Saturday, 23 December 2017

A Loud Beauty

There is an image, close to the beginning, that serves as this book’s metaphor. Like all good symbols, a thing, singular, concrete, suffused with an atmosphere rich in suggestion, this one has a number of meanings, the most obvious, it is the one emphasised by our too emphatic narrator, hiding another far deeper and mysterious, and quite original: some events do not exist because no-one is quick enough to perceive them. To be prosaic: reality is what’s left behind in shared memories and recorded history; a person only what others know about them. It is why we can say with confidence that incest simply doesn't happen amongst sophisticated intelligent siblings. We state emphatically: Claudia is not the kind of woman who falls in love. So obvious are such statements, and they are well-supported by the facts, that they must be, they are true. Of course Lisa does not have a lover; she is too staid, too mousey for that.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Keep Up!

It is the moment the atmosphere of a place changes; suddenly all is different, our ways of thinking, acting, even believing are transformed; and this is obvious to everyone except the most obtuse. It is a change of air. Then there is an interlude. Then one a day, almost as an afterthought, for already we are accustomed to this new state of affairs, new citizens of a new independent country, we feel these changes intensely; we think about them and are surprised at their speed, the ease with which they have conquered us. The old soul of this place has vanished, almost overnight, like ghosts brushed out with the cobwebs; that new cleaner brisk and efficient she leaves no corner untouched, her dust will have no history, and we smile to ourselves; irony, the past’s relic and quiet revenge. A new spirit has arrived and taken over. We are feeling it for the first time. Where has it come from? Who brought it? You must identify the plane, train, car that carried… These questions have no answers. But like an incompetent detective crudely interrogating his sophisticated suspects we stumble insensitively on, dodging their scorn, deflecting their derision, accepting our predetermined defeat.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Waiting for Your Ship to Come

To watch from afar 
The tower falling;
Suddenly she vanishes
Into surging sands

White silk ruffles 
Fan out across the shore.

Too many times
I have climbed that tower
Waiting, watching 
Expecting you to come

The water dancing
To its own majestic music

So quietly sliding away,
A grand old gown 
Who sweeps the floor
She leaves and polishes.

Red bricks drown
Amidst a squall of dunes.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Come Back Sweet Time

To lace a man up in the armour of youth. The fleshy body held taut, is forced upright, is pulled thin by a corset tight and hard; hardly any breath to breathe.

We watch as the corset is removed, the flesh tumbling down the man’s sickly frame; his body falling, collapsing, melting…

Saturday, 21 October 2017


Head on my shoulder 
Arms behind my back
She is holding me:
A one long last goodbye.

She hugs me close,
A straight jacket
To stay the future.

These few moments 
She hugs me tight
And time must wait

In this reservoir of minutes
Whose fragile wall
Her thumbs and fingers

My breath is breaking,
A wattle fence
Blown down by words.

Head on my shoulder
Arms fall down my back
She is losing me.
Go. Yes, I must go now.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Art is a Privilege

The wound keep it open. All the hurt keep it close. Work on it over and over. Give nothing, nothing, away. Like a house with dirty windows let out nothing, not even light.

Let it out! 
The young woman cries.
Let it go
But I…I…I… 
Open that window! 
And spring into the morning air.

Letting it out, Louise releases herself into a head tattooed quickly with tapestry; where she works on it, over and over, giving nothing, nothing, away. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Antike Vollbart

Each day he visits the gallery
Comparing his beard
To the masters on the wall,

A young artist’s rite of pleasure.
At home he works,
Watching his inspiration grow.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Portrait of Andi at 16 - St George's Uniform

A flag fluttering in a soft breeze; fluttering, hesitating; hesitating, fluttering again.

The wind is a machine, we will insist upon this fact. For we are free to imagine the hands of a clock; two sun soaked legs making this easy for us. Tick. It is twenty five past six. Tick. Tock. Tick. The skirt flutters, the arms move infinitesimally, time spreading like clouds… We are a sheet, made of cotton, and washed only yesterday, we are not… A white sky? I really do not know what you are talking about. The white sheet, obstinately insisting upon its rights, will be heard. Here is a literalist, an egoist and a bore. We send her to the back of the class. Unease following her through the room, whispers susurrate across the desks, until, with a hard look and a ferociously loud silence, we restore the old order. A window quietly rattles. And we return to the blackboard, with its half-finished drawing: a forlorn Father Time trampled into oblivion under the feet of a triumphant dragon…

A page turns over.

The book is comfortable on this girl’s lap. Here is God at the centre of his creation. A motor inside the mechanism. It is God’s word that moves this machine, the machine controlling the rhythm of his speech.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Late Middle Age

You are clothing the future
In old suits, veteran waistcoats,
Those once expensive shirts.
They are rich in autumnal colours.
The trousers bright red,
Your tie the exquisite yellow
Of ripe leaves…

A ready-made architecture,
Designed to withstand
The inclement weather
Of your long winter years.
A Palladian house
New as the day it was built,
Centuries out of date…

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Clean It Up!

R.W. Johnson is rude and coarse. Leslie Stephen is charming, tolerant and generous, but even he is a little, a teensy-weeny bit, unkind. Few intellectuals like the liberals. The reason is an old and simple one: the professional’s irritation at the amateur who will insist on bumbling into their workshop and telling them how it should be done.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

A Spat

We blame Henry. Inviting us to join him in this fog-filled park he walks too quickly; is getting too far ahead, skipping along with his little lantern we surmised was our servant. We stumble behind, on a feeble path of light, hardly seeing our own footsteps; thoughts tripping over sentences, our ideas zigzag amongst the wild beds, and are lost in this park’s overgrown prose. Hallo! I’m so sorry. Pushing aside the branches of a bush I bump into a pretty woman, who looks worried, fragile… I am lost. Can you help me? She wants, she says, to get out of this park, this fog, this man’s entangling paragraphs. I shake my head; shout out: Henry! Henry Green!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Beautiful Blossoms

He plants his ideas. Flowers in a garden; growing like trees, the roots tunnelling the earth, a boundary wall cracks, there are waves in the pavement… Drunk already! It’s eleven o’clock man! In the morning! Get get out of my… A man trips, nudged aside by a passing cyclist he stumbles into the road, a car swerves, it is shouting. There is so much noise. What the… 

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Flamingos

Our too familiar eyes. Turn the binoculars the right way round and… Wow! It is overwhelming! Marvellous! Ouch! Hitting our nose on the strange we see stars. What? Yes! We have entered a cartoon and become a caricature. Retreating into a pompous naivety we transform the new into the odd, the weird, the bizarre; seeing the new in its proper size the new becoming the exotic becomes a fabulous beast, a giant; and we…we are now pigmies to our own familiarity; we think of an ordinary bush next to a luxuriant palm tree; a hedgehog under a parasol… New images flooding the mind, this picture sinks from sight and we sail over the sun bled waters with centaurs for company. Though even now, in this imaginary jungle, we wear them still: our eyes, our workday spectacles. It is why on this spit of land, a pike in the middle of an African river, the natives shrink to such meagre scale, smaller with every passing glance; too commonplace to be noticed much.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Old Dreams and Mad Futures

Ostranenie. Definitions are for dictionaries. To understand this term properly we must experience it for ourselves, read it in novels. Here, Ostranenie is both fact and symbol.

The coffin factory proved to be an area cleared of undergrowth, though shadowed by great trees; it was bounded on one side by a stream, a small river almost, some fifteen feet wide, running fast with troubled, muddy, yellowish water. Felled trunks were stacked here and there, and at the water’s edge was a row of vast cumbrous Chinese coffins in various stages of completion. A few sepoys squatted on the ground, most of them asleep. There was a pile of ammunition boxes, and in one of the coffins lay Sam Holl, with his unwound turban draped across him to protect his face from mosquitoes. In the coffin he looked very dead, except for the khaki cloth over his mouth which rose and fell evenly with his breathing. Alan looked down on him, numbed by a sudden quietness. Holl lay awkwardly with both hands resting on his left hip as if on a sword hilt, his crossed legs covered by folds of his turban cloth. He looked like a thirteenth-century crusader, militant, potent still in the sleep of death. But not dead; and in Alan’s body there surged a sober but fierce acknowledgment. He stood looking for a little while, almost feeding on Holl’s presence; then he sat quietly down at the foot of the coffin to wait; almost at once he was himself asleep.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Old Snow

In our last years
The snow growing old
Is slow and obstinate,
Litter on the sidewalk.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Something Missing

The Oxford series 20th Century Classics is an odd one. Even the connoisseurs of fiction forced to concede, though with shifty glances to side and floor, a nervous twitching of the spectacles, lips silently rehearsing their own pet loves - the aristocratic elbows of Enid Bagnold, the provincial thighs of E.H. Young; the adolescent limbs of Llandudno’s wartime masterpiece: Jampot Smith - to their ignorance of Paul de Vries’ The Mackerel Plaza, A P Herbert’s The Secret Battle or Robert Graves’ Seven Days in New Crete. The series suggesting the eccentric tastes of a few editors (or a single one); a small bookcase of curiosities rather than a canon of classics; the classic defined as a book of exceptional depth, that is well-written, appeals to a wide literary audience and is sanctified by literature’s establishment.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Dangerous Times

We think of teenage identity solely as a problem for the teenagers themselves. A decade long guerrilla campaign to be free of the parental empire; room by room their influence is resisted, then pushed back; we ignore the pictures, look away from the statuettes - beribboned milkmaids with sickly sweet lambs whose faces are a sentimental leer - quietly remove the Coronation mugs, replace the DVDs and the CDs, put Val Doonican in the bin. The soft tyranny undermined, attacked, finally usurped until…that glorious independence day! when Virginia Holt, Wilbur Smith, Jean Plaidy and John le Carré are deposed from the shelves, and a new head of state is appointed. Henry Green! No. Rhys Davis! Certainly not. Too too often: Borges, Kafka or Camus. But what happens to the governor and his wife when the new flag goes up and they sail back to the old country? 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Freezing and Thawing

Grief. Such a difficult problem for public officials. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, police officers are all acting in roles they are finding difficult to perform. It is not easy to comfort a woman who has lost her children; it produces a glazed and inhibited look; the public face of compassion sculptured in stone is grim, opaque, immovable. Second husbands are finding it hard too. They need help. Religion offers much but delivers only a little: a fanatical Christian unable to prevent his alcoholic wife from returning to the bottle when her nerves overcome her redemptive aspirations.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Nalas wind up river

Two bullet holes. The second for certain. Hammer against nail sealing the box for good. Bang! No chance of resurrection; this day to die forever; water turned to mercury, summer frozen by winter’s gaze, Elysium caught in a mirror. Click click. Smile please. Snap! Snap!

Happiness transfixed to heavenly eternity. 

Coffins sleeping under water.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Apollonian

It started young, strangely enough when a teenager; though slow, very slow; then for years, in his twenties, hardly anything at all, when, suddenly, picking up pace, thirty through to the forties, it grew quickly, audaciously, overwhelmingly; a cataract of virtuosity, carrying him away…

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Thinking of Salomé

Across Europe he goes.
After her words, the loves,
Her clever vignettes,
All retailed by a friend.

He thinks of Hume, 
His old love Schopenhauer,
The poverty of passion
When you buy it secondhand.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

He Comes He Goes

Pans are boiling.
A field’s small talk,
Its steam rising up
Out of the dead
And dying.

In a shallow ditch, 
A small patch
Cleared of corpses,
Two strangers
Drink and smoke.

Monday, 2 January 2017

A Bad Trip

Beware of friends. Especially when they talk about novels. A friend calls this one a dream. And so we read the book as if in reverie; nodding off now and then we enhance the effect, an oil donkey over a well of words.