“A very old story” and “Two ways to read a storm”
A very old story
Have I told you the story
of my mother’s mouth —
my mother’s weeping mouth,
toothless in pain, her
mouth wounds, the
bleeding palate, the
blood on her chin, the
blisters, the clear run
of the sores on her
gums, her lips swollen —
during that time she lost
all her coordinates, but
pushed back, pushed back
hard at the dark from the blur
of the pain and the blue blindness
of her eyes without their glasses?
Of her bed of days? Of her sleeping,
the light and heavy on- and on-ness
of rest I hoped would heal what had
hurt her? The mouth of my mother?
My mother’s mouth?
On the ninth day of that time,
resurrected like the unremarkable
miracle of every woman whose luck
ran out when she married, my mother
spoke from a mouth that had been broken.
Her sentences were clean as hospital sheets.
No. I have not told you about my mother’s mouth.
It is a story longer than her own life.
Two ways to read a storm
I learn by going where I have to go. (Theodore Roethke)
A storm nudged a small package
out of an unsung cleft in a tree.
The rain tore off the newspaper
and revealed an oval ceramic bowl
with pink flowers. The storm, or perhaps
the growing tree, had broken the lid.
there are different routes
from your past to your future
The broken lid fell out of the cleft,
and out of the bowl fell beads,
coins, a pair of earrings. Gaudy, cheap,
home-made. Child’s treasure. Secret things.
you can intervene to change outcomes
but that requires energy
The lid is gone now after a season,
buried or washed away, the newspaper
example: when the market is high
people log in all the time
That storm was something
old-fashioned, I’ll tell you that much.
We don’t get them like that anymore.
when it is low … well.
The ground beneath the tree is hard
all the way to the surface in summer.
information leaks in
Whose past was flushed out here?
in different ways.
Hung on here?
as time passes
Do they remember it?
the ability to learn from good news is
Whose limitations, whose fancies,
spilled from this ficus?
wise. You gather more information
about where the wind is blowing.
warnings have little influence on behaviour
Weather wears the old fresh.
Karin Schimke is a poet, essayist, editor and translator. Her poetry collections are called Bare & Breaking (Modjaji, 2012) and Navigate (Modjaji, 2017). Her poetry has been published in various national and international literary magazines and anthologies. She has been awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize, the Sol Plaatje Translation Award and the South African Literature Translation award.