The Building of Tambo International Airport
I pedal full pelt, pell-mell down
the back-straight road
to blue, scented gum trees
and wild dens,
where hordes from our migrant estate
play chicken with bright liveried snakes.
Even fallen branches don’t stop us,
we scamper, a plague
into the forbidden forest.
Black beetles shine,
diva chameleons with bulging eyes
slow-strut their livid-skin switches.
Then rampant fire surprises us
like lightening strikes from unseen hands.
Incandescent wind, tree tops blow,
crackling red bundles
leap as though alive,
and stealing the scant air.
I took you there years later
expecting leopards, calm
and camouflaged by
burnt-out rot and rising stumps,
but all we saw were concrete compounds,
razor wire with metal posts, tall
as the lost eucalyptus.
Two Scythian Warriors
(at the British Museum)
On an axe-hewn, larch-wood bier,
like a chiselled god you lie stretched out.
She comes to wash your clay-caked form,
fingers run full length along
a gouged eye socket,
a heart-shaped jaw,
lines she stitched many times before
– back when you healed.
You’ll not heal now. Breathing
deep the numbing smoke, drinking
deep a slumbering draught,
she folds an infant’s sheepskin coat,
fixes it beneath your head, wraps
your father’s ash remains in tattered silk
around your vanquished chest.
Your right hand grips a drinking horn.
‘He fought to live and lived to fight.’
Golden strength gone and earlobe
torn. She dresses you and
then herself, and kneels
before the waiting crowd;
accepts her fate. The mystery
of such love transcends these bones.
The earth held still your names.
I am bone-hearted chert,
ugly, inert blistered nodule,
wiped clean with his froth and spittle,
tapped to make me sing,
a hidden core exposed,
chipped, flaked –
napped into shape,
sharp as the splitting sun.
Fully-formed and notched to take a binding
but I never saw a battle dawn,
complete and haft-free; taken
from his soft goat-pouch at night,
and rubbed with gentle touch
along a honed flank,
thumb testing the bite of my edge,
he smoothed and polished,
and dare I say it,
Concatenation in Sleep
Reaching deep into my sleep,
she plucked a golden-mitred hummingbird
with wine-licked fingers
and pinched thumb,
then let it go
like Cupid’s arrow
from a bow, or Sappho’s
all at once let loose
into this heady, drunken, summer’s night.
Unsure of what I meant to do,
I let the feathered creature settle
in my mouth
until I felt it’s fragile bones
crack – and – crunch between
the jutting peaks of my incisors.
Once upon a time I’d heard
such lovebirds were delectable,
and in my dream I’d inexcusably confused them.