“Ode to the Green Kalahari” and “Driftwood”
Ode to the Green Kalahari
Oh land of empty vleis turned meerkat cradles,
you basin for bokdrol and birds;
how glorious your transformation
after the Autumn rains—how you live
up to your name—green bushes daring
to stretch out beneath endless blue and soaring
sunshine. Oh land of the Springbok
leaping, the Blesbok bucking, the ever-evasive
Kudu in the bos. I have fallen in love
with your stillness, the way you disguise
your magic, reveal your true self
only to those patient enough to sit, to plant
their roots in your soil.
Oh you brommer breeder, you beehive
of blister; how I will dream
of your foreverness stretching
out like a lifetime
of horizonless mornings. Oh you queen
of the noticing, rock hoarder, mineral
miner; I will think of you
when stifled by city walls and bustling
tarmac. How you make me long
to become an offroad traveler, an off-
the-grid-liver, to explore
all your cornerless edges, to bathe
beneath every one of your million
stars, to be guided by nothing
but your water towers and whispered
promises of timeless days to come.
In your presence I am
ageless. The ancient close enough
to trip over. You are an ancestry
of green. Life giver. Bursting beast
of possibility. I want to call you mine.
Or to rename myself
your child. To be
converted to the wild
aching gospel of you.
I am older than you remember me;
there on the beach of drifting white shells
and shining shards of sea glass.
I have looked up from my book
to call my dog back to me; am resting
a hand on her warm, wet fur
when the shipwreck of you enters my horizon.
There is a moment of stillness
before I recognise you
and yet I have already stepped directly
into your bluebottle sting. You look older
than when I knew you but your smile still stretches
across the open sand like a lighthouse.
I lift a hand in greeting;
there among the rainbow
of umbrellas, sticky children, peeling skin
and joy. I feel, more than see,
you walking towards me;
the pull of you so distinct
that my hand twitches.
Your mouth opens and I am
tumbling into you again.
It is like the first time,
or like how I have imagined it
a thousand times before. Your freckles
lift, sand grains in the wind,
enter my mouth to crunch between
my teeth. I can’t help
but notice the way your eyes
seem to embrace me
with the warmth
of towel wrapped around my body.
You bend down, distracted by my dog
and her unfiltered joy feels like an echo
of the waves building within me.
Without asking, you have settled
on the sand beside me like an itch of gnats
and the heat of you is radiating in through my skin.
I am already drowning
in the coal-hot sand of you,
and barely a minute has passed.
The past, all forgotten
as you look at me
and I am diving back
into the brown depths
of your tidal pool eyes.
You are the shell I’ve been holding
to my ear for years without
ever recognising the echo,
until now, your voice so close
that I become
an infatuation of vocal chords.
You have turned to tell me
about every day of your life since,
and I am watching that octopus
climb out of your mouth
to slither across
your chest and into mine –
the home it has been searching for.
The octopus and I
curl into the granular softness
of the rhythm of you.
Your hand continues to stroke
a pathway into the fur of my dog’s heart.
You lean your head against my shoulder
and I have never known a resting
place more precious;
have never been more driftwood still
than in that moment;
a destined homecoming.
Melissa Sussens is a queer veterinarian and poet. Her debut collection, Slaughterhouse, was published by Karavan Press in 2022. She placed 2nd in the 2020 New Contrast National Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2022 prize. Her work has appeared in many publications, both locally and internationally. Melissa has performed at various local poetry events and hosts poetry readings at The Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Collective. She is also a teaching assistant for Megan Falley’s writing course, Poems That Don’t Suck. She lives in Cape Town with her spouse and their two dogs. Find her at melissasussens.com or @melissasussens.