MARÍ PETÉ POEMS
- selected themes that run through publications -
While a scalpel slides over your mom's belly,
a favourite aunt dies in her sleep today...
As you two slip past each other
through the thin membrane
– bodies wrinkled, eye lids lucid –
eternity distills in an autumn day.
Listen with the deep ear in your chest
(as Rumi would say)
how doors and gateways
open and close
in the infinite maze.
For Karen and Henning
Early autumn morning,
I stroll from the hospital
to the pharmacy.
Waiting to cross in a bubbly crowd
at the intersection of Smith and Grey
(I know they've been changed,
but I'm fond of these names)
from four corners
sweep to the crossing –
sweets wrappers, clothing tags,
Fanta cans, shopping bags
meet and twirl, bounce and leap...
Goosebumps run along my arm.
I rush back to the hospital,
with purposeful pain –
you clutch my hand, and breathe...
A folded head
slowly slowly edges through...
skilled hands reach to pull you out –
skull bones slide into place...
coated in white, you sneeze twice –
Chisanga, pleased to meet you.
Curled on your side
in the nest of the scale
your eyes track her voice
while she tells me, Chichi,
you're her first delivery.
When this nurse scoops you up,
your fingers and toes
clutch the edge of the rim...
for three seconds
you cling like a monkey.
She laughs –
silver coins of surprise and delight
jingle down a wishing well
this clear autumn morning.
my sorrow has trailed behind me
I started making it
I found him
then a passerby brakes the screeching silence
weave the sorrow and the silence
woven since that Sunday when I was nine
it is mine
Choose a good cut of marbled meat.
(Beef is my preferred bredie* for grief.)
Trim excess fat, but
leave small bits to nourish her,
hush her cries – the mother
of this young man wrenched from her arms –
his bear shoulders big hands perceptive eyes.
To begin, onion tears. Loads of tomato.
Garlic to ward off burnt sticky fears.
A handful of pears, or quinces, or plums,
which ever summer fruits you find
for boyhood mischief in back yard sun.
Roast these and grind.
Scatter to preserve
his old soul brow,
slight shy smile.
Spoon of salt,
dash of wine.
Last before the lid goes on
– to exalt his soul –
a pinch of saffron (per weight,
more expensive than gold).
Allow ample time –
until scented steam
fills echoing rooms...
invokes curing and hope
Before you serve: add a touch of vanilla
for the fragrant future she deserves.
*Bredie: stew (Afrikaans)
For Susan, in memory of Johann
Vir Vicki, ter herinnering aan Tristan
over Brothers in Green's rugby grass,
the way mom's hand would stroke his fringe
before school term's first day.
A deep hole waits.
Dad's hands sow the ash.
Tow the tree. Taking turns,
family and friends shovel the earth.
Thorns nod in the wind.
Finch nests will sway, one day.
Turn on the garden hose hard.
Undying child's bubble laugh.
For Vicki, in memory of Tristan
Even organ pipes of Bach’s Toccata,
or his slowest Variatio
cannot reach into the question —
why the tip of her brother’s nose
and his eye balls were gone
when she found him —
mentally ill man
moved on an open truck
from Esidimeni (Place of Dignity)
to an unlicensed institution.
She is just one. Many families weep.
We need new music to dig deep.
until you sleep; keep watch
when Spirit of Thoth
stirs scarlet feathers of your heart
and harsh cries echo down Africa's spine
from Serapeum at Saqqara to Cape Point.
Read the Book of Gates with me,
I'll keep you while you dream.
Leave your fears behind
in the Valley of the Kings.
Hush my Love,
enter Duat now
on ibis wings.
hier is die lug kleurloos
studente maak wolkasems
en saans vee die asems
Translated from Afrikaans by Marí and Steve Peté
in morning mist
die dae slyt
ek soek soggens 'n venster
kraak die eerste blare
suid bloei die bome
Translated from Afrikaans by Marí and Steve Peté,
the sun has touched the leaves
I sip morning tea
scrunch the first leaves
in the south
tears of a mock turtle,
2 September 1993
lig jou voete veerlig,
daal dan neer
met my winterjas oor my arm
Translated from Afrikaans by Marí and Steve Peté
winter coat on arm
Dag na dag reguleer hul ons in rye
met roosters en liniale,
beteuel hul ons
gladde bene, sproete bruin broeke
skurwe hakskene –
wagtend vir die klok
om die deur uit te skrum
na bromponies en sportvelde
wyd…soos die Heer se genade.
Maar één keer op ’n dag in jou klas,
tweede van voor af by die venster,
stuur ek die kraaie van my oë
die blou van onse hemel in
oor smeulende fabrieke en mynhope –
keer terug met blink skatte
wat ek tussen skelm kosblikke
en skewe rye tasse opgaar
getrou, jaar na jaar
met lag-oë en jou sagte lyf
ons woord-eiers bewaak.
Vir Antjie, my Afrikaanse onderwyser & netbal-afrigter
Translated from Afrikaans by the poet
Regulated day by day:
rows, rosters and rulers.
United we stand, young flag posts,
in South Africa
our swinging pony tails,
freckles brown trousers
red heels --
we wait...for the bell,
scrum through the door
race past border posts --
to scooters and sports fields
spacious as the Lord’s Grace.
But once a day in your class,
at the second desk by the window,
I send the crows of my eyes
into our blue skies
to circle curiously
over mine dumps and smoldering factories –
when they return to me
I stash their sparkling finds
among secret lunch boxes and scrumpled school bags
while you guard our word eggs
-- year after year, faithfully --
with laughing eyes
and soft lines.
Angry Arab, In God We Trust,
Bombay Viking, Vanishing Queen...
Me Against the World, The Power of Love,
Downloading Virus, Brown Brothers, All Eyes on Me!
The Seducer, God's Gift No. 1, 2, 3...
Sweet Mama Sweet, As Good as it Gets,
Leave Me Alone, Walala Wahlala (you snooze, you loose...)
So So Def, We put the Beat on the Street...
Passion for Perfection, So You can't Handle the Pressure?
Heroes they Fall...but their Name Remains.
Ghetto Boyz, Nice & Slow,
Smokin Gun, Girlfriend, Eye Ball,
Thriller, Snow White, Piranha, Just Cruising,
Baby Bianca, Back in da Game,
Supreme Chilled, Midnight Express.
Why Not? What Ever!
Woza Friday, Changing Spike,
Get in Where You Fit in,
Holy Night, Death Row,
drie locals dryf
op klein deinings op en neer
‘n surfer stuur sy oë uit op ‘n meeu
dis twintig voor vyf op ‘n dinsdag,
nog ‘n mellow wintersmiddag
storte drup lui, die see
‘n waterverfprint uit die cna
God was hier
as jy my moet vra
Suidstrand, Durban 1987
Translated from Afrikaans by the poet
up and down on small waves
another mellow winters noon
a kitch colour print from the cna
if I had to say
met ‘n klam lyf
wurm ek in
tussen ander wat jazz kom soek
koelgroen amstels stapel
oraloor die tafels
swaar is die lug
van sout en saksofoon
weeg swaar op skewe stoele
van die Moon Hotel
onder die geel pens
van die maan
Translated from Afrikaans by the poet
I worm in
between others looking for jazz
coolgreen amstels stack
all over tables
the air heady
with salt and saxophone
weigh heavily on tilting chairs
of the Moon Hotel
under the yellow belly
of the moon
pakistani take away strictly halaal
surgery jj moodley dokotela
gearbox & diff exchange
chacha's pawn shop
nabibya's fast food
jockey the next best thing 2B naked
it's time to ruffle your feathers
minty's mad tyres and mags
krash panel beaters
fatima's famous foods
zak's surprise butchery
replacement body parts
hansas body craft
port natal paint
bang bang payphones
azb halaal bunnies
mutton veg hot pies
living waters mission
swiss stone masons
d maharaj dental surgeon
free customer parking
local services only
rega religious-cultural society
buy-a-brick: ticket R2
in aid of funds to build a hall
dear customer we apologise for any
inconvenience caused during
road construction, business as usual
crankshaft grinding block reboring
head overhauls canrod resizing
skim while you wait
gearboxes and difs
hot meals served
karam's food we are moving
benji dog chunks taste and freshness
guaranteed factory prices
auto smash workshop
crazy special meaty bones
biltong hot chicken chaka laka
braai wors R2.99
prime cut meats special offer
boats rubber ducks jetskis & accessories
if not supply store
chappies take away
indawo ka dokotela
silveray tea room
fuck all you
brittania spares 4 africa
safety footwear gumboots & rainwear
carlton strong... & gentle
Down by the crossing he waits for the light –
it turns green. He looks left, then right,
revs to go...but oh, a river of women
(in which he fears he could drown)
wells up towards his yellow bike.
They are not afraid!
Bodies sway in patterned cloth,
bananas bunched on heads,
babies on backs, beaded necks,
cell phone gossip and song.
Johnnyboy says a prayer
before he is flattened
by such sisterhood
but in the nick of time (as if
struck by a kierie*) the river parts,
a delta flows around him:
his fear dissolves
in smells of soap,
ginger root, and love
on balmy nights.
Further down where bunny chows are sold,
old apartheid stories told, the stream
snakes round, away...
revs his bike. The light
turns red again.
*Kierie: walking stick (Afrikaans)
*Bunny chow: a Durban delicacy – half or quarter loaf of white bread, hollowed out and filled with curry. Then the soft insides of the bread are piled on top, and the bunny is wrapped in newspaper. No eating utensils are needed, and the bread serves as edible plate. Rumour has it that bunnies were first served over the back doors of Durban restaurants where non-white patrons were not allowed during Apartheid.
jou lyf is ‘n boom
reën stoot op in jou are
lekkerbekvrugte hang swaar van loom stingels
daar’s dou en tarzantoue in jou baard
rain wells up in your veins,
In your beard are monkey ropes and dew,
Scrutinising my box of threads
for the precise colour to match
a favourite garment I want to mend,
makes me recall yesterday morning –
a girl with blushing cheeks
leaning over to thread my brow…
“Make me look pretty – it’s my anniversary”, I said.
“Marriage is not easy, but it’s worthwhile.”
Threads between fingers, her voice chimed:
“Twenty three years? I’d like to do that one day –
it’s like keep fixing something,
not tossing it away.”
My Love, that girl’s envy renewed my vow
to search more often for suitable shades
in my box of yarns, to mend and darn
our worn habits and faded gowns.
Tonight the sea births a grapefruit moon.
Vanilla lilies bloom. The ceiling
goes see-through in her room.
Floats to the pond,
dips in her foot
ever so slow
between her toes.
strange words pour
through the gap in her teeth
into liquid night.
Koi bellies glow.
Geckoes on the wall
turn into rainbows.
Sleeping monkeys stir in trees.
Moles mumble in holes.
Stars tumble through indigo.
back in her bed, slips on a uniform,
shakes silver sprinkles from her hair.
her mom winks like the morning star:
“You’re old enough now to know.
Remember, though, out there
you’re an ordinary girl…”
In Plettenberg Bay’s summer haze
and waddle to the edge –
Who’s mine, who’s pup?! Misted up and up-tight
further out we float on our backs,
And that was how, my little seal,
On using a Kindle for the first time
on eyelids, cheekbones
and the tip of your nose
when you measure what's read...
and what's left
between finger and thumb.
Bookmarks: autumn leaf.
Punched ticket from a train trip.
Small love note. Cigarette packet foil
with a telephone number embossed on it.
Flaws: fish moth; suntan oil stain;
tear drop or rain; dog ear (a sin!);
hand-written note scribbled in the margin.
Choice – of hard or soft cover,
fonts that fit the story's mood,
spine stitched or glued?
Anchors. A date, place
and birthday wish on page 2.
Smells escape. Take you back
to Sunday afternoon blues.
Fairytales and faith.
For Howard and Marleen
Thirty degrees south in steaming heat
I stumble towards laptop, creased from sleep,
first virtual conference begging:
construct from walk-in closet on the screen
(while dunking rusks in rooibos tea)
a sassy chic in a boyish suit –
the me that delegates should rather meet.
Settled in, keyboards clicking, hello chirps sift
like small soft feathers onto my screen:
fellow delegates wrapped in scarves
sipping Ceylon and Darjeeling
report they are all snowed in.
Proceedings begin, keynote speaker greets in video,
speaks of learning through play,
to do things in a different way.
Ways of the future? Audience spell-bound,
all bodes well for orderly beginnings.
Then, while the presenter is still speaking
on a thirsty plane
someone posts a comment for everyone to see
...and everyone jumps in – a cloudburst of text
pours across the savannah of my flat screen:
cryptic thoughts, critique, opinions.
I wait for the chair to call for order, instead
she picks up on some points, passes it on,
the speaker fields questions in between.
Squeezed against my comfort zone's seams,
I lurk and learn...
then leap in,
abandoning manners meant for
face to face ways of being –
download read text furiously field emails
welcome an unexpected guest at the door dash to the corner store do a few chores soothe a child on my lap, blog a few lines keep my boss happy feed a family (and the cats) upload pics to a photostream, tweet in between --
lost in layers of learning,
new ways of being.
Eight days later at close of proceedings
time is announced for conference dinner.
Bandwidth kaput, multitasked out,
I sip solo sundowners South, swat mosquitoes
in the breeze of mangoes and sea.
North, delegates settle snug under eiderdown...
while somewhere in the cyber sky
their avatars in Second Life stilettos
dance and play the night away.
Artemis*, you trawl down trails,
navigate by scent and spoor
of Snow Leopard and Firefox*.
In the cloud round towers and huts
friends and rivals lurk and play.
In this web you hunt ideas.
Dreams adorned by Blackberries*,
you're always watched...never lost.
*Artemis: The divine huntress is the Greek goddess of the wild, childbirth, and protector of young girls.
*Snow Leopard: Apple Mac computer operating system
*Firefox: a web browser
*Blackberry: a mobile phone brand popular among tweens and teens
it's dark here in jasmine scent
wooden slats are semi-drawn
the garden holds its breath:
enclosed in swirls of orange light
a long, fine brush dips in black ink
writes rhythmically from right to left
a silent pledge on ivory curves
Fingertapping the iPad screen
I zip through Tolstoy,
grateful for the absence of weight
and being less crowded in.
But if I were
hopscotch playing Hana in Tuscany,
entering the villa's dark library
I'd choose...Ana Karenina. Or – War and Peace
in its fullest, heaviest leather-bound form –
on my way up to bathe the burnt body
and read to soothe the English patient's* soul,
I'd wedge a volume or two as steps
in the bombarded staircase's gaping holes.
*The English Patient is Michael Ondaatje's Booker Prize winning novel.
man alone, reading,
his iPad glows in the dark –
no paper rustling
spring outing with friends,
teenagers' fingers clicking:
dinner is ready –
they settle round the TV,
while he wears headphones
the music of thunderstorms
sails by silently
midnight bedroom sky
gleam with electronic eyes...
haiku help me sleep
Dear Research Submissions,
On behalf of Ms Subramoney and I,
please find attached a checklist and paper:
e-Learning readiness of 1st year students,
in Wellness SA. Volume 2, December 2017.
to generate state subsidy.
Dear Ms Peté, thank you. Although,
you should tick the original list
to meet their criteria.
They need to know —
are authors Asian, Black,
Coloured, White, etcetera?
Possible options are:
Homo sapiens. However
with us so close to chimpanzees,
genetic testing might prove necessary.
After a car crash I had steel in my femur.
Am I bionic?
Later pins were removed --
can one change groups?
I use mobile devices, often.
Siri’s my slave when I drive.
In between meetings
I hide in wifi coffee shops -- teach on my phone,
also in queues like Mr Price and Pick ‘n Pay --
track engagement to boost throughput,
up quality assurance and productivity.
On third thoughts, I might border on cyborg?
Apologies for grey areas, distortions.
Before I tick the box:
Best wishes, Marí
I got by until I was thirty three,
Crack the code -- leave graffiti
I want to do THAT.
He gave us a reading that said,
Back at the office,
While reading a text, I jive my fingers
* CANSA: the Cancer Association of South Africa
* RAG: student fundraising for charity
* Bloom, B.S. 1986. The hands and feet of genius. "Automaticity". Educational
* M Eds: Master's of Education students
* HOTS: Higher Order Thinking Skills