Divorce Pending-Damage Done. Remember Scotland?

Divorce Pending-Damage Done.

Scarred chalk-The Bastion of this Sceptred Isle.
Scarred chalk-The Bastion of this Sceptred Isle.

For a week an irritable restlessness, an inability to write anything, and little belief that writing has much value amidst the jihads of various kinds! Scotland may get its own Caliphate through the vote, the pretence of democracy which enlists adolescents to beleaguer their grandparents, and promise the earth. Did nobody explain that being ‘in love’ is not loving, that grass is always greener from a distance?

Memory is the richest resource we have. Even memories of disagreement which bind us with shared scars.

Marriage is mostly dull tedium, slow change; a love affair with liberty invariably destructive of all those offspring dependent on constancy. The damage is already done whichever way it goes. No unwilling partner is ever rehabilitated, nor trustworthy.

What has Scotland to do with it? Why do I care, so incoherently? My Scottish grandfather and Irish grandmother were no part of my childhood, and it is not my blood that sings out. It is so many more important things. Mainly a love for the identity of Britain, what I thought it stood for, which I once tried to express.

Sworn Statement

I remember British before I ever came.
It held out not so much a hand
as a perfumed sheltering skirt.

Libraries of promises told me it was so;
so kind, so empathetic…good laws kept
below the plimsoll line of progress, and never shook their fists.

Red-robed institutions and the wigs of learned men
in processions or procedures, stood up stoutly to defend
like a robin a single spade, abandoned to the rain.

Centuries had assumed much the same kind of thing.
Honour never easily perturbed by loud waving sticks,
or shouting, or new planted beds of change.

That picture merely skeletal like an architect token tree;
profile of swinging twigs on which whole flocks might feed…
The glory came with foliage, later season, quiet street,

rows of modest gables, the certain corner-store.
The Pakistani, hollow eyed, exhausted and polite,
his jet-eyed child a-clamour still at ten o’clock at night.

Inevitably Cathedrals, Warden Harding in the apse…
Overwhelmed by tearful vespers by half a few intoned
in a mediaeval choir with its candle cloistered lights,

its susurration of sandal, bowing tonsured pates…
Out into the winter fog hugging near the lamps,
the smoking billboard publican stamping frozen feet.

I fell in love with promises, smacked into full-tilt
round the corners of a heedless unintentional search, believed
Britain was for everyone, somewhere, Harry and St George

Or so, for years, it seemed.

Could I have been mistaken as little as thirty years back?
Could deception hold its nerve from Land’s End to John o’ Groats?
Grey matter finds it hard to shift something weightless as faith…

There was a certain…certainty? Officer, I can’t tell you anymore
I only notice now its gone, this Island has been robbed.

T'other end. More beautiful, but protected from the south. Together proved invincible.
T’other end. More beautiful, but protected from the south. Together proved invincible.


THROWING GRAVEL AT GLASS. An Immigrant’s Growing Impression of the ‘Mother Country’ (Originally published in The Recusant)

This piece is resurrected in response to an invitation offered today to ‘keep getting it down’. A new friend invited me to list five interesting things about myself, and another (older- in both senses) friend said that my poetry is written for poets, and he would have me write more accessibly for everyone. All my new South African friends might understand this even more. So here goes.


'And Elgar wrote it down'
‘And Elgar wrote it down’

You speak our language well enough. Try to be exact.
Talk first of where you come from, what place, what climate of sun,
corn of rattling monotony, or rows of sweating pineapple; were you near a beach?

Let us begin at the beginning.

The drum of Africa rolls incessant, a barrel under the feet. It failed to stop for getting born…
We caught a wind off the Kalahari, which snagged us on barbed wire, the shred  of a shirt flapping before we hastened on; pioneers are travelling folk, we uitspan where we find ourselves, and mostly for one night…

Very well. What manner of people suckled you? Taught you to walk? Gave you your prayers at sunset, or maybe brushed your teeth?

Some wore socks and veldschoen, banded khaki hats… kept dried peaches in the pocket, corralled a farm on  horseback-, often chewed sweet grass…the labour filed in kaalvoet from distant smoking kraals with babies on their backs and calloused dirty feet. Their rivers flowed over boulders, and washing dried on rock. They walked like ants with purpose, carried heads of firewood, and swept the hills with song…

Your people are known to be obstinate, perhaps I’m being harsh. I realise it wasn’t easy. Did you ever go to school?

I opened up the ant spires, and paced the baobab girth. I saw elephants drunk on  maroolas, and hyenas bloody jawed. My horse and I in the mountains alone took  turns to cast our shadows…the sort of thing you asked?

I had hoped for something else; the merest suggestion of books. I really want to understand you. I am not trying to be perverse.

Oh books, that’s very easy. Books were candle light, and whizz-bangs, and ghosts in the shadows flickering; leather smelt of sweat. Books were made of promises, improvements in design. Damp Keats eventually caught fire, and hectic Percy     Bysshe…lit sparks of inspiration, and subtle Austen flavoured fish…but books were about England, there was African life to live…

I thought you said you were thirsty, and that was why you came. What had fed that appetite, identify the hunger? It’s tethered you here for a reason…It seems reasonable to ask.

Now here we come to the doring bush, the wag’n bietjie thorn. It was you who persuaded us we never could belong. Not unless we learned to hold our crude and wagging tongue. So I came for your opinions, and your moderated views, tempered by your literature, I would learn them if it killed me, and it very nearly has…

There was nothing that you valued? Nothing that enriched? Subtle converse  taught you no refinements, brought forth nothing new? Could we have had this conversation if you’d never put on shoes?

Is this a conversation? I had not realised that. We talk to one another. It isn’t the same thing. Yes I learned your language, and I worshipped it at first. I believed it  would oil my power to show you other things; the glory of the sugar bright stars, thrown by razor wind, the need to pelt down sand dunes and shout injustice to the sky.. oh yes I leaned refinement, let’s call it constipation and have done…

Now who’s being harsh? Was there nothing that you loved? Nothing that explained your blood, or informed your letters home? Did you take no pictures, or  stop before a view…Surely there was something…

That’s the point you dimwit, it was all face value so. I found your country perfect, exactly as expected, not a hair astray. There was a quota of eccentrics, and I loved them, every one. There was always mist on the Malvern Hills and Elgar wrote it down. London was Threadneedle Street, and Horseguards all stood still. It lived up to all its promises, and I gulped it like spring water, and thought that I’d come home. You wrapped me up in literature; words and place, one piece. It’s taken my life to unwrap it, and find instead its vacuum heart, and nothing to write back…

What about the politics you hated, we sheltered you from those…

Oh yes, you’re right, I quite forgot; the constant surveillance, the neighbours who informed, the ninety day detentions, the summary arrests, the banning of so many things, speech among the first…Sorry I’m getting distracted; were those the things   you meant? 

You draw a false analogy, we don’t do it the same way, your comparisons are facile, nobody here protests. We accept when things are necessary, and we have after all the freedom of our Press…

To spin you like a marionette, too giddy to take heed of the swirling fascist state. Compulsory tolerance is your poison coated pill… you swallow without tasting…At least we knew we were pariahs, and not just because we smoked..

Come come you exaggerate, it really isn’t done. The essential rule you never learned is what makes us what we are; never to speak loudly…or criticise with emphasis or most of all, enthuse. Let me give you some advice, it will serve you everywhere, curtail your indignation, it sits so very ill, make a joke of outrage, keep it well to heel…

Ag ja, my outrage is exhausted, like a cur behind a wagon, snapping at the flies. I know I have nowhere to stand, and nothing left to say. Your literature has tamed me like a mangy lion penned. You are all so very certain about such little things.

On the Eve of Dissolution.
On the Eve of Dissolution.