Kobus Moolman was born in 1964 in Pietermaritzburg. He has published five previous collections of poetry, as well as several plays. He has also edited an anthology by South African writers living with disabilities. He has been awarded several literary awards, including the Ingrid Jonker Prize. He teaches creative writing at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. Left Over is published by Dye Hard Press, Johannesburg.
“There is a relentless asking in Moolman’s poems … Left Over feels like a follow-on to Light and After, a continuation of the growing power of Moolman’s voice as a poet. It’s a voice that opens up as it breaks (breaks up?), resists false closure.”
– Alan Finlay
“Kobus Moolman’s elliptical, foreshortened poetry opens up a world of exploration and heightened experience from which the reader eventually emerges, chastened but delighted. These are poems of acumen, depth and extraordinary pressure.”
– Kelwyn Sole
Back to School
It is the middle of January. And it is hot. The air is still. The air is filled with the electricity of cicadas. He called them Christmas beetles when he was young. Hot. The middle of January. He hears the two young boys playing next door in their swimming pool. The last day of the school holidays. He hears the two young boys screaming and splashing. Hears them calling out to each other: Watch me! Watch me! Watch me! The day before the boys go back to school. Back to School adverts on television. Back to School specials at the supermarkets and discount stores. Specials on stationery and grey socks and boys’ shorts and black shoes, girls’ grey skirts and short-sleeved white shirts, exercise books and coloured koki pens and crayons with all the colours including gold and silver and flesh. He remembers being the same age as the boys splashing next door in their pool. He remembers that his parents could only afford to buy the pack of six crayons – that did not have silver or gold or flesh. He remembers what the last day of the Christmas holidays felt like. His family did not have a pool. They stayed at home for the holidays. They celebrated Christmas with his father’s side of the family. At Cedara. Or at Lion’s River. Dargle. His father’s side of the family did not have swimming pools either. They were Afrikaans. They had pellet guns and katties and gravel roads leading up to their houses and front stoeps and back stoeps and stoeps that went around three sides of their houses and gum trees and long grass and chickens that cackled in a hok at the back and crazy dogs that had to be locked up when anyone came to visit. He remembers that if he and his younger brother wanted to swim when they were at home then they had to go across the road to the Dewar’s. The Dewars had a round plastic pool that stood behind their house. The pool was not sunk into the ground, so he and his brother had to climb up a metal ladder in order to get into it. The Dewars had no dogs and they had no young children, but he never felt welcome going to swim there. It always felt to him as if he and his brother made too much noise or splashed too much water over the side of the plastic pool. And there was little fun to be had in paddling slowly around with his mouth closed. Now he hears the two young boys screaming and splashing next door. It is the last day of the boys’ school holidays. Tomorrow they will wake up early. Tomorrow their mother will drive them off to school and drop them outside the school gate. He remembers that he and his brother got a lift to school with the girl who was the most unpopular girl in his class. She wore glasses. And her ankles were fat. Her parents owned a fish and chip shop. And they were always late in picking him up. He was always late for school. Even on the first day of the new school year.
The man was actually happy
The man was actually happy. In fact, he was so happy that he decided to make himself unhappy. To punish himself. For his happiness. So that he could not be taken by surprise one day by unhappiness. Therefore the man separated from the beautiful woman with whom he was happy. And he took up with a different woman every night. And every night he was unhappy. Because every night he managed to find a woman more beautiful than the previous. And every night it was brought home to him – after he had taken off their clothes, after he had seen and touched their beautiful bodies – every night it was brought home to him that there would not be enough women in the world for him to find the right one whose beauty would make him happy. Incomparably happy. And so every night he was unhappy. Every night he was unhappy because he knew that he had started out upon a road that had no end. And no return either.
They come again
They come again, the dark birds of clamour.
Their heavy wings beat like blows upon an anvil, like blows
upon a metal bar.
They choke and grind the coarse gears of their voices.
In the distance the setting sun is a dry furnace – a back-draft
that sucks all the air
and light out of the world.
Only the small chime of silver bells can hold off the clamour.
Only the thin scent of a blue flower can push back the dark.
The man bends
The man bends and grasps the hard metal of the weight. He strains to lift it off the girl’s heart. She does not say a word. This dark-haired girl. This girl who lives beneath the metal weight with open eyes and a small mouth. And the man stretches the muscles in his arms and strains his back. Because he wants so much to help the dark-haired girl. He wants so much to free her heart. To see her breathe again. After a lifetime of holding her breath.
Even so late in the day
Even so late in the day
so far from where he started
so far along the road
with so much distance behind him
so many rooms swept clean
so many boxes sealed and labelled
something still is eating its way through his brain
something still is gnawing away
at the thoughts behind his eyes
something that will not let go of him
something that is hell-bent on ruining him
from the inside out.
He is sitting on an old log. He hears children’s voices in the distance behind him. The sun is out. There are green hills in the distance. Some of the hills are forested and some are bare, with white bales dotted across them. And others are brown and ploughed. He is here because he has not gone. He is here because he has decided to remain instead. To sit and hear the birds and the traffic on the road behind him and the donkeys braying in the paddock and the sheep. It is all now, this moment when the doves call in the trees around him, and the cicadas and the crickets. It is all here. Everything that makes up what he is now is all around him. It is slightly cold across his skin – as usual he is bare-chested – and his book is upon his lap and his hat lies beside him on the log. Slowly, softly, the branches of the willow tree stir in the wind. The round leaves of the eucalyptus tree are transparent when they fall across the sun behind them. The sun is out, although there are a few white clouds in the sky. He hears children’s voices again. And two starlings flash in front of him across the garden. And a single swallow rises into the sky, so high that it disappears. There are patches of green moss on the old log where he is sitting. He writes as fast as he can because he is trying to match the words that he knows with all the things that are around him. There are many things around him that he cannot find words for. Because they happen so quickly. Because they happen all at once, and it is difficult for him to separate them. A laughing dove starts up its low watery call. It reminds him of the music lessons in junior school. He thinks of the small silver instrument that was like a little bowl or a jug. It had a thin sharply-pointed spout, and if the teacher filled the bowl with water from the concrete sink in the corner of the room (the children were not allowed to do it because they invariably messed), and if you blew down the spout then the water inside bubbled and made a cheerful and rolling sound. It also reminds him of visiting his father’s family at Lion’s River, where his father’s second cousin was the station master. When he was much younger, when he was still a boy, in his little safari suit. And there was a sky there. Just like now. And there was a steep hillside. And there was a rocky road leading up it that his father always complained about driving. And there was an outside toilet. And there were doves and pigeons that they used to shoot with a pellet gun. These memories cling to him like thick and slowly moving water. Like mud. And he moves slowly through these memories like a man in quick-sand. Like a man sinking into something that rises all around him.
from Left Over (Dye Hard Press, 2013).
Kobus Moolman’s Left Over is published by Dye Hard Press, Johannesburg, and will soon be available at Exclusive Books countrywide for an estimated price of R125. Alternatively, it is available directly from the publisher for R100, including postage. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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