To view all poetry, visit the Vibral subsite Epic Proportions at epic.vibral.co.za.
He set himself before his task
His pen-brush clutched so tightly.
The lines he painted out with purpose
Were marching out his meanings.
The strictures that he set upon them
Were obeyed in “left-right!” cycles.
But the curtain stirred as the night sent out
A cricket to protest this crime.
Tiny insect though it was, the chirping
Shattered those lines.
Our Hero-poet clicked his tongue,
And hurled his ink-well vengeance.
He gave fresh orders, and lines remade,
But now out of step from his meaning.
He saw them stepping now as singles
And each one had a story.
The path he’d given, still they walked
But each to his own drummer.
How richly this new pattern swirled
How gaudy, austere and alive.
He observed how complex was this weave
And followed it across his pages.
His pen-brush racing, he wrote himself in
An observer upon yonder hilltop.
And it did not strike him now that he
Was a mere tenant in “his” own story.
With delight he watched first friend and foe
Then with rapture the far subtler stories.
Pen brush scumbling, weaving fresh strokes
All shot through in blues and golds.
The heat and dust of the crowds there gathered
Rose as steam above those pages.
Hours blinked by, and the night was fading
Till at last he collapsed on his bed.
He closed his eyes, but his grin spread wide
The lines of his face a fresh story.
I once took my place at a breakfast table
And was joined by a German student
He complained to me of his unfair teachers
And a girlfriend who asked too much.
In Canada I rode a subway, watching
A woman who mothered her daughters.
Her words were fussing, but her eyes caring
As they struggled to break from her yoke.
In Japan a tourist guide’s eyes lit up
When I called her to join my photograph.
She showed me how the Koi fish leapt
While the traffic was rumbling below.
In India my driver complained about Bombay
How rudely his passengers called him.
‘In the South, at, least, the people have manners
And smile and greet me as “Uncle”.’
At an Austrian conference, a fat man beside me
Sweated as he offered his name.
To put him at ease, I said ‘Air-con’s busted!’
But he said ‘No, I’m just overweight!’
In Spain a lovely woman offered me a smile
And my response did paint her blushes.
Her navy blue dress was fluttering pride
Inviting stares to gather about her.
Family and friends remark to me often
‘What fortune you enjoy in your travels!
New buildings new vehicles and far country sides
To find out new voices and faces!’
Yet far as I go, i find but the same
The same cares and fears and hopes.
Change all the names of the countries above
But the people could stay there still.
Despite all the pride we take in our cultures
The language and religions we clothe in
Needs for closeness, needs for distance
Clashing, colliding, make a human.
Standing shy of touching, sensing the same joys,
Doubting that ever we could share them
We half-dare, we tremble and we wonder
In its way, it’s all so beautiful.
Sunlight diffuses over the hillside
Giving way to the gathering night
The people are all still restless
So the lights go winking on.
Television sets are flickering
Flashes quivering on their walls
As they talk a little of today,
Or what the morrow brings.
Routine, repeating, comforting.
They sense a Greater Question loom
And await with merciless patience.
It stares back mirrored eyes
Reflecting their timid-puzzled stares.
Some do feel they know the answers
Are proud of their own restraints.
They look upon the pleasures as vice
And are slaves to their freedoms from it.
But the One that awaits, its arms outstretched
Yearns to hold all close.
Locked it is in our chains of concept
Muffled its music of Silence.
We feel this One, but know not how
To trust in such infinite Truth.
Easier it is to state our name, and what we do
Than to admit: “I am but stardust”
To embrace the One, we must stand naked
But that we cannot now do.
Sensual nudity is an easier concept;
Grasping for pleasure, we get.
The earth does turn; sunlight filters,
Another day will dawn. All in order,
To scramble, to scrape, scavenge, and to strive.
Pretending deafness to the breathless whisper
That begs us.
Each morning sees me scratch a matchstick
To fix on my lamp a flamebud.
Sometimes I’m rushing, and I just say to God
‘Hey howzit! Howzit, how are you?’
Sometimes, prayerful, I bow my head,
But often, I present a shopping list.
Still, each time leaves behind its matchstick
That accumulates there on the windowsill.
Bachelor as I am, I vow tomorrow
To throw these charred sticks out.
But sticks and matchboxes begin to pile
And the windowsill begs a better view.
One day I lit up and without thinking
Stuffed it in one of those boxes.
No more gunk there on the windowsill,
The paintwork free of charsticks.
One box to hold the unburnt matches
And one to hold the prayers.
And I think I’ll need these as the proof
When one day He asks ‘And you?’
‘Along with all the fun you’ve had,
Did you remember Me too?’
My mother’s priest did ‘open the book’;
Seems I’ll be filling boxes till ninety.
Although that allows me sixty years,
Still I begrudge the lost thirty.
Eighteen of those my parents lit,
But they’d made me stand there too.
The twelve that followed: a haphazard affair
But what’s an extra match or two?
So to claim back all those thirty years
I’ll just light an extra few.
I’ll bunch them together, ten thousand matches
A quick swipe with my trusty matchbox.
They’ll burn there softly on my palm
And I’ll blow them out with a puff.
Refilling the boxes will be the tedious part…
Well, writing on the (back-) dates too.
But if you don’t value your own matches
Now and then keep a stick for me.
All my matches can’t repay all the fun
So I extend a shameless begging bowl to you.
Oft times I dream of empires to build
And I’ll blueprint some devious schemes.
But then I remember history’s empires
And how tiny the decades they spanned.
Even the Reich that near crushed the world
Was spent in just six years.
Sometimes I dream to produce many poems
Or count my stories by the score.
But the mind-factory that produces these
Does grind too militant its gears.
To produce consistently it needs a method
And patterns it can endless repeat.
The truth is blunted in such metal works
And the flow of feeling finds friction.
Works of truth cannot stand arrayed
For their differences are deep, fundamental.
Each must chain upon his mountaintop
And sing what he knows to the wind.
Protect me from my empire building,
Guide steady these hands of mine.
Bend me to works that’ll stand forever
And free me from even this wish.
To desire, to want, to grasp for fame
Yields works framed out small and weak.
If there is structure, then let it be
A place built up to give training.
For to find great works, at first I need
The devices and mechanical wheels.
To break the rules and find great purpose
We must learn the rulebooks first.
The foolish amateur, believing in his genius
But reinvents old rules.
The lazy bleat to ‘express themselves’
And to show what carried ‘in my heart’.
Without discipline, study and effort
We find not the tools to break rules.
I would play my part in the breaking Dawn
So I study and work and pray.
The student path does stretch out far
But a smile I see etched in the clouds.
I tie my laces before I begin
And I paint my tracks on the dunes.
When first I ran on the path of blades
I reveled on the inside edge;
The sweetness of that inner blade
Holding the burden central between my feet.
When crouched down low, calling forth the flight
If too far forward my courage swung me out
The stern guardian steel, waiting there free
Would snap into place, and balance up the load.
But leaning on the edge that waits there outside
Transfixes all the burden on the guardian foot.
The free one swings ignorant on the wrong side
Of whether the burden’s to fall, or to rise.
So I thought as I scrambled my pursuit
Down the vast empty corridors of impatient flight.
I carved there uniform the lone brute force line
Spelling out the power of momentum’s mount.
But a straight line is the plainest of the joys
Honest face hiding no mysteries to ponder;
Traced out artless, its rhythms repeating
Inspiring what already bleak to become sterile.
But to step on the edge where no guard awaits
Gifts all the joys of the unstable state.
Poised on a point, we reach out a frightened hand
Tracing the face that shows a foot where to land.
To know both edges marries power to the form
The inside that thrusts fury, ruler of the small;
The outer: the artist, trusting in the Greatest All
Courage grants their places: the bifurcation switch.
Until at last I know rhymes built of two feet
A mermaid fair, churning left, now twisting right
Drummer, two sticks a-blur, blasting out a beat
Or a firebird above, thrashing out winged flight.
To rely on strength, Will; on what’s inside
And to accept humbly what granted Outside
I find twin streaks on the canvas of my life
Cut not of blades, but of the tears of Grace.