Incident At Sakina

                 (An Arusha Story)

arusha city pic1

 I’m deep in the music, lost in the sound,

 foot beating the time, fingers playing the strings,

 that sing their soft song of f sharp to d,

 the notes in between, that lingering e.

 then came a shriek, then the screams, a quick rush of feet, 

 beneath the blue sky, through the green of the trees, 

 then a silence as loud as a lioness’ roar,

 that froze my fingers right on the edge, 

 heart pounding, just listening, to shouts, to loud moans ,

 the running of feet, the noise of a crowd,

 then me running too, from door to the gate,

 to that scatter of rags that lay on the road,

 where we gathered in awe of the presence of  death;

‘mangoes, that’s what she sold,’ 

‘she was so old, and so poor’

‘the car came haraka,’

‘he came at her fast, and disappeared quick’, 

‘thrown high in the air.

 ‘like a leaf on the wind,”

“pole sana, so sorry’

“sikitika,”so sad,’

“vipi, dada? Unasaema?”

‘what’s up sister, you say what’

“ay mbali sana,, ay very bad.’

‘hey what’s up with her brother?’

 “just dead, man, ala, this old Maasai,

 ‘twende, let’s go, look, forget it my brother,

 ‘life is too short and we gotta go,”

  so they left, the crying, the wailing, 

  the blood  pooled at our feet

  as women pushed past me, then the police,

  all dressed in white and very polite,

  then we all turned away, to carry on life,

  without gods, a purpose, 

  to face out own fate.

An Angry Wind Is Coming

( A warning from the grave)

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An angry wind whips the trees, tears the leaves,

Claws them down, throws them up,

Then beats them through the air-Enraged,

So angry mobs like storms will come,

Upon the ones who reign ,

Who love, like flies, decay and death-

We know them from their stench,

The miseries they have made-

But what will be, this angry mob,

Of the left, or of the right,

A million Che Guevara’s or Mussolini’s spawn,

Bred in beds of ignorance and lousy with their hate,

Bringing worse upon us still, and with an iron fist?

The storm has come upon us, there’s thunder in the air,

Zola, now is never read, Neruda is reviled,

Saramago showed the Blindness, Sinclair, the Jungle of their kind,

Capital is forgotten and all the truth therein,

Where are they our heroes, when now we need them more?

Mac The Knife is back in power and works in dark of night,

And where are you my comrades, are you on the barricades,

Or wrapped in sad, self-pity, in doubt of what you are,

Caring more for you and yours, and less for us and ours?

An angry wind is coming, so get your selves prepared,

Be warned, and act, my comrades, or end up on your knees.

 

October Is Upon Us

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October is upon us and soon November’s dreary days,

As if the days of June were dreams, its promises a haze,

The leaves descend and swirl about, in yellow, orange, red,

While clouds hang low in moody skies, and old folk seek their bed,

A voice calls out and asks for tea, as day leads into night,

Footsteps pass the windowsill, of children, out of sight,

Calling up old memories, of that day you held my hand,

Walking on the riverbank, or listening to the band,

That played their weekly concert, and made us all so smile,

We felt the urge to dance again, and did so, for a while,

Made pledges we could never keep, no matter how we tried,

For other clouds soon gathered and I crossed the ocean wide,

Our letters stopped, our lives went on, as if we’d never been,

And now, I hear this winter, will be one we’ve never seen.

In Winter, A Riff On Sappho

(An improvisation on the only known fragment of a poem by Sappho, “In Winter,…)

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If not winter, then can summer be,

The welcoming sun, the greening tree,

The playful stream, skipping to sea,

If not death, where then is life,

The joys, the sorrows, the saddening strife,

Words of wisdom that cut like a knife,

If not you, then, what then am I,

But a question, a query, a what or a why,

Everyone’s stranger, just passing by.

The Last Conversation

The Last Visit-image

A Short Play

Two Characters: A Man, A Woman

The action takes place on a simply furnished stage, two chairs, a table on which is a lamp, two glasses and a bottle of wine, a coat rack. There is a door, stage right.

The light comes up, an old man slowly enters from the door stage right, wearing a long coat which he just as slowly takes off and hangs on the coatrack, then sits down in a chair contemplating the room he has entered and his life in it. He looks for a moment puzzled and sad, but picks up a book, then changes his mind, pours some wine into a glass, changes his mind again, picks up the book and begins to read, but, as the lights dim, he starts to nod off.

A beat-there is a knock at the door, a pause, the lights come up, the door opens. A woman enters, who hesitates, as she looks at him,

Woman, ‘I was here earlier, you weren’t, so I left.’

Man, (seeming to wake slowly, then rising from his chair and indicating with his arm to the chair opposite him) ‘Please, sit with me. I was hoping to avoid you, but half expecting you, so, since you’re here, you might as well be comfortable.’

Woman,  ‘Always the gentleman. Thank you.’ (she hangs her coat on the rack, then sits) ‘But don’t you think you should avoid these vain hopes of yours?’

Man,  ‘What are we without hope?’ “Would you like some wine?”

Woman, “What are you with it? And Yes, why not.”

Man, (As he pours her a glass.) ‘Do you always ask a question to a question? Are you Irish or perhaps Jewish.’

Woman,  “(Accepting the glass) Very intelligent people have inquiring minds, but I can’t be categorised in those terms.’ 

Man, ‘Ah, so I’m not intelligent?’

Woman,  ‘Let’s say you prefer not to face certain facts.’

Man, ‘My problem is I know too many facts. I’ve had a lifetime of facts. What would you know? In fact I don’t even know why you’re here and not somewhere else, so what do you have to say to that fact?’

Woman, ‘You know perfectly why I’m here. And what’s more you like me being here.’

Man, ‘You occupy my thoughts too much. I wish you would just go away. All my life I avoided you, but then there you are, at my door, walking in, like we have a relationship or something, and what do I do but let you walk right in. Now it’s every day I start to doze and there you are. When will it end?’

Woman, ‘Soon. But you find me charming, attractive, with an intelligence needed to balance you’re, oh, what to say, your limited appreciation of things.’

Man, ‘You have a high opinion of your attractions. I’m only limited by my experience of life.

Woman,  ‘Like everyone, you are an accumulation of struggles, victories and disappointments experienced in a sea of boredom.

Man, “I’d like to think my life was more than just that. 

Woman, (laughing) ‘Everyone likes to think that. All right, But am I wrong? You decided to live this life when you could have ended it. Has it really been worth the price you paid to live it out?’

Man, ‘I wonder, sometimes.  But life is to live’.

Woman, ‘Yes, and so is what comes next. Are you ready for it?’

Man, “Ready as the next man,  I guess.  But I read a curious thing in the news today that yesterday, – that no one in the world died yesterday- an astonishing thing. What can account for that? There was a headline  “Death took a holiday” or something.   Has dying outlived its usefulness?’

Woman, ‘At least you have still a sense of humour. I can be distracted, or just maybe I just took a break, or fell in love.’

Man, (laughing) ‘So you have feelings?  Are lonely? How can that be? And, frankly, I never thought of Death as a woman.

Woman, ‘Women give birth so it would make sense that a woman also brings death. Anyway we are talking of your perception. But is it reality?  

Man, ‘I never thought of Death as person, as a persona of either sex. But your logic is sound. I’ll give you that; but death falling in love, taking a break? 

Woman, ‘Why not?  

Man, ‘So Wilde was right, we always kill the thing we love?”

Woman,  ‘Well, isn’t that the teaching of most religions, that God is love, God loves what it creates, and so created us, and then destroys the life it created? 

Man “Some say, love your fate, love your life.’ 

Woman, “Can you love yours?’

Man, “We have to, or end up drowning in self-pity and depression, believe me, I know. But I woke up. Better to enjoy the moment as they say.”

Woman, “I don’t think you would like living in the moment if you were being tortured on the rack, That’s always been a problem with that idea. But you are enjoying the moment with me?”

Man, “I admit it. And you with me?”

Woman,  ‘Of course, there can’t be death without life, can there? It’s just as important to me as to you. I’ve had many conversations like this, an infinite number it seems, but your conversation attracted me more than most. You touched me in some way, I tried not to let that happen, but yesterday I decided to change the routine and see what happens.”

Man, ‘So, you? Are? 

Woman, “You seem to be drifting from reality again. You’ve known it since I came here, why pretend any longer?’

Man, “I don’t take reality very well, But why then did you change your routine yesterday.

Woman, “I don’t know. Boredom perhaps”

Man, “You get bored?”

Woman, “Wouldn’t you, you have no idea what it’s like …  An eternity of the same thing. 

Man, “That’s what’s wrong with immortality. No relief from life.’

Woman, ‘For you, yes, but I’m in a different place. For me, my relief comes from occasionally stepping into life.”

Man, “Like now?

Woman, “Why not?

Man, ‘The question to a question again.

Woman, “All right, yes, this is one of those interludes for me, a temporary shedding of my immortality, of the eternity of my existence, of being everywhere, just to experience a moment of time with someone who appreciates the moment as only those who must die can. It’s not quite the same.’

Man, “So you’re slumming?”

Woman, “That’s a bit crude to say. Sharing is a better way of putting it.’

Man, “And how long can you stay in this state? With me?

Woman, “Not much longer. 

Man, “Then the dying will resume?”

Woman, “It has too, and it’s not just about you or other people, all dying is suspended for the present, no animal or bird, or bacterium, died yesterday or today, so far.  This will have consequences I’ll have to deal with later. “

Man, “Or God”

Woman,  “Forget those illusions. I am just a part of nature as you are as everything is, there are no gods, everything has a cause, nothing comes from nothing and those who are fooled by these illusions deny causality and claim things can be created out of nothing, like some magic trick. No, my task is just an outcome of they way things are and have always been.’

Man, ‘Then how are you able to suspend deaths for a time?”

Woman, “Death has its own rhythm, I just syncopated it a little, so we could talk, so I could experience something else for a change. But all good things come to an end, don’t you know?”

Man, ‘Including this conversation.”

Woman, ‘This conversation will seem to you to continue forever, like life itself. You will never know an end to it. You will always exist so long as you exist-and when you don’t, you won’t. Why do I have to tell you what is obvious to everyone?’

Man, ‘But you’re about the only friend I have left now. When I go will I still exist?

Woman, “If someone remembers you.  But does it really matter? “

Man, “To me it does.”

Woman, “Is there anyone to remember you-to make you immortal?”

Man, a beat, “it seems you will be the only one.”

Woman, “And how do you feel about that, that I am the only one to really understand you, to know you and so remember you.”

Man, “I don’t know what to think.  I just feel so suddenly tired. I think you’ll have to excuse me….

(there is long silence as the Man drinks some wine then looks down at the ground as if thinking deeply. As she watches him, he begins to drop his head in drowsiness. As he does she leans over and touches his arm and brushes her hand over his face)

Woman, “You have no need to think now, my friend.  My work begins again.  So sleep, just sleep. Sleep, sleep, the never ending sleep.” 

(With that, as the lights dim, she rises from her chair while watching his head fall to his chest, slowly puts on her coat, opens the door and leaves with one last look at the Man.  The door closes, the lights go almost black, then rise again, as the glass falls from his hand, his hand falls to the floor, his breathing stops-and he is no more.)

                                               The End

Where Last We Met

edvard-munch-in-the-brain-of-man-1897

Where last we met was a shallowing stream,

And over it’s course leaned a wise oak tree,

And all seemed well, as though in a dream,

Yet there, again, we never would be.

Passers-by now feel a deep sombre mood,

As though a sad spectre, lonely, there stands,

Longing for her, the one he once wooed

With talk of the seas, and far travelled lands.

Some hear a whisper, as if called out to stop,

Others see phantasms floating through leaves,

From which drip tears, drop after drop,

As if Nature for Love and lovers bereaves;

Some see a shadow man rising to reach for the hand,

Of the woman who waits, as if unaware,

Haunted and haunting in a dark ghostly land,

Few stay there for long, for few wish to dare.

But I see a place, now barren, decayed, 

Of a life torn apart, it now seems to me,

And though all seemed well, as once in a dream,

It is where, again, we never can be.

The Dying Of The Age

Their voices distant sing to tunes,

Of laughter, love, surprise,

While fireflies softly sink, and rise,

On light of tragic moons,

But, nearer still, the empty sounds,

Of thoughts I cannot, dare not think,

Torture me like shadow hounds,

And bring me to the brink,

For all’s not well, and while they sip,

From cups of hope, that ever-empty be,

Or drink honeyed words from every lip,

Well, when you’ve lived, you’ll see,

For now we’ve turned the final page,

And there can read what all can sense,

The Dying of the Age.

Old Man To A Child

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I don’t look up much, no, not anymore,

No reason, really, to a wide empty sky,

Oh, what was it like? You’re right well to ask,

But where are the words, it’s right hard to describe,

Emptiness now, where once was plenitude of life-

But now-

Yes, the clouds are fair, or threatening, still,

Dark hovering one day, delighting the next,

Throwing daggers of light with cannonic sound,

Or arches of colour, like a child fairy’s dream,

But the swirling flocks that once danced above,

It’s been some years now since I saw the like,

And this year and last, in autumn and spring,

Search as I might, none flew south, and none north again,

Yet, in my time, they covered the heavens, for many a day,

But the insects have gone, the fields and the trees,

So they have too.  And the bats? 

Oh, they stopped coming two year ago.

No, I don’t look up much, no, not anymore,

There’s little to see, and I don’t like to cry.

Winter Note

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The town is fixed in icy gloom, 

And grim the sallow faces,

Bent against the bitter wind,

Like penitential cases,

While in the church, with reaching spire,

A priest prostrates in supplication,

Imploring gods to save us all,

As if we’re their earthly nation,

And there, on frozen river bank,

Tracks of footprints in the snow,

Where once a sad-eyed woman walked,

And last talked there to the Crow,

For in the shops and in the homes,

The air is thick with desperation,

Nothing is as once it was,

There’s nothing left but resignation,

And for the rest, we lead our lives,

In search of meaning, love, for reason,

But life just is, it comes and goes,

No more-there is no other season.

The Hawk’s Reproach

(On encountering a Hawk with its prey)

The Red Hawk’s eyes shot into mine,

As if to touch my mind,

Warning, this death is my necessity,

Let me feast, if you be kind;

The winter’s cold, the hunger’s long,

Like you, I must survive.

You cringe at death, and me condemn,

For a squirrel slain, ah, once your friend.

Pass on from here and go your way, 

Death is Life, and Life is Death,

In all of Space and Time.

Go slaughter more your fellow men,

As you are wont to do,

For power, riches, lust and fame,

The many for the few,

But I must kill to live, to be,

So, continue on your wayward path,

But don’t you dare judge me.