Poetic writings from Gérard Rudolf’s Orphaned Latitudes

 
 
 
“Gérard Rudolf was born in Pretoria, South Africa. He spent most of his childhood in Cape Town and it was dreamy, secure. When he was a boy, he was utterly convinced the world had been monochrome before he was born—all the photographs in the family albums, the old movies on TV, all of it black and white. He spent hours trying to figure out how and when the world changed to colour. He roamed over the neighbourhood with friends creating strange worlds in empty lots—all Cowboys and Indians, and Star Wars, also some Huck Finn. Gérard studied the usual subjects, but school bored him. He stared out the windows. His head was never where his body was. It still isn’t. His teenage years were in Johannesburg, and he played rugby to please his father, but never had any great interest in sports. At 15, he faked a neck injury to get out of playing rugby and that might be considered the beginning of his acting career. After school, Gérard was conscripted into the army for two years because it was compulsory and his family didn’t have enough money to send him into exile. When he was 18, he did a tour of duty in the Angolan War, but he had no interest in shooting strangers. After that, Gérard resolved never to wear a uniform or take up arms again. He studied acting and became a successful actor. He loved the collaborative nature of acting, all the oddballs and geniuses, and that no two days were the same. In 1998, he founded a professional acting school in Cape Town—he wanted to give something back to the industry that had saved him from the 9-5. But in 2002, he found himself burnt out. He’d fallen out of love with Cape Town and her with him. His life was burning down around his ears. He felt as if he were sitting in a deck chair with a cold beer watching everything go up in smoke. Gérard quit acting, got divorced, and moved to the United Kingdom two days later. He is still trying to piece it all together. He started writing to orient himself on the map. Orphaned Latitudes (Red Squirrel Press, UK) is his first collection of poetic writings. In 2010 he returned to South Africa. Gérard is not as dark and moody as people think. He blames his face for this misconception. He lives in Johannesburg.”

— Edited extract from Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard) 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Orphaned Latitudes is a landmark collection from a major new voice in contemporary poetics. This is a mature and complex autobiographical work, full of music, movement and with a flawless sense of sound and drama. Rudolf’s prose poem experiments at times approach the transcendent in their strength and honesty. The evocations of South Africa of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in these pages are heartbreaking, hot and vividly seared with colour and scent. The poems move with muscle in the air … mesmerising, masterful and controversial.”
 
— Anthony Joseph
 
 
 
“Rudolf’s anthology of poetic writings engages with personal and universal themes affecting the human condition — love, death and dislocation. He has produced a gem of a book that shimmers with emotion. There is certainly a lot to be admired in this original work, it deserves to be read and reread many times.”
 
— Laura Fish
 
 
 
“Last year several bloggers mentioned Gérard Rudolf’s Orphaned Latitudes from Red Squirrel Press. Well, now I’ve read it, and I can see what the fuss was about. I connected with it immediately, and it gripped me until I finished it this morning. Gérard is from South Africa, and many of the pieces?/poems related to his growing up in that country. What I know of it (apart from the botany and the geology) is mostly what I’ve learned from newsreels, but now I have a better understanding from the inside, of what it’s like to experience life there. It’s stunning. Go read!”
 
— Colin Will
  
 
 
“This may be my favourite book this year. It abounds with feral energy — pulses with passion for people, places and a lost landscape. The landscape is the township, the veld, the politically charged Africa of the ‘great crocodile’ PW Botha. The beautiful and beleaguered heart of South Africa is evoked in a healthy brew of tumbling prose and perfectly executed poetic vignettes. Autobiographical and exacting, it machetes a swathe through personal observation, love and loss, referencing obscure (for us) South African pop bands, Paul Auster, Boris Pasternak. Shimmering in the heat of this cauldron of words are the family, friends, loves and at the heart of this book an emotional map of a beloved country torn apart and a man also perhaps by political, personal, tragic, comic and calamitous change. Recommend would be too mild a word for this book. I insist that you read it. Insist that you see for yourself how powerful literature can be, how daringly delivered and how fearless and how the personal is always universal and impinges on us all. Yes yes yes.”
 
— Kevin Cadwallender
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
A Short History of Aloes: He is still there, square inside that old afternoon, holding an air rifle. He shoots a hole in a fat aloe leaf. Sap bleeds from the hole. The sap is thick; the texture of golden syrup, cough mixture. He pokes his index finger in the sap. He holds the smear of aloe sap on his fingertip close to my lips and orders me to close my eyes and to stick out my tongue. I trust him. I trust him because he is my brother. I do as he says. He drags his sap-smeared fingertip carefully over my tongue, orders me to close my mouth, to swallow. The sap is bitter — more bitter than anything I have ever had to swallow before. I gag, collapse onto my hands and knees like a dog. I puke until every muscle in my small body aches. I puke until it feels as if my ribs might rip through the skin, until there is nothing left to puke. My brother laughs. I am four years old. He is thirteen.
I trust him until he dies twenty-three years later in the heart of the country.
 
In the veld near the mangled wreck,
a patch of aloes in bloom —
their flowers: yellow brushes dipped in red paint.
Their bitter lessons wait
patiently for unsuspecting tongues.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
You are Here, 1957 — 1993
 
(Inspired by Karoo Moons, Richard Mark Dobson
& Ruben Mowszowski. Struik, 2004)
 
 
Still dark.
You are in a car.
Black road ahead.
Poles bend past the side window.
Bushes blur. Koppies drift. Far off mountains move slower.
The smell of drought.
You are driving through sameness. The sameness of life.
You speed up. Hot tyres drone on cold tar.
Below the tar, a forgotten dirt track.
Deeper still insects tunnel. Roots. Eyeless things.
Now, dig deeper.
Crystalline forms. Fractals.
Below that shells and bones of ancient fish.
Petrified ocean old as stars.
Walls between mind and matter melt. Glacier slow.
 
You are here.
You live here.
You have always been here.
Terrene, clotted with rootedness.
 
You are stone. Sand. Dust. Powder. Particle.
The past is the present. The past brought you here.
Time is the endless fence rushing past.
Yet there are other parts to the moment.
The moment is connected to fading stars.
Solar winds billow beyond imagination. Air in your nostrils.
Air made by plants.
Time here is time termless. Earth and sky.
Dig here and you emerge among the stars.
Die here and you’ll be back in the cradle.
Life here begins where astronomers’ laws never existed.
Then the sun.
It flares over the far horizon.
Swallow scud from a thorny bush.
First light.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Memory with Stop Signs
 
 
Wavering, pissed and hungry he stands alone at
my door again.
I give him a sandwich, a blanket, coppers I find
in my pockets.
Without even trying to recall my name or a word for
thank you,
without a backward glance, he returns to the love
of no one.
 
How many times, I think later, listening to rain
on the roof,
has such a man, like any of us, taken a different path and found
only STOP signs?
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Last Days of the Comeback Kid
 
 
During the last months, they said
the Comeback Kid stopped reading newspapers,
left them untouched and neatly folded
next to his easy chair like a pile of fresh table cloths.
They said, during the last weeks,
the Comeback Kid lost all interest in hunger and thirst,
ignored sustenance as if he was a holy man fasting for insight.
They said he lost all sense of place, time, space,
that he became a drifter, a man adrift, flotsam.
During the last days, they said,
the Comeback Kid slept almost nothing, emerged at noon,
a retired boxer who’d had his fill of fights.
They said the Comeback Kid became a man of halves:
half asleep, half awake, half sad,
half interested, half there, half not.
By the last day, they said,
the Comeback Kid was made of wispy things:
skin rice-paper-thin, hair of cobwebs,
limbs brittle as drift wood, leaf-flat body, reed-thin voice.
Then, in his final hour, there were the last quivers,
breath the sound of a canned blizzard.
 
And during the last minutes, I imagine,
the Comeback Kid became his own shadow,
blue eyes black as squid’s ink,
arms flung open like a skydiver frozen in free-fall,
a landscape gathering darkness at the end of a day.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Dictum
 
 
You leave the room,
set off down the street,
burning history as you go.
 
          The room becomes meaningless.
 
We all have to get used to meaningless rooms:
gleaming wooden floors creak with old age,
the day’s fragrant warmth loiters in the desolation.
 
          Desolation can be so peaceful.
 
I look out through a window:
leaves forming, trees more lush, more moist,
flaming with compassion and feminine abundance.
 
          Abundance does not spread, famine does.
 
One day I’ll trip on the windowsill,
fall into the street, spread-eagled in the dust,
one day, when I’m bored with god’s blue sky.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Overnight Commercial Flight
 
 
At 34 000 feet I dream with eyes wide open:
 
An air disaster — human limbs and unclaimable
 
luggage hang from the jungle canopy like ripped laundry.
 
Securely strapped to my seat (21D) and in the impact position,
 
the smell of aviation fuel, blood and crushed cherimoya trees
 
lull me to sleep among the chaos and shrapnel
 
of 20th century engineering, haemorrhaged wiring,
 
tourist trinkets, complimentary peanuts and fucking ready meals.
 
 
Africa is restless, restless at night.
 
 
At 3:45 a.m. I am still awake with eyes firmly shut.
 
Inside my head I water old thorns for the sake of flowers,
 
and hold my breath as we cross the equator
 
from South to North — an old spice carrying clipper
 
on return from the Old New World to the New Old World.
 
But sudden turbulence jerks me back to the 21st century,
 
forces recycled air from my nicotine-starved lungs
 
and I think of the small black box that won’t record
 
my exquisite modern annihilation after all.
 
 
Africa seems endless, endless at night.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
A Sixteen Line Portrait of Fredrik in His Garden (Behind His Red House)
 
 
The first hot and nameless day of spring.
All afternoon he turns and tills the silent space,
snip-snips a decade’s chaos from 14 apple trees,
furrows soil to lead astray the pending drought.
 
Now, six o’clock, slumped in a dog-tired chair,
he studies his slog, sips blister-black Hungarian wine.
To the south, he heard, locusts ate entire territories to the root,
elsewhere it rained frogs, fires laid waste to farms, gardens.
 
Somewhere behind him his wife’s pitter-patter in the house,
the nameless child inside her still only the size of a peach stone …
Yet, the garden must be ready, ready for The Arrival. Fleckless …
This garden will be their child’s first full view of the world.
 
Now, eight o’clock, a giddy-laughter of wild geese
wades through the thick orange-skin dusk to the sea.
Soon night will close in around him like an eyelid
and he’ll sleep the sleep of conquerors inside his red house.
 
 
 
 
from Orphaned Latitudes (Red Squirrel Press, 2009).
 
Visit Red Squirrel Press.
 
Watch some film poem collaborations by Alastair Cook and Gérard.
 
Read an interview with Gérard at LitNet.
 
 
 
*
 
 

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