
and seeking as a hand,
reaches to me as from a ruin.
Crooked black
feet twist
into trodden-flat
approximations of shoes.
Same-all-the-way-down
shanks and thighs,
knottings of knees,
buttocks I can hold
in the palm of a hand,
piston him on:
now slow,
measuredly as a crane,
now quick
as a fit, a cricket one
twitch ahead of my step,
flea fleeing my nails.
He hold out his hand.
Dead,
his eyes do not plead:
only the hand.
I press a coin in it:
my last small change.
'More', he says,
voice flat,
demanding, as a man's,
lips ferally off
his teeth, eyes alive.
Shocked, I step
back, admonish him,
telling him I, too,
am poor, that there's a home
for kids like him -
free baths,
kip, a meal -
block to go.
The shades come down again.
Yet somehow now
he's taking a steadier aim,
aware as a mugger turned
to a more than a stray
brushing of our sides,
eyes' twin
speculativeness plunged
into the soft cringe of my spine,
raping me with the raw
animalism of its steel,
ageless callousness of the child.
Someone passes
us and he turns,
quickly, following,
holding out his hand,
all other human sentience but
the fields he prowls.


Pas de Quatre

He loves Spain:
when he speaks of it I hear
guitars, smell sun.
She paints,
hides the paintings in her room,
shows me some.
My breath stills
at the tenderness of their line,
awareness of the eyes,
mouths that close
upon the silenced tongue.
She shuts the door, firmly, when we leave,
shows me her garden,
hemmed by its high
old hedges and greying boards.
I found her watering it
in the silence before the sun.
Unplanned,
it is as Eden might have been.
She knows each flower,
touches them with the tenderness her paintings hold,
loves the small green oranges she cups
like a maleness in her palms.
Birds swarm
round the feeder under the vines,
unperturbed and unappeased.
A dove flaps,
clumsily, in the stone
bath for smaller wings.
She speaks of it,
intimately, as of kin.
He is an old man,
but their love transcends
the brittleness of bone,
moves me, considerately, aside
for the moments they must share.
Afternoons,
clocks tick suddenly loud:
she,
stockinged feet on the settee,
spectacles askew,
reading liberation poetry or prose,
looking hardly half
her fifty or so years,
he sunken in the sham
comas of the old.
Later, she will tap,
delicately, on my door,
call 'Tea!'
in a little-girlloving-
me-singsong,
and I'll go out to home-baked scones,
baroque,
barely usable spoons,
cups and plates with patterns from an age
time has leached
of all save its lavender and lies,
and he'll re-engage me in reminiscences of a war
in which, at last, we meet,
whose ashes stir
with a sad and pointless fire as we blow.
And all the while
I'll be knowing she's about,
vast and black
as the township on the hill,
bustling,
even when she's still,
turning round and round
like a restless, lonely hound
in the taut,
dark dossdown of my mind.
I do not know her name:
was not given it:
could only hold her hand till she sensed
I did not see her as a table or a chair.
Sometimes I'd smile,
passing through the kitchen to my room.
She'd smile back but her eyes
stayed troubled as though we played
some not quite reputable game.
I sit here eating and I gag,
inwardly, on the bloodslicked
gristle of my heart.
Bruise-black
conserve soaks
into my scone's split halves.
My hand trembles as I take
up my cup, laugh
at witticisms barely heard.
Other side the wall,
alone in the silence we left her to,
she holds her mug in slow,
work-riven hands.
Black as space, her eyes
say nothing: say all.
She watches us through the wall.
Between me and them,
the shining table widens till I blink
away the imminence of my fall.
Their faces rush
back at me, soft with love.
But it is their hands I see:
when next I take them will I feel
the sharpness of their bones?
The woman chinks
down her mug,
moves around under my skin.
They ask me if I am well.

This poem is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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