week of November 28 - December 4, 2005
Graham Burchell and Gayle Bell
BECOME A POET OF THE WEEK
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Graham Burchell was born in 1950 in Canterbury, England. In 1976 he graduated from the University of Sussex and embarked on a teaching career that would take him to various places around the world including Zambia, Saudi Arabia, Tenerife, Mexico, France and Chile. His first children's fantasy novel Wumpleberries and Gronglenuts‚ was published in 2003. He has written two other novels, one for children and one for adults. He was the runner up in the 2005 Into Africa‚ International Poetry Competition judged by Roger McGough, and he is currently shortlisted for the Chapter One Promotions Poetry Prize. He now writes full-time and lives in Houston, Texas with his American wife, Charlotte.
Visit Graham on the web: http://www.wump.net
The following work is Copyright © 2005, and owned by Graham Burchell and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
A rock legend is head-butting the head gardener,
who allowed Geranium sanguineum to creep;
to present itself in the formal rose bed, bloody,
stunted at the feet of thorny ladders.
A grave digger leans towards Hyacinth, ignoring
the perfume slapped clumsily behind both ears. He fixes
the eyes glazed beneath a blue rinse, and continues to bore
with tips for the exhumation or embalming of shrubs.
A well-known social climber has herself nicely wrapped
around a dandy from France with long yellowing teeth.
She tickles his pale neck lightly with her lusty tendrils,
feigning adoration of his stiff posture.
A rake from Greenhouses poses against the south wall,
barring Ivy Draper’s exit around the concrete urn
stuffed tight with heliotrope. She is considering
climbing over it, through it, to escape his adulterous smile.
The Greens have just rolled in, the whole family,
shaking rainwater and caterpillars from their heads.
The Maris-Pipers would move away if they could,
thinking they are above them, when the reverse is true.
Victoria Plum is in the full purple swell of maturity,
yet she is agitated, a stickiness of wet nerves,
for she believes that she has a stalk-er, watching,
waiting for a quiet moment to taste her morning dew.
And then yew are standing there alone, not a wallflower
exactly, but unsure how to proceed, for yew have seen
so much more than the others, the Violets, wild Poppies,
or sweet Basils. Yew have learned to spread with care.
Soon, after waking I arose to the smell of boat in my nose.
I could see through the stained porthole dolphin sky,
endless acres of molten greyness, and then,
just coming into view, the skeletal bow of a dead vessel
growing out of nature's lop and swirl, impervious,
huge, much bigger than the real Noah's ark;
big enough to hold all the creatures
in a belly long since dissolved by the salts of time,
but the ribs, glabrous beams of oak, spawned from a hidden spine
were kissed, slapped, licked by the surface brine.
We passed very close, humbled by the immensity
of each ligneous bone that slipped silently by
giving us the finger or somehow looking down
with sad disdain
The animals marched in two by two
but now you keep them in a zoo, globally warmed,
Is that the best you can do?
As we slid beyond the final spur,
I heard the feint watery clang of a sea bell,
warning ships or mourning the waste.
I twisted to see a large bird, feathers the colour of tide.
From its perch it fixed me with its stare,
raised its head and screamed a dismal fish-breath cry.
I realised at once, the word it had called
T'was a bitter, long drawn "why?"
Christmas came to Chililabombwe,
A misdirected card; Scrooge and frost
Delivered to the wrong continent.
In the fan-cooled haven of the school reception,
A bosomy secretary, head shaved of lice,
Spooned excretions from the playground's termite mound.
A red paste pile
African caviar posed in a napkin.
Close by a mother and I seemed uneasy.
She slid one ebony gloss shin
Over the other like a deaf cricket.
She was lost for good words.
Whatever she said it would sound stupid, she knew,
But she would say it anyway fish eyed
Like the kapenta threaded with small bones
That she could afford on Fridays.
"It was that saint man what was he called
Saint Claws? Santo Claws?
You know he's the one that goes down the chimneys."
Chimneys? Every year, white bearded and hot
He would visit the school, waving,
His costume the same flame tree hue as the fire engine,
From which he hung in the sun of blue heat,
Banana, jacaranda and rattling black seedpods.
"But on that Christmas night, he goes to the other kids -
Always to the other kids.
For each of my boy's eight years we waited.
We listened for the Santo Claws bells,
But only heard the crickets and frogs of Africa."
We walked in Valentine's Park once, as a family;
strolled past ducks that floated like Styrofoam on a stream,
snapping up wet bread with their clattering clothes peg beaks.
Two others fit for a feeding frenzy reined in from a grey sky,
wings spread to slow them, big yellow feet splayed, touched,
broke the surface with the grace of a large aircraft.
"And that is just one of the ways in which
they are superior to us," my father remarked.
"They can fly, fast, as high as they like.
They can sit on water like a cork without getting pruny skin
or feel the cold on a wet chill March morning,
yet, if the fancy takes them, they can climb onto the bank and eat grass."
"Walk, swim, float, dive, fly. Can you do all those things?"
Yes - I would like to be a superman,
not the kryptonite-dreading moralist in body hugging blue,
but I would like to have a rack, a menu of special powers
that I could turn to on a whim.
Perhaps, to push a skin-covered button
where the lines crossed in my left palm,
and become instantly invisible.
I would twirl and dodge the unsuspecting.
Crouch, slip at knee height through the employees door
at the bank when it is opened,
and then siphon bills from waiting tills.
With a fleet step I could launch into the air,
fly, feel wind streaking over me like oil.
I would speed across the foam of Atlantic waves
to visit a sick mother in my native land:
do it in the space of an hour or less;
time enough to enjoy such strange solitude
and nothing more.
My senses would sing.
From a hundred paces or more I might see individual ants
climbing the vertical freeways of tree trunks.
I may hear a rabbit thinking,
hopping through a distant cornfield.
I would know the scents of friends and strangers
so that I may announce them in my mind,
even before they came into view.
I would have strength, physical and mental;
a power that was obvious to others at the merest glance.
I would help neighbours rip unwanted trees from their gardens,
and whilst feeling the roots submit to me, slide helplessly from the soil,
I would compose poetry in my mind.
Words to make you dance. Words that would tear into me
as the sunlight glistened and painted the taut swell
of hard muscles in my arms and shoulders.
In the heat of the afternoon, to cool off,
I would dive into deep green waters from cloud height;
plunge through a stripe of torn bubbles, scare small fish
and arrive at the dark place where tentacled life and lamp lit wraiths
would eye me with suspicion, the same fish face wariness
the locals wear in a quiet English pub.
I would open my mouth, peel back my eyelids,
let the tiny bubble escape from a single nostril
and breathe, feel the water rush through me
with the silken ease of a clear flow
babbling over granite in a Dartmoor leat.
Gayle Bell is a Black Womanist whose work has appeared in a number of anthologies. Ms. Bell lives and loves in Dallas Texas.
The following work is Copyright © 2005, and owned by Gayle Bell and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Her scent announces
the riot about to occur
in one of those places
that will always be your favorite
even if the food is lousy
her gift makes you feel
like you've gotten
a kings ransom
and royal flush
her sly wink
seals the chaos
the birds and sky
had better well
put on a grand show
because you feel like
out the diner
to the stares
your vacant smile
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