The boy pretends he doesn’t notice
The hatred in your voice, the fear
Ripe in your eyes like choice fruit.
He pretends that his fate suits him.
He makes believe he’s been deceived
By your talk of friendship in the end.
He calls you ‘master’ and is relieved
That you don’t notice his disbelief.
He pretends that he likes you too,
But deep in his soul, he’s incognito
And anxious to creep away unnoticed,
To have nothing to do with you.
The Ridge Was on Fire Tonight
It was very hot
and it’s not the first time this year
that we’ve seen such mean heat.
It lit up the sky for miles around,
gave it a bright orange and yellow glow,
and it very nearly caught
the trees in the driveway on fire.
But my father and the natives
tired it out.
Fire fighters even came.
We feel lucky, because
it’s very dry here this time of year.
But there’s nothing to fear now,
except the snakes
bound to take the shortest way down,
away from the hot ground.
Snakes Never Stray Far From Their Mates
for Daddy George
A fact of nature, you said,
poised and ready to strike again
as we watched the Night Adder die,
writhing it’s blood back and forth
across the floor in front of my dresser.
There’s always a mate nearby, you said,
and I hated you
for making me clean my room anyway.
Then came the psychotic game I played.
Where would the second be found?
At my feet?
Wrapped around the toilet seat?
lured to my bed by body heat
like the stories I’d heard.
I should have known,
two weeks to the day
on the very same spot,
a taste of blood
pasted hot on the floor.
I waited by the door
until I knew by your breathing
another was dead,
relieved there were no more.
Unless there are eggs, you said.
Legend of the Baobab’s Sin
(a brief history of the Monkey-Bread Tree)
Legend has it
that some Arabs chanced upon you
acting very unlike a tree,
dancing up dust,
blushing whimsical lust
in the huge white flowers
that rushed to embrace the moon.
You know the game was up.
And soon it came to pass.
the Arabs harassed you
and conjured up a devil
who plucked you from the ground,
turned you upside down
and thrust your branches into the earth,
leaving only the roots exposed.
I suppose this explains
your curious, ancient repose,
the rows of gourd-like, woody fruit
grown pleasantly round from acid seeds,
the vegetable leaves thrown wild
to the ground by the African breeze,
a trunk grossly swollen
out of all proportion
by a thousand years of branches
shouting from the inside out.
Take A Separate Train
(Johannesburg to Cape Town)
The best in the world, they say
and it’s true
the Blue Train is special,
like a first kiss.
Picture a windowed mansion
whisked brashly down the line,
tailing a quick ocean scent.
Sailing through the vineyards,
intent on a smooth ride.
But they’ll hide you,
we both know they will,
on another train
as if to blame black pride
for your ties to this ripe country.
so your time must be spent
sitting up a straight 24 hour ride,
unable to lay down for sleep,
frustrated and hungry,
keeping track of the reasons
why you cannot ride with us.
There Are Babies in our Tree
They swing from branches
and cling like crab apples
swaying in the breeze
My wife believes
we should wait nine months
for them to ripen
before we pick one
I climb up to see
but they scatter and avoid me
eyes tight and flustered
I muster my strength
and shake the tree wildly
then slide down to gather what falls
but my wife snatches the pieces
swallows them and crawls inside
plump from the feast
Later she tells me
your fingers, your toes
your neck, your nose
but no sex yet
I love to swim
with blossoms in the stream
air alive with sunlight
and drink the tale of years.
I would tell you, dear beloved…
I grew, before time was worth mine,
with the sun to sooth my feet.
country through country,
sea upon sea.
In a land where daylight
is shadowed with dragons and kings,
blood and bone,
I built a fortress
stone upon stone,
and built myself in.
Watch Out for Rhinos
I tell you
there are no safe sides to Rhinos,
the firefighters of the African veldt;
their powerful armored bodies sport
hair matted horns on the front,
strong enough to pierce automobiles.
They do a jerk and stomp side step
with the loping grace of a giraffe
and the agility of a cheetah.
But most important of all…
they blow a powerful stream of
urine straight out the back.
At the River
An airplane, stuttering fierce surprise
suddenly drones low over the river.
Birds fluttered away, wild eyed
and the lush foliage along the bank,
sucking in a deep gasping breath,
puckering and spit hippos out
like loaded shot from cannons
shattering the smooth glassy surface.
They sputter and bobbed like children
thrown into the water for the first time,
recover their wits, shift their bulk
turning into shadows in the murky water
with only their snouts jutting out,
oblivious to the crocodiles sliding by,
who, mesmerized by the groping ripples
hoping to find a fallen buck, or a human.
In the Kiaat Tree
Vervet monkeys wail and cackle
as they fling their small furry bodies
back and forth in the graceful tree,
black hands clinging to rough gray bark,
black faces laughing, eyes wide and giddy
from the perfumed pea-like yellow flowers.
But they don’t notice the patient python
blending in with the dark gray branches,
a thin beam of elastic shadow reaching,
gingerly creeping from limb to limb,
stretching for the favored little prey
with the tasty bright blue neon balls.
Copyright 1991 by Jeffrey Spahr-Summers.