the zoo of the unknown

This is altogether darker territory; a realm where animals are cyphers for what we don’t want to know.

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

you visit the zoo of the unknown
those clawed and fanged things you captured wild
and dragged in one by one to be caged.

Today you feel strong enough
to eye them through the bars
and the soundproof safety glass
that stops you hearing them wail and howl
hunting for their freedom

You survey the broken ground
they’ve been digging tunnels, breaching underground  places
sniffing out all that buried shame
that tamped down stench of hidden pain
no one faces

Thwarted by his resentful mate
the wildcat is crimson furred, electric with hate
It’s feeding time; silently they fling themselves at your passing shadow
hungering for your recognition.
Isn’t that why you’ve come?
Guiltily you turn away.
You’re only here to check the security

Something sorrowful lurks, you haven’t spotted him yet
And he’s harmless anyway but those hyenas now
jostling doubt and futility between their jealous jaws
they look at you with sly desire
urge you to join them in their game of back and forth
an endless  distraction
you slide past them uneasily
nothing to do with you

fear slithers beneath your feet making you unsteady
You tremble and the wild things stir within
flexing their wings, their claws, their long insinuating tongues

Predatory. They keep to themselves what they know.
That they can take you where you need to go
but only if you meet them in the wilderness
let them razor you open, leave you gutted
your heart excavated
then go riding their backs
to get a bird’s eye view

finding the lions

Perhaps we give nature its human voice when we allow it to enter us through the poetic imagination. Here’s the 2nd poem in a series of 3:

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

I wake to find a lioness has crept into my limbs
She stretches, rolls and purrs
lies waiting, distantly alert, expectant
and watches her mate stealthily
through sleepy-slitted eyes.

We’d searched all day for the lions
and finally found them sunning themselves
in the late long afternoon grass, these wild royals
stately and languorous, so lavishly amorous.
He courting her, his great tongue licking her neck.
She biding her time; letting him wait.

When he placed his massive paw onto her back
and gently pushed her down
she submitted graciously, one feline glance
cast back at him as if to idly check
she really had secured him. Her satisfied indifference
in the moment of his culminating snarl.

They were rarely seen the ranger said.

And so I am surprised to find them once again this morning
with an air of predatory relish
reclining in our bed.

the eloquence of elephants

Living in a country where wild animals can still be experienced up close in their natural habitat allows them to enter our psyches and imaginations in a way very different from just seeing reproduced images of them.  This is the first of three poems:

Photo: Cian Small

Photo: Cian Small

Her trunk is an eye
a feeling intelligence
a far-seeing limb
of elegant eloquence
that somehow translates
into mysteriousness

For I can no more
think of her trunk’s curling grace
without feeling my
own phantom limb reaching
into my life its
unfolding – strange –  from my face.

One sees things anew
from an elephant’s trunk point of view.

The Mirror

Every now and then I come across a piece which just makes me go YES. This is one of them. Insightful, wise with such a keen-edged application of self-reflection (pun intended) this deserves spreading far and wide. Thanks to Shaun Paul for permission to reblog.  Nina

Stone of Destiny

She crouched in the middle of the gallery floor and we stood outside, watching her. She clung to that spot, naked, neither posed nor at rest, her face turned away from us in base humiliation.

And yet she was looking right at us, her green eyes meeting our own, challenging and defiant.

She looked so alone in that barren space, separated from the rest of us by the windows and the locked glass door.

I wondered how it must feel for her as we crowded around her in the confined space of the gallery floor, looking down on her in mingled loathing, and confusion, and lust.

We had talked about her plan a few days before. At the appointed hour, she would lock herself inside the student gallery (having reserved it for the week) and then disrobe. Lined up in a semicircle around her perch, a row of…

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he’s not dying, only living more truly

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

Photo: Mike Visagie ©

There is a well-known Sufi saying which goes ” die before you die.”

How to make sense of this? I believe when we die, we leave behind only what we no longer need. We let go of this narrow earthly reality and go on to live in the wider truth of the spiritual world.  So too in life, if we can die to all that keeps us small and caged, die to our clever distractions keeping us from living purposefully, we might live the broader life our hearts and souls most long for.

I write this in tribute to my courageous 26 year old nephew who left us 3 days ago after a 5 year long struggle with  bone cancer, surviving numerous operations, gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment, an amputation of his shoulder and arm earlier this year, as well as a lifetime of profound deafness.

Despite tremendous discomfort, pain and ultimately a ravaged body, he met his life and what it brought him without flinching or self-pity, only open-eyed acceptance and steadfast clarity.  He was an extraordinary beautiful young man who was able to discern and set aside immediately all that was irrelevant and be guided only by where love took him, squeezing every drop of joyous juice he could out of his life to its fullest until his very last moment.

And then he flew.

When someone close is gravely ill or dying, something inside us softens and we’re able to say and do things we might shy away from otherwise.  How much more inclined we are to be gentle with one another, to say thank you,  I’m sorry, forgive me and I love you when we have a dying loved one in our midst.  We can more easily admit: I’m in pain. I’m in a difficult place. This is not easy. Please help me.  even as the dying have no other option but to be undeniably honest about what is happening in their lives.

As we draw together, our hearts rise to the surface of our lives instead of being walled away and armoured and for a short time we can tell the truth about ourselves.   Suddenly certain things no longer matter as much, things we felt strongly about before – our dignity perhaps, our pride, being right or nursing our grievances.  Our priorities change and everything unimportant falls away.  Being there and present for the dying person becomes paramount and we value above all else what we can now be least certain of: the life of the beloved person who is leaving us.

This is the gift of death and dying.  It strips us bare and brings us to our truth in a way little else can. Grief makes us honest.

Some weeks ago I wrote my nephew a letter which I am grateful he was able to receive in full consciousness. It may give a brief glimpse into the man he was and always will be as he lives on in my memory.

Dearest Keagan, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, facing what your life is now.  Nor do I have any idea if you’re about to leave this world or not. 

Miracles are always possibilities we haven’t yet believed in until they happen. 

What I do know is that when you go, you will do so whole. When I think of you, it’s as if your physical body fades and I see the essence of you. It is one of the many qualities I have always noticed  and been drawn to in you, the way your spirit shines through, never more so than lately. 

I guess it’s usual to think of your deafness as a handicap, a barrier to communications in the normal world.  But I think deafness can also remove a barrier between you and others.  You aren’t distracted  by how people present themselves through the words they wear.  Instead you see people as they are being.  I believe this is the gift you give to people around you – you see them truly. You aren’t deflected by the stories they tell about themselves, you just see them in a very pure way. That’s a powerfully attractive quality to have and why you are loved by so many.  While others get caught up in each other’s speeches,  you touch people with a generosity of feeling in a way not possible with words. That’s been my experience of you. 

I’m not wanting to diminish the tremendous difficulties you struggle with.     I know these are real too. 

When you were with us some years ago, I wrote a short poem about you and your mother.  Actually, it’s not so much a poem as a direct quote of your words which you sent her via text.  It’s called WHAT MATTERS, because it seemed to me then already that you had caught on to what’s important about life, both in the large awe-inspiring seriousness of it as well as the small wonder of it.  Here it is:   


Finally she had to leave him for the night. 

She left him in the hospital with 

her love
the cancer
some fruit 

And he sent back a message 

thank you
the pear
so delicious

You see, in choosing to savour  that one small precious moment in the face of so much else, you showed yourself able to live fully in the vast and splendid mystery of life.    I love that about you. The truth is we’re all on the same journey you’re on Keagan.  You bring our awareness to it so that we might learn to live as truly as you do now, to find out what matters.

It is the work of heartbreak to soften our edges, break us open. We need only allow our hearts to be broken. There is true purpose in that.