The Danger of a Single Story

by Lise Day

Africa is not one huge dusty country
of rolling grasslands and herds of beasts,
populated by tall, thin, starving people
or sad babies with swollen bellies.

African’s cuisine of choice is not
monkey-brain, stuffed-snake-skin.
Every meal not hunted by packs of dogs
or naked tribesman with bow and arrow.

Africa’s health system does not comprise
only throwing of bones by witchdoctors.
It is not just a country rife with Aids and Ebola
genital mutilation and botched circumcisions.

Africa is not to be pitied, or dominated.
It is not merely a land of conflict and corruption.
We have pride and confidence and are not
longing to be saved by a kind white foreigner.

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Stocking Filler

by Lise Day

When I was a child I read
of this exotic fruit the
tangerine. Golden, fabulous orb,
trapping the sunshine of distant
Eastern lands. In post-war
Europe even an orange was
precious. Peeled and presented
with reverence. But tangerines
existed only in fables. Story-book
children found them deep in
toes of Christmas stockings.

Now I am grown-up, and despite
the attempts to recapture
that old glamour through names
like mandarin and clementine
the tangerine is a mundane fruit,
stripped of all exotica, missile
at the rugby, sold in sacks,
transmuted to a common naartjie.

The Heart of the Matter

by Lise Day

Today I cooked an artichoke
which is really a bitter thing
needing garlic for sweetness,
oil for softness, lemon for zing.

I eat it in the evening hush
after a day of swirling wind
from each petal
scrape the good
discard the tip of gall.
I think it’s like my life –
outer leaves leathery
resilient as my youth,
the inner segments
mushy middle-age.
Then, suddenly the choke,
a hairy knob of awfulness
I incise it carefully
discard it chop chop.

Now relish the succulent
sweet heart of maturity,
and the best part
of an artichoke is,
all that comes after
tastes even better.

Possessions

by Lise Day

For my sister and brother-in-law whose
house was burnt to the ground in the Knysna fires.

It was the coral cups of a thousand clivias
that smouldered in the woodland garden.
The only flame that flitted between the trees
the quick flash of loerie’s scarlet wing.
Rows of shining bottles glinted gold
holding pungent fynbos honey
collected by bees in hills, purple-clad,
encircling the mirror lagoon.
Inside the gentle flicker of candle light
flower shades, white curtains
Danish simplicity of taste.
Medals marking children’s triumphs
ribboned in proud display;
Recipe books with pages splattered
memories of delicious meals;
Gleaming hard pear and yellowwood
a corner chewed by errant dog;
The green dress worn to a family wedding;
Mementoes from world-wide travel;
Treasures, no longer useful
but too hard to give away;
Paintings collected, overlooked
in every-day but remembered now;
Grandmother’s stinkwood dresser;
The bubbles suspended in Lille’s glasses;
The familiar taken-for-granted stuff
that marks your passage through your past.

Gone!

But loved ones, family, dogs are safe.
The sum of life is not measured
by the totting up of our possessions.

Upon the Bridges of London

by Lise Day

Breath-air blooms the frosty night on Westminster Bridge
a child pirouettes her way from Covent Garden to the station
the shimmer of Christmas lights is on the dark water.

On a soft spring morning the great arches of London Bridge
frame the pollarded trees outside Tate Britain
sticky buds fluttering tiny flags of emerald green.

High summer we bounce across the Millenium Bridge
heads full of Tate Modern art towards Saint Peter’s dome
pearlescent in the long level rays of sun.

The great bascule arms of Tower Bridge lift high in a pale sky,
the red buses pause, allowing the passage
of a full rigged yacht on her way to sea.

Now the outgoing tide will drag away the blood of terror.
In the morning the river will rise afresh, wash the city clean
as all that mighty heart is beating still.

Keys

by Lise Day

I met a man in Paris
a domineering man
who ordered champagne and caviar
to start without consulting me.
Our talk was guarded until
over flambé duck he confided
his hobby: collecting ornate keys
“For keeping in or keeping out?” I asked.
He shrugged his eloquent shoulders
and took me to the Windmill Club
where frothy dancers kicked their can-can legs
buttocks and bosoms flaunted.
I wondered, as we said goodnight
and he walked away hunched
along the rain-wet road,
what sort of man collects
the keys of chastity belts?

Welwitschia

by Lise Day

Ancient wrack of desert ark
sucking from sea-fog that crawls
across hot Namibian sands.
Geckos, skinks, side-winders
shelter beneath her threads of leaves
shredded by a hundred years
of whipping winds.
Barred shadows harbour
brown fire bugs, wasps
that every century
may shuttle pollen
from her swollen cones
to her mate sprawling
a hundred yards away.
Growing slowly, slowly
self-sufficient, enduring
mirabilis.

Candlemas

by Lise Day

The blessing of the candles second of February

My Danish grandmother knew
if snowdrops were picked
before Candlemas,
to light dark winter rooms
with their fragile glow
pallid as a flake of fallen snow
and scent of a spring long gone,
there would be a death.

In a bleak January
I searched below the hedge
in the dank moss
between the frost-laced leaves
but I could not find
their gentle flames
that might show the way
to an easier end.

Spirit of an African Christmas

by Lise Day

“Hark the herald angels sing”
In our thatched rondavel chapel
voices sing the well-loved carols
music carried by sea-breezes
mingles with flea market jangle
marimba and a hundred wind chimes.

“Underneath the mistletoe”
Our advent wreath is dressed
geranium red, yellow-wood green
blue hydrangea our Christmas rose
hibiscus flare, purple agapanthus
slender dietes our sunlit candles.

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer”
Nigerian’s smile flashes white
intricate beadwork tempts the shopper
bright chameleon, turquoise gecko
but in pride of place displayed
beaded reindeer scarlet in the sun.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly”
Shopping malls with gaudy baubles
plastic pine and garish tinsel
suddenly lose their stale appeal
gain a sparkle, luster reflected
in the eyes of delighted child.

“In the East they saw a star”
Far from frozen Northern customs
commercial glitz of Western world
here in the warm and vibrant South
may the message still be manifest
peace, love, goodwill to all mankind.