Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A One-Sided Series of Letters inspired by 'Dear Esther'

Dear Lilian,

The chill on the wind whispers of winter's approach. I can see the trailing white fingers of warmth spreading from the first cup of lavender tea each morning. I've taken the thick blankets out of the attic, and placed them in your room. The old woman that wove them would be pleased to see them used at last. I beat out the dust outside, by the lemon tree, and the dustdevils danced in the brisk morning air.

By the time you arrive, the lilies I picked from the stream today should be opening. I go and sit in your room sometimes, before I go to bed. It bats away the anticipation for a little while, like a fly in the orchards in summer. Sitting in the faded white chair by the window, I can smell the jasmine through the shutters. Even at night.

The hearth has grown cold as I write. Time for bed.


Dear Lilian,

The sailor-postman told me you've delayed your crossing. The reasons I entrust to your care and will not worry over them. I placed some of the first oranges in a bowl of water.. When I squeezed the cloves into their skin, the spray left a mist in the afternoon sun. Your room smells like sunlight and Christmas now. The lilies have opened.

I went for a long walk after dinner and gave my questions to the sea.


Dear Lilian,

Of course, the strait is dangerous. All the waters are. So is the road outside your manor, and every solid piece of turf and rock can at last roll in the very sea you fear. The sea with its unpredictable, merciless rhythm. Why do you speak of this as if all these are new? 

The lilies have wilted, so I washed the vase after breakfast. I'll put some wildflowers in when you are here. The cats nestle themselves against cold by gathering on your bedspread each afternoon, their bright pink noses hidden underneath their paws.

I walked up to the promontory today. The cold is making it stark. Even the gulls are silent.


Dear Lilian,

So many words you write to me about the one who would counsel you to stay and forget this island and I who dwell on it. Yet in none of them do I find any reason beyond his worry. I fear you've already shipwrecked yourself on one of the two sharp cliffs of counsel through which you think you must sail. Only one of those cliffs exists, and it is the one for which you tragically veer.

You know the truth of the thing. Come.


Dear Lilian,

The clove-oranges have soiled the basin. I washed it out after breakfast. As I cleaned it, I wondered if I had not perhaps, sea-swept and sand-clogged, imagined that you were coming. The thought made me laugh. But not from mirth.

 I've closed up the cottage, and I'm headed for the cabin in the valley. It is warmer there, though I think the cats will miss the bedspread and the sunlit afternoons, bright with anticipation.

The sea never returned my questions. If they surface on your side of the ocean, like some driftwood of the mind, do therewith as you wish. I won't receive any letters until spring.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Kingdom of God asks ignorance and impotence of us - A Reflection on the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

"Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’ 
  He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ 
  Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone."
- Mark 4:26-34

If the Kingdom resides in me in the manner described in these parables then what the Lord asks of me in the spiritual life is ignorance and impotence. The growth of the Kingdom is not within my power to control: "Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting". Neither is its growth subject to my understanding: "How, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces".

This is a frightening receptivity. I cannot chart my progress in correlation to my actions. I cannot project a plan on the basis of the mechanics which I observe. I cannot even guess at the proportions, for the smallest and the greatest proceed at an inner pace. I am therefore left at the mercy of something I neither understand nor control nor predict. But it is a potent mercy, a mercy that carries its life within it.

What is then required of us in this sacred space of ignorance and impotence? "A man throws seed on the land", and then, "When the crop is ready, he loses no time; He starts to reap because the harvest has come". Of us is asked the trusting reception of the seed, creating only the space the dark, nourishing, hidden ground wherein it may come to fruition. Then, the discernment that comes from intimate knowledge. Any farmer knows his soil, its tendencies and trends. He knows the stages of growth; He knows the time of reaping. When the fruit is full-grown (fully, not merely the ear but "the full grain in the ear"), he harvests, at the end of a process of which he was only the custodian.

We may see this most practically in prayer, for there our tendency to want to be intelligent controllers of a process is clearest. We seek to pray in such-and-such way, so that we may feel such-and-such, and we may have a such-and-such measure of success : perhaps petitions answered, healing given, a certain glow of holy sentiment, some flashy new perspective on Scripture, tears and locutions. But soon, for the one who returns faithfully, the entire enterprise collapses. Attempts to measure prayer-effectiveness fail, the warm emotions lie unkindled, understanding is frustrated. Then, and only then, once the soul relinquishes its clutching, grasping control and lets the kingdom grow of its own, can true prayer begin, prayer which cultivates and tends a mystery which it cannot grasp, nor comprehend, but can only stand before in wonder.

The Kingdom of God asks ignorance and impotence of us.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Dis Dié Goed

dis die onvertelde grap, die pittige sêding
wat stof vergaar, die eerlikheid
wat die siel sou ontspan, die vreugde
wat onverdeeld vermuf, dis dié goed,
voorheenvriend, wat skree ten hemele


it's the untold joke, the pithy comment
that gathers dust, the honesty
that could have relaxed the soul, the joy
that withers unshared, these are the things,
former friend, that cry unto heaven

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Prayer for Anger

I pray for anger, a torrent of it,
that I can wash me from the hope that burns,
and fill the silent tomb in my soul
where once you dwelt, in peace

Hoop: 'n Drama in Twee Dele

het jou kwaad, jou onwrikbare koue woude, gewankel, of
is dit net die hoop, daai simpel kind wat stillewegs
my lewe tot stilte sus?

die hoop is dood, al spartelend rivier-af verdrink
terwyl jy aanskouend aangaan met ontbyt,
en vra vir die konfyt soos die laaste lug
paniekerig verdwyn

HOPE: A Drama in Two Parts

did your wrath, your forceful, cold wrath, stumble? or
is it merely hope, that silly child so silently
lulling my life to sleep?

hope is dead, thrashing downriver, drowned
while you look on during breakfast, and ask for the jam,
as the last air disappears, in a panic


het jy geweet dat ek saammet jou in woede weg is:
daai deel van my-in-jou, die "ek" wat jy gemaak het?
weggeruk leef daardie "ek" nogsteeds in jou siel, en ek wonder
of jy ooit met my-in-jou praat, of net skel, of net
stil en stowwerig in die hoek bêre, doodsafwagtend


did you know that I left with you in your wrath:
that part of me-in-you, the "I" that you brought about?
abducted that "I" lives still in your soul, and I wonder
if you ever speak to me-in-you, or merely yell, or just
put me in the corner, silent and dusty and death-awaiting

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Ry in die kar oppad huis toe,
neurie saammet die radio,
gelukkig, welgeluksalig,

So tussen die laatmiddagson,
en die vloeiende verkeer,
verander die liedjie en skielik,
skielik, onverwags,

Snak my vingers trillend van herinnering,
uit 'n handjievol musieknote
spat al die onthou en die seer,

Ek arriveer by die huis,
my wange nat met die geheue,
my siel nerf-af, want elke val,
is soos die eerste val,


Driving on the way home,
humming along to the radio,
happy, blessed,

And then in the afternoon sun,
traffic flowing alongside,
the song changes and suddenly,
suddenly, unexpected,

My fingers gasp tremblingly in remembrance.
Out of a single phrase of music
flow in a torrent: pain and memory,

I arrive at home,
my cheeks wet with memory,
my soul raw, because every fall,
is like the first,
virgin of sorrows.


Forbidden the words I may not utter
to speak of the sadness at seeing your heart
delighting in another, the smiles and the sighs,
the delicate touch and the sweeping glance.

Forbidden thrice, once the lover's tear:
to rend heart & mind ere causing its beloved pain
twice, the shame of knowing that what is felt, is foolish, is sour,
is not noble because nobly expressed

And thrice, since it whispers of possession,
and possession is what I dare never speak of you,
even were your heart mine, it would not be mine,
bound by a thousand silver cords, yet never iron

For were I to possess you, I think I would perish, drowned,
drowned in a torrent of beauty greater than I,
burnt by a sun no one dare tame,
a cup shattered in its filling

Sipping Impossibilities

your awkwardness, mistress, mingles
unhappily in my drink and I
have to sip through the entire thing

hushed helloes and straining grins
hugs as cold as a weekday morning
add a taste that lines the mouth

I hear your laughter at others
and it creates a whirling eddy
swirling in the glittering glass

you take your leave of me
with a silence, a final drop
of unnatural colour I taste

Sku Engel

jy, sku engel, sagkens prewelend
so sensitief, so verantwoordelik,
jou vlerke blink van die silwer,
sny tot by die sening, smart
bloei uit jou ontskuldigheid
soos reën op die groen heuwels
van my hart

you, an angel yet shy, mutter softly,
so sensitive, so responsible,
your wings shining silver
cut to the quick, sorrow
bleeds from your innocence
like rain upon the meadows
of my heart