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KINGDOM OF RAIN (poem) - Rustum Kozain - South Africa - Poetry International
 
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KINGDOM OF RAIN
from these I am growing no nearer
to what secret eluded the children
Derek Walcott, ‘Sainte Lucie’
Somewhere in some dark decade
stands my father without work,
unknown to me and my brother
deep in the Paarl winter and a school holiday.
As the temperature drops, he,
my father, fixes a thermos of coffee,
buys some meat pies and we chug
up Du Toit’s Kloof Pass in his old 57 Ford,
where he wills the mountain – under cold cloud,
tan and blue rockface bright and wet with rain –
he wills these to open and let his children in,
even as he apologises –
my strict and angry fearsome father –
even as he apologises for his existence
then and there his whereabouts declared
to the warden or ranger in government
issue, ever-present around the next turn
or lazing in a jeep in the next lay-by:
“No sir, just driving. Yes, sir, my car.”

At the highest point of the pass
we stop to eat, and he, my father,
this strict and angry, fearsome father,
my father whom I love and his dark face,
he pries open a universe that strangely
he makes ours, that is no longer mine:
a wily old grey baboon, well-hid
against salt-and-pepper rock, eyeing us;
some impossibly magnificent bird of prey
rarely seen, racing to its nest as the weather turns.
And we are up there close I think
to my father’s God, the wind howling
and cloud rushing over us, awed
and small in that big car swaying in the gale.

Silence. A sudden still point
as the universe pauses, inhales
and gathers its grace.
Then, the silent, feather-like fall
of snowflakes as to us it grants
a brief bright kingdom
unseen by the ranger. And for some minutes
a car with three stunned occupants
rests on a mountain top outside the fast
ever-darkening turn of our growing up;
too brief to light the dark years
when I would learn:

how the bright, clear haunts of crab and trout
where we swim in summer
now in winter a brown rage over rock;
how mountain and pine and fynbos
or the mouse-drawn falcon of my veld;
the one last, mustard-dry koekemakranka
of summer that my father tosses through the air
to hit the ground and puff like a smoke bomb;
and once, also in summer somewhere,
a loquacious piet-my-vrou;
or the miraculous whirligig of waterhondjies
streaking across a tea-coloured pool
cradled by tan rock and fern-green fern;
my first and only owl,
large and mysterious
in a deep stand of pine,
big owl we never knew were there
until you swooped away, stirred by our voices;
how I too would be woken and learn
that this tree and bird, this world
the earth and this child’s home
already fell beyond his possessives.

And how, once north through the dry
Bushmanland with its black rock,
over a rise in the road, the sudden green
like the strange and familiar sibilants
in Keimoes and Kakamas.
And the rush of the guttural was the water
over rock at Augrabies.
The Garieb over rock at Augrabies,
at Augrabies where the boom swings down,
the gate-watch tight-lipped as a sermon:
“Die Kleurlingkant is vol”
as he waves through a car filled
with bronzed impatient white youth
laughing at us, at my father, my father
my silent father in whom a gaze grows distant
and the child who learns this pain past metaphor.
How like a baboon law and state
just turned its fuck-you arse on us
and ambled off.