Black Bronze Beautiful: Adam Small

african-beauty-marina-likholat

[I first encountered Adam Small as a teenager, and found his poem ‘There’s Something’ (found elsewhere in this blog) powerfully moving as an expression of forgiveness in the face of the humiliating consequences of Apartheid. I was also deeply moved by this poem when I encountered it in Pietermaritzburg as a student (not long before Small himself gave the address at our graduation), but was also resentful of the words in vs 11, ‘I wasn’t born from that White Womb, so cold of glaciers and of aeons of chill ice’! Imagine my delight when I discovered a couple of years ago from a National Geographic genealogy test that my X Chromosome is Khoi-San: ‘I am warm: gather my myrrh with my spice and earthy: eat my honeycomb with my honey’! But of course the geneticists now tell us that every human on the face of the earth ultimately came from Africa, so we all share in this heritage, and I think that inclusiveness is what Adam Small is reaching for when he describes us as ‘growing together, all of us’!]

Black Bronze Beautiful
Quatrains by Adam Small

Fifty quatrains
for the African Road
to a rhythm, new for
Africa’s people, as we are growing together,
all of us

1
I know, my love, this beauty too will wilt
Still, now I bear my breasts and hold my head
serene: stately like three black swans
moving on the water: rhythmic is the lilt

2
My nipples are the noses, wet like dew
of early morning or late at night
of two black lambs – two playful karakul:
their supple darkness makes your manhood new

3
My limbs, my love, ebony formed fine
whose coolness kindles fires in the mind
whose quiet raises in the heart a storm:
oh you, don’t fear to burn, or blow, or to be mine
4
Come, nest your hands and lips like birds
in my bush of black hair; perch on my branches
all your open being; be truthful utterly: come
hide away in me from people, and from stones and words

5
Bronze is my body like anointed soil
or the most blessed bread, or wine
hallowed by wood and years in cellars deep:
a cup is my bronze body, overflowing oil

6
Anointment to be true must nothing lack
must cover the head, the navel, and the feet
extremities and centre: fragrant it must be
and full – fullness always being black

7
Like I to you am open, my love, I know
the future opens up to me and you
and all our issue if but by dint of this:
that I am of the warm sun where things grow

8
Kiss, kiss this purple pulse, my mouth
this joyous and warm wound filled full with blood
this crimson throbbing bird of song
that will in winter sing you to the Summer South

9
My cavities are elemental, black the caves
of my dark Self, the hollows of my ears
recesses of my eyes, walls of my womb, all carved
through ages long by lava, lightning, and warm ocean waves

10
My body can fulfil you simply since I live
Its pasture is rich, is dark – be like a playful foal
or be a still and youthful god of Thought:
my reason, like my body, is intuitive

11
I am warm: gather my myrrh with my spice
and earthy: eat my honeycomb with my honey
I wasn’t born from that White Womb, so cold
of glaciers and of aeons of chill ice

12
I’ll let my hands caress you, wide outspread
like dusky shadows cool of twin palm trees
I’ll be an oasis to you in this blazing land
of troubled men, till you have drunk and fed

13
If I am sealed and like a garden locked, then let me out
If I am closed and like a covered well, then let me out
Release my fragrance, free my fountains, my love:
let blow your wind, let waft my odours, and my water spout

14
My hips are a bronze chalice, each armpit
an earthen cup, my belly a jewelled bowl, all
filled with wine brimful – a heady wine, yet one
not drowning woe so much as lifting wit

15
Pluck at my pomegranate breasts and throw each purple pip
back of your open throat; don’t fear the full feast
on this seed so rich: for in this joy of flesh
is blended pain also – the slave-chain and the whip

16
God turned the precipitous mountains
over in his mind, the meteorites, the primal moulds
of thunder, song, and silence – and I was conceived
black, warm and moving with the Great Whale’s fins

17
Some, oh if only some you’ll understand
of this my body, this my soul, my Self
and grasp this meaning true and hold it fast:
the Potter, God, has a Dark Wheel and Hand

18
Men lose themselves in me – those found are few
Lost in my mountains, rivers: Kilimanjaro, Congo
or my desert or tall grass: my hope, despair
Finding themselves in me, however, they are new

19
My thought is earthy and original, strides
with the panther’s paws softly and sensitive
along the path of nostrils and quick eyes:
mottled it moves and graciously it glides

20
My breasts have fed Zimbabwes, suckled Pyramids
I’ve nurtured the millennial awe and beauty of the Sphinx:
my body can sustain you too for Time; eternally
… if you will be responsive, love, so that all fits

21
God with thunder and lightning in his hand
made my soft sounds; with black and blinding love
modelled my sight; and God in deepest silence
fashioned my war-cries: mine is ambiguous land

22
My cups are a honeyed calyx and an aloe’d phial
Ambiguous is my heart: silence and sound at once
and you would understand me truly if you hold
the desert sand esteemed just like the flooding Nile

23
Garnish your meat with herbs, I’ll have the fires lit
Then turn the spit over the spacious hearth
and let the dance begin – for dancing is essential
and rhythm is my foremost requisite

24
Despite their weighting of my feet with woe
Despite the ball they’ve chained upon my grace
bolts upon my bearing, locks upon my litheness
my rhythm is intact: See me come and go

25
My mind, pulsating black, throbs – hold my hand
The black drums of my soul beat – hold my waist
The music grows, beauteous and black now
like a black child grows into a tall black man

26
To love and to love lavishly, that is my need:
a sheer necessity. Let then the vultures fly
My sky is vast and blue; and what must die, let die
My earth is wide and far. Let the hyenas feed

27
Oh they have ravaged me, have raped
this land and forced my children far from me, away
from my black soil and soul: proud do I walk despite
– the rainbow round my supple shoulders draped

28
A blessed light illumines all my day, but it belies
my darkness not – for my darkness and my light
are lovers in each other’s arms, together always
Witness my night filled, as it is, with eyes

29
My bed of rock is ancient, earth primeval
charged with the current of God, older than Thought
deriving from a time when there was no time yet
– only black Nothingness and God’s black Will

30
Sing of my rivers: Niger, Congo, Nile
Sing of their basins, of their blackest banks
Sing of the meandering glory of my rivers
Sing even of their treachery and guile

31
My laughter blows over the ancient highlands
stirring the birds in black and twittering trees
on Futa Jalon, Mount Tahat: my laughter,
warm, fills full the Plateau winds

32
My nights are a cover like curtains of Solomon
a cover like Kedar’s tents they are for us
a cover from the mindlessness of men
Still we are nurtured open, by the Sun

33
A cover it may be, the curtains of Solomon
and a cloak of comfort Kedar’s tents may be
Men will be mad as long as Time will last
Embrace me then, my love, Love is not a sin

34
Their vineyard’s keeper thought they I would be,
harvesting their grapes: their wood to hew
But the Sun, intoxicating, would not let me be
Would not let me break my dark beauty

35
Hoof uplifted, arched neck and quivering black flanks:
a mare of Pharaohs chariot am I, a dark one
Wheels follow on my snort, and Kings who speak
as if from thunder-clouds above the files and ranks

36
Pharaoh’s companion, a Queen am I in cultivated clime
that mothers dynasties of golden deeds, and deaths,
great ones, of gods even whose follies shine,
dark gods who thought out Pyramids and Time

37
Two bowls of incense are my cool bronze breasts
two bags of myrrh beside each other laid with care
twin towers of the city’s guarding wall by night
My lover’s arms must have the fairest rests

38
Drawn from blossoms scented sweet and wild
brown honey wets my rounded lips, my love
and milk of goats the inside of my mouth
Come let me feed you: be my unweaned child

39
Black feet in sandals of soft leather shod
cured under God’s good sun, go graciously
with raking stride, sweeping together places,
even times – and distances, however far, count not

40
My time is carved from ivory, from wood of choicest grain
My time is clothed in leopard’s royal skin
and the wind that blows over my ageless plains
is hallowed by the lion’s quickened mane

41
Thrust in your hand, deep in, and take and eat
from this, my body’s basket – a latticed bamboo basket
filled with bread, black bread baked in the earth
brown crusted bread to eat with sweet palm wine and meat

42
There is and was for longer than we recall
what we called Time: Time’s mystery inhabits all I am
my deeds and my omissions, all; and times
just like my breasts, rise…rise and fall

43
The trumpeting elephant, fast herd of antelope
the tall giraffe, lined zebra, tawny ape
All God’s beings play in my heart, live on my slope
All these…fear too, and hope

44
Tap from my shapely body earthy and dark wine
intoxicating cupfuls: Oh let us drink, first drink, then try
to live-together: for, sober, we fashion schemes so very neat
of hate, while having drunk we humanly incline

45
A voice whispers from clumps of coconut
that hatred’s glitter cannot ever match
love’s worth; therefore my children, do not fear
The future scintillates around our brittlest hut

46
From the primeval swamp one morning as the Sun,
still new, stood like a gleaming god beside the streams
of water black, I rose from black unconsciousness
and saw how always with the dark world I’d be One

47
The lobes of my two ears, of purest black cut clean
the dark palms of my hands well-formed I offer you
as bread, wafers of bread fresh-baked
and wine old and mature: a true communion

48
I’ll play for you, my love, you are sick,
the fine flute of my throat, my fingers’ strings,
my belly’s black drum, the organ of my soul:
I’ll play for you, my love, recuperative music

49
Rest in my shade, my love – Oh come, revive
Sit in the shadow of my walls, yes come
I am for you an open door to enter by
I am your room and harbour of fresh life

50
To nurse you back to life, if you but will
I am good ears of corn for you – Bake bread!
I am sweet bunches of black grapes for you – Make wine!
I hold life out to you, full and delectable

A Song for Simplicity: Luci Shaw

Stained Glass windows by Marc Chagall at Fraumünster, Zurich.

A Song for Simplicity

There are some things that should be as they are:
plain, unadorned, common, and all-complete;
things not in a clutter, not in a clump,
unmuddled and unmeddled with,
the straight, the smooth, the salt, the sour, the sweet.
For all that’s timeless, untutored, untailored, and untooled,
for innocence unschooled,
for unplowed prairie, primal snow and sod,
water unmuddied, wind unruled,
for these, thank God.

With both hands unjewelled and with unbound hair
beauty herself stands unselfconscious where
she is enough to have, and worth the always holding.
The mind perceiving her, the heart enfolding
echoes the unchanged pattern from above
that praises God for loveliness, and love.

Glory again to God for word and phrase
whose magic, matching the mind’s computed leap,
lands on the lip of truth
(plain as a stone well’s mouth, and just as deep),
and for the drum, the bell, the flute, the harp, the bird,
for music, Praise! that speaks without a word.

As for the rightness to be found
in the unembellished square, and the plain round,
in geometric statement of a curve,
respond without reserve
but with astonishment that there’s for every women,
every man,
one point in time, one plainly drafted plan.
And in your unique place
give glory for God’s grace.

All this from Him whose three-in-one
so simply brought to birth
from the red earth
a son.
All our complexity, diversity, decor,
facet the gem, encrust the clarity.
So pierce we now the opalescent glaze
till all our praise
rises to Him in whom we find no flaw.

Luci Shaw