Farewell to 2021

As we approach the end of a year dominated by chaos, bleakness, and the ravages of the pandemic, it is difficult not to succumb to despair. We seem to be caught up in the ‘widening gyre’ of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Yeats wrote ‘The Second Coming’ in January 1919, at a time when the First World War had only recently ended, the political situation in his native Ireland was dangerously unstable and the Spanish ‘flu pandemic was raging (his pregnant wife Georgie Hyde-Lees became very ill and almost died from the ‘flu). It’s hardly surprising that a sense of impending doom reverberates through the poem.

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The glass, half-full, is cracked. I notice this
when I raise it to my lips and your face 
fractures beyond the rim. Sometimes 

we see what was not there before
or what was always there
but we were looking at the water

not the glass, which slithers from my hands, 
hurtles to the ceiling and explodes.
A thousand splinters glint around my head.

This poem first appeared in the anthology Dark Confessions (ed. Matthew M. C. Smith) Black Bough Poetry 2021.

Blood moon, visible

Who hears hyenas laugh
beneath a wounded moon? We are small,
man, small. Sweet taste of pears
and your absent breath. Let go
of unread books, of souvenirs
from unremembered holidays.
Switch off the news, the flames,
the words. Look to the sky
between the trees; 
windstill and clear.

This poem first appeared in the anthology Dark Confessions (ed. Matthew M. C. Smith) Black Bough Poetry 2021.

Citizen of nowhere

He looked at me across the counter, pen poised above the form, and asked where I was born. We had made good progress up till then. Name, age, gender, marital status, I knew all the answers. But now: where was I born? A silence floated in the ice-white hall and wobbled outwards like a slowly blown bubble. My breath was going nowhere. He asked again – Your place of birth? – and the walls dissolved into sunlight, straggled poinsettia bleeding white, mealies roasted in mopani embers, crack of msasa pods curled beneath my foot. Somewhere in a non-existent country. He was getting impatient, I could see, so I drew my coat a little tighter round my self and scrabbled to release my breath. In my mental fists I held two names, one in the past and one in the present. Which one should I give him? I opened my mouth and offered the name that was on the palm of my tongue.

This poem first appeared in The Stony Thursday Book no.16, Summer 2018, edited by Nessa O’Mahony.

Poetry and Fractals

In his 1982 book ‘The Fractal Geometry of Nature’ the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot explored ‘irregular and fragmented patterns around us’ that ‘tend to be scaling, implying that the degree of their irregularity and/or fragmentation is identical at all scales.’

He called this family of shapes fractals, from the Latin adjective fractus, meaning fragmented or irregular. Such objects, Mandelbrot noted, are present in nature as well as in a wide range of fields.

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