Consuelo Roland

For the Missing Children

Who took the missing children?
Who took them without us seeing?
Who dared to take the little children?
Who left us alone with our loss?

Some of the little children of the world,
some of our children have gone,
like wind flowers on a finger,
they are blown away.

Pray for the parents
Pray for the uncles and aunts
Pray for the brothers and sisters
Pray for us all.

Follow the parents as the billboards rise
Follow the photographers as shutters click
Follow the abductor as he ducks and dives
Follow the celebrities who famously plea
Follow us the pitying voyeurs
Follow the shadows as they grow longer.

There, but for the grace of God, we weep.
A gash, a festering wound, an open burn;
no Mickey Mouse plaster, no kind nurse, no TV doctor,
no virtual lost, no verisimilitude of missing, no TV version of vanishing,
just the bald, unadulterated, horrible truth:
one of us did it.

Who took the missing children?
Who took them without us seeing?
Who dared to take the little children?
Who left us alone with our loss?

Consuelo Roland

Reunion

Nairobi Airport departure hall, Kenya, September 1974, eight o’clock at night. I’m thirteen years old and all I can take with me is Stinky, my teddy bear. My mom says he’s such an awful yellow colour that you’d think he fell into a bin of turmeric by mistake. She’s embarrassed because she thinks I’m too old to be holding a teddy bear at the airport where we might bump into someone we know. I don’t care. I want to rub her nose in my misery. It’s her fault that I’m going away again. I could have swung my dad around, I know I could have. Last night he came out to sit with me on the veranda steps and asked me why I hated it so much. He’d left it a bit late but that’s how my dad is, when he’s got time he asks questions like he really wants to hear what you have to say. It was nice in the dark with the eagle owls hooting in the trees, their round eyes looking down at us, and the fruit bats flying between peach trees, just a flutter of wings slicing through the night.
 
I told him about crazy Mrs Logan, the boarding house mistress with a terrible temper, who threw all my clothes over the banister because my cupboard was untidy, and how the other girls egged on by Elizabeth McFarlane, the prettiest girl in the boarding house and also the biggest bully, called me a frizzy red-haired African, and how they drove me mad because they said I must be an albino black person. There were things I didn’t tell him too, how I wet my bed as if I were three years old like Jimmy because I was always scared, how Mrs Fynn made me kneel on the cold cement floor of the laundry the whole morning after Georgina Thomas, the boarding house prefect, showed her my wet sheet and mattress. Instead I told him how I had to write a 1000 word essay starting with the words ‘I must not swear’ because I said ‘bull-dust’ to a prefect, which she said was unladylike. My dad laughed then because I learned the word from him; if my mom said anything he told her it was better than some other words he could have used. How could I tell my dad I wished I was Jimmy with my mom crooning songs into his hair, Jimmy who got to stay home and have Rex sleep on his bed every night? In the end I hardly told my dad anything, only the stuff that would make him laugh. I didn’t want him to be sad when I left. So we hugged and said good-night and went inside, but I bet he would have let me stay if it was just up to him.
 
With the whining of jet engines in the background I look out the aeroplane window and see Jimmy in my mom’s arms, and my mom is holding his chubby arm up to wave and my dad is waving, and they’re all smiling as if they’re pleased to see me go. Only Stinky understands.

~ ~ ~

For a moment I’m thirteen again as I stare at the printed invitation in my hand. I can’t quite make up my mind what to do with it. I’m split in half. Half of me wants to turf it into the bin. The other half wants to go. This half of me is the half that’s not afraid of anyone or anything, it’s the half of me that rushes impetuously into things without thinking. It’s my other half that deals with the regrets later. So I’m torn. My husband has absolutely no sympathy for my problem. He tells me I’m being ridiculous. We’d been planning a holiday to Ireland for years. This is a good excuse to go, before the kids get too big, to show them where the maternal grandparents came from. My husband is big on family. He genuinely can’t see what the big deal is about. When we first met I refused to fall asleep next to him in the same bed in case I had a bad night and wet my bed; I haven’t wet my bed for years now but the memories aren’t gone. He knows I still have nightmares about the place, but he thinks I should face up to it. That’s the way we’ve brought our kids up; to face their fears.  I start planning a holiday to Ireland.
 
It’s strange going back now that I’m all grown up with kids of my own. It’s a beautiful old school, still well kept. I’ve left the family in town looking at museums and having ice creams with Dad. Dad understands, he shoos me away as if he’s my psychologist. I want to see it on my own first. I want to see the girls in their uniforms with their book bags slung over their shoulders as they walk from the boarding house to the main school building. I want to see the immaculate green lawns give off a peculiar green glow that colours everything. I tread around softly, a ghost, I enjoy it that people look through me as if they have no interest in my presence.

The husbands are invited. I start to panic. I say I can’t go. My husband opens my wardrobe and tucks me up against him while he holds different items of clothing up so we can both see the effect in the mirror. Eventually he’s satisfied; he lays a long sea-green silk dress on the bed and tells me to get dressed; tonight I’m going as a vamp. I haven’t seen him like this for a long time; tonight the devil is in his blood. The dress has only been worn once before; it is a provocative dress, a dress of the night made for seduction; my tumbling red hair falling over my pearl-white shoulders has never seemed so proud. My children rush in and fall back in astonishment.
 
My husband is something of a wit on a good night, and on this particular night he’s in exceptionally good form. He sweeps me around the room, and is excessively polite when I introduce him to old school friends and teachers, but as soon as they have moved on he demands to hear the story attached to the individual. Some of them have become rich or famous, or both. They are mostly well-groomed and well-manicured and the ones who are not have cultivated an air of eccentricity and breeding instead. Georgina Thomas the boarding house prefect. Mrs Logan the boarding house mistress. Elizabeth McFarlane the chief bully. Mrs Fynn the flinty headmistress. He calls my past tormentors various epithets like fat, ugly, nondescript, boring, vapid, bottle-blonde, sad senile bitch, and brings me glass after glass of red wine. I start to see them like he sees them; there is nothing intimidating about the stuck-up old bats. He whispers in my ear frequently and brushes his lips over my forehead, making me giggle. My tall husband stands next to me in his best man evening suit and tells me I am gorgeous and sexy, that I have the beautiful wild spirit of an African woman and that he adores natural red-heads, always has, always will, that every man there envies him. I end up believing him. Who wouldn’t? I can see them watching us surreptitiously, envying us our happiness, wondering how I of all people did it. I stand in that room and pulsate with power. I have it all, and they have withered to the status of vanquished memories.

Consuelo Roland

I think that laughter may lie there,
connecting threads of truth that set me free,
moving in tune to the deep rhythms of the moon,
shafts of light that penetrate the skin
.
Trisha Lord

Invitation

Such delusions of grandeur
the underworld guides cackle
I am the toolbox,
occasionally they gang up on me and
send canoes filled with hulls,
the nearly living, nearly breathing
have their own agenda,
that’s when the party starts
musicians limber up and poets flex fingers
I think that laughter may lie there

so many footprints to follow,
the Hansels and Gretels of the
underworld, spreading crumbs  and
winding wool around bark as they play,
unruly sprites of the wood and stream,
the tinkling voices of mirrors,
a roundabout of lives and speakings,
a maze of red string that leads me astray,
I spy nymphs hiding behind trunks,
connecting threads of truth that set me free

moons within moons,
the man in the moon a reflection of craters,
the woman in the moon an eclipse,
we hardly care to hear about her,
how we are bereft without her,
how her creamy light enfolds us,
a lover was never so certain, nor a mother;
in her osculating divinity
our inarticulate ebbs and flows keep
moving in tune to the deep rhythms of the moon

gods and goddesses, ancient
ruins and erupting Stromboli, septic
toilets and undeodorised tourists; consider
paradox the poet-teacher caws
make your poetry stronger,
a poet must stand like zeus or atlas
on our skinny backs canoes row, occasionally
a goddess will save us, send us canoes
weighed with words on the verge of existence,
shafts of light that penetrate the skin.

Consuelo Roland

Spelunking

Artfully,
residual odours of intrigue and betrayal,
essences of love,
entrap her,
go down, down, down,
distilled beyond echo.
She finds she can, after all,
puddles of nebulae at her feet,
breathe in quite well,
the vagrant thoughts of the deep well.
She must descend with crampons, grapnel and rope
in the direction of that place,
numinous pit of the pulsing word.
Though it is not quite where the heart is,
and it sits off-centre to the gut,
and there is a kind of dying with it,
although occasionally rock falls,
what she seeks is alike to a crevice
on the cusp of heaven,
for between them: she maker and she believer,
the shape changes,
escaping.

Escaping,
the shape changes.
For between them: she maker and she believer
on the cusp of heaven,
what she seeks is alike to a crevice;
although occasionally rock falls,
and there is a kind of dying with it
and it sits off-centre to the gut,
though it is not quite where the heart is,
numinous pit of the pulsing word.
In the direction of that place
she must descend with crampons, grapnel and rope.
The vagrant thoughts of the deep well
breathe in quite well –
puddles of nebulae at her feet.
She finds she can after all,
distilled beyond echo,
go down, down, down,
entrap her
essences of love,
residual odours of intrigue and betrayal,
artfully.

Consuelo Roland

BETWEEN: Office Effluvium

As she heads for the boldly emblazoned doors,
painted with the crest and mantra of corporate employment,
she inhales the world she is leaving,
the world she has chosen to walk away from:
the component fumes of industrial plastic and motherboards
emanating from desktops and laptops,
 the deodorised melamine-and-fabric odour
of capitalised furniture and space partitions, 
the fibrous low-key stench of  wall-to-wall synthetic carpets
(in her mind’s eye she can see the glinting air-borne settlings
of dust and flakes of human skin), and for a moment overpowering her,
the roasted fragrance of freshly brewed coffee,
 luring her back to the sheikdom,
mingling heretically with the miasma in her nostrils,
as someone thoughtlessly opens the fridge door
 letting piquant cheddar and briny yoghurt exhale,
amongst the effluvium of displaced dreams and desires,
 contained in a relatively small place,
under the crackling fluorescence,
escaping to assail her one last time,
 the mass inked presence of paper embossed by machines
 and worked over by fatty human fingers,
a trail of virgin white sheets freshly freed from A4 sheaves;
the only essences she will work to retrieve and distil.

The only essences she will work to retrieve and distil:
a trail of virgin white sheets freshly freed from A4 sheaves.
And worked over by fatty human fingers,
the mass inked presence of paper embossed by machines
escaping to assail her one last time,
under the crackling fluorescence,
contained in a relatively small place,
amongst the effluvium of displaced dreams and desires.
Piquant cheddar and briny yoghurt exhale
as someone thoughtlessly opens the fridge door,
mingling heretically with the miasma in her nostrils,
luring her back to the sheikdom.
The roasted fragrance of freshly brewed coffee,
of dust and flakes of human skin for a moment overpowering her.
In her mind’s eye she can see the glinting air-borne settlings,
the fibrous low-key stench of  wall-to-wall synthetic carpets
of capitalised furniture and space partitions. 
The deodorised melamine-and-fabric odour
emanating from desktops and laptops,
the component fumes of industrial plastic and motherboards:
the world she has chosen to walk away from.
She inhales the world she is leaving
as she heads for the boldly emblazoned doors.
 

Consuelo Roland

Polka Dot Bikini

Yonks ago,
on a beach in the land of sugar cane,
a girl
wore a purple
polka dot bikini
and eyed the sea
like a matador might eye a bull.

Yonks ago,
on a beach in the land of sangomas,
a girl
ran to the ocean’s edge,
long hair burning,
blowing windward and wayward
in the pure blue sunshine.

Yonks ago,
on a beach in the land of ijuba beer,
a girl
dived under,
the boys dived deeper,
under the biggest waves
never taking their eyes off her.

Yonks ago,
on a beach in Zululand,
a girl in a polka dot bikini
walked by,
wringing water from red hair,
the air around her aflame
with something I wanted.

Consuelo Roland

Hospital Bed Epiphany

I have lost many things in my life. But on this occasion I have lost something irreplaceable; something I can never get back. There are no tears. I have done my crying. I am as dry and desiccated as a dried-out pumpkin gourd on a hot tin roof. If you pick me up, you will hear the pips of my misery rattling around, the echoes of my desolation. Long after everyone else sleeps I lie awake in my hospital bed, bathed in a soft blue hospital haze that promises protection but gives no relief to the ache no doctor or nurse can see.

Suddenly, without warning, a luminous white sun is born within my core, the way a living pod might unexpectedly open and release winged seeds to fly all at once. Euphoria radiates outward from the centre of my being, a palpable force that rattles my rib-cage and startles me to wide-eyed attention. It travels instantaneously through constricted veins and cold cells, widening and warming, dispersing grief and misery like a skulking fog busted by the illumination of the first sunrise.

I am floating on a bed of glacier-white light, lifted high, but I am not dead, or even half-dead. I am part of the amorphous white spirit;  I am welcomed into its arms; all my hurt and ache is soothed away; it is mother and father all at once. My panic has subsided, my fear has diminished, my blood has quickened. I want to raise my voice high and sing in astonishment. Loss is the beginning. My life opens up before me; what had dwindled has in a moment outgrown me. I lie back and sleep comes.
 

Consuelo Roland

    Vagabond Words in Six Acts

    I
    Words that escape us and deny us.

    II
    There is no possible dominion to be had over an over-ripe cheese called gorgonzola (no matter how my father loved it!) or a swashbuckling demon called gargoyle,
    And if you were creatures named hippopotamus or pachyderm your
    humongous reputations would precede you in the shape of victorious vowels and consonants,
    There’s something metaphorical and quite mellifluous about words like fairy and goblin and dragon; words indelibly inscribed with magic ink on an adult heart,
    And what could sound more extravagant, more bohemian, more triumphant than the possibility of a ruckus and a rumpus happening right on your door-step,
    How unassuming the appellations; sun, moon, stars; each prescient of the other, their consummate constellation by a poet’s simple syntax revealed,
    And why is it that some letters grouped, take Bathsheeba, Balthazar and Balaklava,
    make the tongue indignant and lustful all at once,
    While if you smaaked frikadelle or practiced tantric sex or committed the odd peccadillo you’d be cool about finding these seriously flaky loves on a list of favourite words.

    III
    Only
    When all is said and done,
    what’s to say except debris and detritus,

    IV

    Words that overwhelm us and presume too much.

    V
    Still
    There are many ways to skin a cat,
    so perhaps maw and marrow, or even snitch and splat, maybe krap en kruip

    VI
    Who needs
    lacewing & frippery,
    Jewelled and buckled words that deliver us.

Consuelo Roland

Downriver

Beloved, I must confess,
there are things I’ve
forgotten, left out, omitted to
remember.

The years have passed and moved us on.
I travel a long underground river –
the waters moss-green with
misuse and disuse.

What if I gave away that which
I loved most?
What if I were to find you
unrecognisable? – Still

I will row my little boat
straight over the precipitous edge –
dizzy with that which
I cannot see.

What love have I
philandered and squandered,
while I dillied and dallied
with you?

What if the waters
broke their banks –
would I still find you
downriver?

Consuelo Roland

  The House of Galceti 

Today I am to marry la Paola. It is over five years now since my Maria died giving birth to Gina, our youngest. A woman is necessary in a house. The children are growing wild like rabbits let loose in a field. The boys are a gang of young ruffians. The girls are coquettes, who will soon get into trouble without a mother.

My second wedding will take place at ten o’clock. Paola has asked the priest from the village to act as God’s agent and perform the rites of marriage. It will be a fiercely hot day.

Paola has opened all the shutters in my room. She is a good woman. I see the gated Villa Fiorini in the distance, and the rolling green hills of Galceti where my mother was born.

The celebrations went on till late last night. They came from far and wide to wish Enrico Luchi well on the night before his wedding. The pungent odours of bread yeast and young wine rise from the courtyard as the men scrub and hose, singing a song that sounds left over from their drunken dreams.

I am Enrico Luchi, sole surviving son of Mauro and Idonetta Luchi. I have survived two world wars, the birth of six children – all alive and healthy, Grazie a Dio and the death of my first wife. And now I am to remarry.

La Paola and the girls are busy downstairs, laying the tables in the restaurant for the wedding guests, with the white tablecloths and the crockery and cutlery that are used for all God’s occasions. The intense heat of the midday sun is still four hours away. Here inside it is as cool and dark as a cave. My father built this house in Galceti with his farm hands to withstand storm and grief, and to provide hospitality and shelter to the travellers who passed by on the road that runs directly in front of its doors. When I was a small boy it was nothing more than a bicycle track, but I watched it widen under my father’s instructions, until as a young man I saw the German soldiers pass this way with their tanks. Now it is a main road taking heavy traffic from Prato to Pisa, the gateway to the Adriatic sea. It is certain that one day – perhaps before La Torre di Pisa can lean no further – it will be a highway to the provinces of the North. When that day comes they will bring in the bulldozers, and the house of Galceti will be brought to its knees.  

 

Maria was the girl of my dreams. Her father has outlived her. He lives at the Villa Fiorini as a paying guest. He keeps his shutters closed so he does not have to see the house of the Luchi’s. He still blames me for her death. I stole her from him and married her.

It was not a courtship like other noble girls had. I kidnapped her and then married her. She agreed to it all, once I had explained. The old monk married us. He was terrified of her father, Il Baronetto, but he was more terrified of me, the eldest and wildest of the Luchi sons.

I rode past Villa Fiorini on my bicycle each day, on my way to the Luchi lands and back. Sometimes I would see her walking in the garden. I spent every free moment writing love poems dedicated to her, and threw them over the wall for her to find. At first she walked with her large dogs, who barked if I stopped in front of the gates. But soon she locked them away.

On Saturdays there was dancing in the town square. But Maria was not allowed to attend. I had no interest in any other woman. It was Maria or no-one. My mother grew concerned when I became feverish and lost my appetite. Finally, when I refused to eat a delicacy of fried pumpkin flowers, she sent me to a doctor. I agreed to go to put her mind at rest, although I knew he would find nothing. To be sick with love is not a disease a doctor can diagnose, any more than a man can know what is on the moon.

Matters became worse. The Luchi family was not much affected by the war except that we had to play host to the German soldiers. We were fortunate to have farmlands and the restaurant. We were not any trouble to anybody so the Germans came to eat good food and wine, and to sing and dance with the unmarried girls, and then they left.

But at the Villa Fiorini they were less fortunate. The Germans commandeered the villa to use as their headquarters. It was whispered in the piazza that Il Baronetto had sold his soul to the devil. I suffered silently, a thousand plagues burning me up, imagining my Maria surrounded by German officers.

One afternoon a week Maria was allowed out of the gates of her family home. She took sewing lessons with an old cripple woman in the village. It was on one such day that I acted. While my brother Gespardo distracted the elderly housekeeper who accompanied her, I grabbed hold of Maria, leapt on my bike and pedalled off with her in my arms, straight to the old monk. How she laughed at my foolish courage that day!

When her father came to bang at the big wooden front doors of Galceti, shouting blasphemies and raining curses down on my head, it was already too late. Maria and I lay together in my narrow bed, untouchable in our happiness. He never spoke to her from that day on. She suffered this separation from her family for me.

 

La Paola is a girl I have known all my life. The daughter of my father’s good friend. Maria has agreed to my plan. I have explained everything to her, that she is my only love and the bride of my dreams, but the children need a woman around, and a stepmother is better than no mother.

Paola understands. We will have separate quarters. We will live as man and wife. She is barren so there will be no children. This is a relief to me. I will honour and respect her, as a man must a woman whom he freely chooses to marry. I will overlook her peasant ways and she will take care of my family, and open and close my shutters every day. Her aunt who approached me spoke highly of the unmarried girl, saying that she could cook and clean and mend socks neatly, adding that her poor dead mother was a good honest woman who had taught her daughter well.

I brought Maria back to the house of her family, after Gina was born. It was the least I could do. The old monk (the very same who married us) commended her spirit to God. We buried her body in the stone-walled cemetery behind the gates of Villa Fiorini, all built in the eighteenth century by Il Grande, the first Baron Fiorini. I have never been back, although no locks stop me now.

After the war Il Baronetto, now penniless and alone in the dilapidated mansion, sold his family inheritance. Villa Fiorini and all its grounds went for a pittance to the new communist municipality. The communists wasted no time in turning it into a sanatorium for the people who suffered from nervous ailments; there were enough of those needing refuge after the war. In recent years, as part of Il Rinascimento, the state has provided funds and expertise to restore the old villas. So Villa Fiorini will have a new lease on life. They tell me the sanatorium is overrun with trained restorers from the cities, and that one day it will be open to the public. Occasionally I get news of Il Baronetto, from those who still visit family at the Villa Fiorini. Il Baronetto eats less than a sparrow, and insists that his shutters be kept closed at all times. He is withering away.

 

La Paola comes in with my necktie. I let her put it on under the white collar. Her cool fingers work with stiff exactitude. The sky outside is a flaming blue. I close my eyes for a moment.

I can feel the warm sunshine on my head, Maria leaning back in my arms, her black hair wrapping itself around my neck, the sound of bicycle wheels, turning and turning. Peals of laughter rise and fall with each breath she takes. I am nineteen years old and time has stopped. We are immortal.    

Consuelo Roland

The Hunter

I walk with the deer in the forest, awaiting the hunter
He who walks the earth, brooding on his prey
Every blade of grass delicious, never before tasted
Across time as we know it, and as it knows us.

He who walks the earth, brooding on his prey
Only the thrill of the capture to come,
Across time as we know it, and as it knows us
Even if it is over in an instant.

Only the thrill of the capture to come,
Lifting its hooves high as it makes a path
Even if it is over in an instant
The sound of infinity, the path of a bullet.

Lifting its hooves high as it makes a path
Every blade of grass delicious, never before tasted
The sound of infinity, the path of a bullet
I walk with the deer in the forest, awaiting the hunter.