Alan Finlay’s pushing from the riverbank

Alan Finlay lives in Johannesburg, where he works as a writer, researcher and editor. Previous collections of poetry including Burning Aloes (Dye Hard Press, 1994), No Free Sleeping with Donald Parenzee and Vonani Bila (Botsotso Publishing, 1998) and The Red Laughter of Guns in Green Summer Rain – chainpoems with Philip Zhuwao (Dye Hard Press, 2002). He started the literary publications Bleksem in the 1990s and later donga, an online poetry journal from 2003 to 2007. In 1994, with Robert Berold, he co-edited a collection of Eastern Cape school poetry called Parking Space (Institute for the Study of English in Africa). He has also co-edited a collection of new South African prose and poetry with Arja Salafranca called glass jars among trees (Jacana, 2003). Alan’s recent collection, pushing from the riverbank, was published by Dye Hard Press in 2010.

pushing from the riverbank
why do i wake up at four
in the morning and think:
“Now is the time to work
to finish the day before
it starts”? what day is it
just night sweeping over
us: as my little boy climbs
into bed beside me says
daddy i can’t sleep i want to
talk, and i’m lifting my eyes
heavy as doughnuts from
my own thoughts. Ok,
so what about? about
sharks and monsters when
i flush the toilet — remember
those? — and about you,
i’m thinking: my nightmare
smoking, thinking, smoking
what am i going to
do about that, the encroachment
of the neighbour’s wall the
inbox choking with e-mails
everywhere the world tilting
towards me the day so i
get up at night, four in the
morning, get it
started so i can push back
begin with a letter to the
neighbour, polite, legitimate
and underneath a growl i
don’t know if i have the
courage to carry through
not that i have to; but you
see the way things swing
while my kid worries about
monsters behind him vultures
descending as he runs
in his dreams and
i lie exposed on the
grass, waiting for death
what kind of life
is that, my chest
open like a lantern to insects
what kind of birth is that
they’ve got books at school
he says, where dinosaurs
really rip your flesh out
i saw it dad, in their mouths
bits of flesh struggling
while the neighbour hoists
a delicate strand of string
across the boundary
and gets it wrong. Again.
maybe i should tell him
that he’s got it wrong; her
that: you’ve got the boundary
          night capsizes into day
like a rowboat tilting from the
weight of light, deepening
     to one side.
i spear the fish, my child
says murky water he’s afraid
of things that move like the
cookiecutter at kei mouth
flashing past him with its
sand, past his leg, real
as anything. and what shark leers
towards me through my
murky dark that i’m up at four
click on the light, tea
cigarette, respond to
e-mails, it’s ok, i love
you, i say i say as if
to repeat myself: and feel the
pull as i push back with my
legs, from the riverbank
let go gently
so you might understand 
into the day.
from pushing from the riverbank (Dye Hard Press, 2010).
pushing from the riverbank is available at Exclusive Books outlets at an estimated retail price of R90. It can also be ordered directly from Dye Hard Press for R65, including postage, or R80 for overseas purchases. Contact
Visit Dye Hard Press online.

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