Jean Badenhorst

Cinquains 2

 

i

 

einde
ek is by jou
in jou laaste asem.
nou dra ek jou hier binne my
veilig

 

ii

 

your grave
is my shelter
there, I hear your soft voice
there, I feel your quiet breath soothe
my scars

 

iii

 

jou graf
is my skuilplek
daar hoor ek weer jou stem,
voel ek jou asem sagkuns oor
my spoel

Jean Badenhorst

His sole desire

I

lady-pic.jpgThe six, vast tapestries hang in a circular chamber, surmounted by a glass cupola. Daylight filters through the frosted glass of the dome. On a low stool at the door, keeping watch, sits the troll. This is his domain, his treasure trove. The tapestries he guards are as beautiful as he is grotesque. His gnarled hands lie folded in his lap, his hunchback tucked into a grey trench coat, much too large for him.

His hooded eyes betray no emotion. Yet, he faithfully guards his passion, day after day: the Lady of the Tapestries. He guards her with a secret fire. His daydreams flit like bright clouds across his face. He dreams of resuming his place, with the White Unicorn, by his Lady’s side, woven among the red and gold threads of tapestry number six.

lady-2.jpgAs daylight fades, the troll remains at his post. The key to the great outer door lies heavy in his pocket. He waits for the last visitors to leave, then limps down the pale stone staircase to lock the great door from within. He returns to the circular chamber. Standing in the very centre, he surveys the tapestries, one by one. The Unicorn paws and snorts. The troll drags his stool up to tapestry number six, clambers up and, contravening all museum regulations, runs a crooked finger along the graceful line of the Lady’s cheek.

He looks intently at her face, recalling the night, so many centuries ago, when the young novice had woven his figure into the floral border at the Lady’s feet. He recalls the Mother Superior’s dismay and her injunction to unravel him, immediately.

Darkness, now. A pool of moonlight falls onto the stone floor. The Unicorn lifts his head and shakes his mane.

II

The curator of the Musee de Cluny, 6 Place Painleve, arrived late the next morning and was surprised to find the great outer door locked. A quick call to his assistant produced a spare key and the door was opened a few minutes later. Inside, all was dark. The blinds were still drawn and the displays swathed in their black velvet covers. For a moment, the curator was uneasy: the troll had never abandoned his post before.

Dismissing any further thoughts of the troll’s whereabouts, the curator and his assistant bustled about, opening the museum shop and preparing the displays for the day.

Much later that afternoon, a solitary visitor stood in front of the sixth tapestry. Looking up from his guidebook, his eye was caught by a small, hunchbacked figure among the folds of fabric at the Lady’s feet. The little troll wore an expression of complete devotion, of near adoration, as he gazed up at her.

Nowhere in his guidebook could the visitor find any reference to the troll in tapestry number six.

Jean Badenhorst

the land of the dead

night falls. stillness descends. leaving my body behind on its bed, I drift up and out into the night air, following the sign of the southern cross.

hovering, uncertain, I await my companions, known and unknown, who will travel with me tonight through this land of the dead, through darkness so deep, it settles like tar on my skin.

blinded, I follow stray rustles of thought, random sighs of wisdom. feeling the space before me with invisible hands, I sense silent guides, beckoning, blinking fireflies on this dark path. restless, shifting shapes emerge from the depths of this underworld.

after trailing many miles through the molten darkness, I see, far ahead, a pinprick of light, a point of arrival. long, dark hours later, dawn breaks.

I drift towards waking. my night companions fade into the lifting shadows, their voices silent, their lessons abandoned to the glare of daylight.

Beryl, Carol, Cheryl, Jean & Jean

Seeing or Not Seeing

by
Do I see only what I want to see?
Do I look beyond the perfect mask?
Do I delve below the surface?

The space of challenge
is tossed and turned on the sea of life,
a lighthouse on a stormy shore,
under the north star.

Seeing or not seeing?
Just a physical phenomenon?
Is there some line of dark light in a meeting of minds?

Find the dark core
where dragons and whirlpools live,
where fireflies play in a midnight forest,
where nothing is cast in stone.
Where silence is tangible,
where the unseen is seen.

Jean Badenhorst

vow

I

 

take me
or leave me here
on this pavement
steaming after rain
leave me
this chaste greeting
your parting gift
leave me
leave me

 

leave me
or take me
into one safe place
your dark sleep
take me
into your unspoken words
your secret sanctuary
take me
take me

 

take me
or leave me here
where I fit, folded
with my corners tucked in
leave me
a book with other books
on a shelf
leave me
leave me

 

II

 

for you
I leave my father’s house
turn the key for the last time
and walk

 

for you
I forsake small rituals
sacraments of a warm kitchen
on dark mornings

 

for you
I fold away soft linen
wrap my silver spoons
for the long journey

 

for you
I nurture new dreams
in the narrow spaces
between your clothes

 

for you
I hide leaves and feathers
among the pages
of your books

 

for you
I find my way
around these strange rooms
towards you

Jean Badenhorst

Life Drawing

She sat back, looking at the piece of paper on the easel in front of her. The charcoal drawing that had emerged, on an impulse, was simple, evocative and complete. It needed no further work. She smiled to herself as she toyed with the piece of charcoal between her fingers.
“This is good”, she thought, “this is what I have hoped for.”

It was a small triumph. She continued to study the drawing in the softening light. It was taking on its own identity, re-arranging itself more comfortably on the paper. The small figure seemed to assure her that it could survive quite well on its own, without any further interference from her. In her mind’s eye, she could see the drawing framed, simply, displayed at the year-end exhibition.

As she rose to put the sketch away, she heard the front door close and her father’s footsteps cross the hall. Leaving the drawing displayed on the easel, she ran to the door and called to him. He strode into the conservatory where she had been working and came to stand beside her. Still clutching his sleek, leather briefcase, he looked at the small charcoal sketch.

“Where do you think this tomfoolery is going to get you, my girl?” he said, without a greeting. “What do you expect to achieve with this pursuit of mediocrity?”

She felt a corkscrew slowly and painfully work its way into her heart. She couldn’t move or breathe. She couldn’t think of any response. He turned and walked out of the room. With that, he became a stranger, no longer the father who had carried her on his shoulders as a little girl, no longer her unwavering ally in every endeavour. With those few words, he had traded allegiances; he had become the enemy.

***

The city basked in the glow of a late summer evening. At the Academy, pre-exhibition excitement hung in the air like the smell of freshly baked bread.  Days and weeks of work were displayed on newly-painted walls and on artfully designed plinths. Final touches to the layout were checked; small knots of students in paint-spattered dungarees discussed minor last-minute changes to positions of some of the exhibits. Tutors hovered, anxious and unhelpful. The caterers were setting up in the foyer and technicians trailing microphones and lengths of cabling made small adjustments to the lighting and the sound system.

At last, the time came for the guests to arrive, which they did in unexpected droves. With much crowing, hallooing and waving across the exhibition area, hastily scrubbed students found parents and friends and dragged them off, glasses of warm wine in hand, to admire their work.

She waited near the door, looking out into the darkening parking area. She had called her father earlier that day to remind him of the exhibition. An hour after the doors had opened, she heard the announcement: the award ceremony was about to begin. Turning away from the door, she walked slowly across the emptying foyer and joined the crowd in the main exhibition hall.

She stood at the back of the hall, sensing the electricity of expectation that hung against the ceiling. Her thoughts were suddenly scattered by the announcement of the class year award : it was hers, for her little charcoal figure sketch. Without quite knowing how she had negotiated the crowd, she found herself on the podium, smiling, holding the award in her hands. As her classmates cheered and applauded, she looked out across the hall, shielding her eyes from the bright lights and saw her father near the door.
 

Jean Badenhorst

before

before you were born
I stepped in behind your spine
I pulled on your skin
lost the colour of my eyes
in the drumming of your heart

I inhaled your sorrows
tasted your scattered longings
and the salted blood 
from a cut across your palm
I knew before you were born

vreemdeling

voor jy gebore is
kruip ek agter jou rugraat in
ek trek jou vel aan
en in jou hartklop verloor ek
die kleur van my oe

jou heimwee le in my mond
ek proe jou hunkering
en jou bloed wat suis
soos seelug in my are
voordat jy gebore is

Jean Badenhorst

Wednesday

The lift smelt of old linoleum and Brasso. An industrial extravaganza, its two mesh doors formed an intricate, interlacing pattern as it stood waiting on the ground floor, humming quietly.

Shaking drops of rainwater from his grey coat, he stepped onto the cracked, red linoleum and looked around for the control panel. As he peered at the smudged numbers on the buttons, squatting in the dull brass panel, he started at the sound of a squealing, girlish voice that ricocheted around the foyer, splitting the early morning silence.

A girl, probably in her early twenties, was walking quickly towards the lift, giggling into the mobile telephone clutched between her ear and shoulder. She stepped into the lift without taking the slightest notice of him and dumped her paraphernalia on the linoleum, scattering raindrops. After some scrabbling in a large straw basket, she began to apply her make-up in the dimly lit mirror. He stood motionless, his mouth slightly open.

“What floor?” he asked.

The girl ignored him and continued her telephone conversation.

“What floor?” he repeated, this time a little more loudly.

Still no response.

He thought, to be civil, he would make one last attempt to attract her attention. He took a step across the red linoleum and tapped her lightly on the shoulder. As though she had been given an electric shock, she produced a full-bodied, grown-up scream.

Slowly, she turned to face him. Her mobile telephone fell to the floor, quacking in a concerned, disembodied voice. She dropped into a crouching stance, apparently preparing to defend herself to the death against this molester who had crept up on her from a dark corner. He registered a deep sense of disappointment: she had been completely unaware of him when she stepped into the lift. She had not noticed him at all.

Her brain, such as it was, was firing on all pistons. This sinister, grey-coated man could have only one intention, alone with her in a dim lift, unannounced, at seven o’clock on a rainy Wednesday morning. He looked even more frightened than she felt. He seemed to be trying to speak, but couldn’t. She seized the opportunity and screamed enthusiastically a second time.

As her scream tailed around the lift-foyer, she realised she was still clutching a mascara brush in her fist. She considered jabbing it into his eye, if she could ambush him. Which is exactly what she did.

Taken completely by surprise, he staggered, lost his balance and fell backwards onto the linoleum. Before he could say a word, which he hadn’t since his misconstrued attempt to attract her attention, she was astride him, straddling his waist with her knees. She boxed his nose with great concentration and winded him with a well-aimed little fist, straight into his solar plexus.

His consciousness began to drift under the hail of little blows. He had given himself over to the situation. His innate good manners prevented him from fighting back. Then, in this dreamlike state, he became aware of a second voice, shouting instructions, calling for “back up”. In soft focus, he saw a pair of high-heeled black boots standing near his head. He felt a sharp blow to his temple, then, oblivion.

“That’s enough, you two”, said the guard, slapping an efficient looking little truncheon against her leather-booted leg and swinging a long, russet ponytail.

The little telephone, still quacking, twittered into the outer periphery of his fuddled senses. He didn’t move. He wasn’t sure whether he could. As far as he could establish, he was trapped in a lift with two women who had taken turns beating him up, fairly effectively.

He cleared his throat.

“What floor?” he asked.

“Seven, please”, she said.

The Ballad of Schindler’s* Lift
[*with apologies]

The sky was grey, his coat was wet,
the morning hung like lead.
He stepped into the dim, old lift
and wished that he was dead.

A girlish voice broke through the gloom
 … he was not alone …
It squealed and giggled, twittered on
into its mobile phone.

She stepped inside, ignoring him.
The doors hissed shut. “What floor?”
His whisper was polite, but then
she turned on him and swore:

“You bloody pervert, hiding there
What do you want with me?”
She stabbed him with a latte spoon
and yelled, “SECURITY!”

She beat his chest with tiny fists
She pinned him to the floor
She screamed at the CCTV
then beat his chest some more.

Just before the lights went out
inside his fuddled head
he thought he saw two long, black boots
and heard a voice that said

in honeyed tones, “Now, what’s all this?”
One boot was on his chest.
Her uniform, a vision:
It was Prada at its best.

Subdued by Helen and Diana
he’d died and gone to Heaven.
He shook his head and blinked, “What floor?”
“Oh, if you please, Sir, seven.”
 

Jean Badenhorst

Away from you, I hold hands with the air,
your imagined, untouchable hand. Not there,
your fingers braid with mine as I walk.
Far away in my heart, you start to talk.
From
Hand, by Carol Ann Duffy

Over Miles

Over miles, this soft miasma of my cells
hurls itself towards you through the outstretched night.

Above your sleeping limbs it realigns,
regathers in my form. In darkened air
I hover, close enough to feed your breath
into the pores of my succubus’ skin. 

Here, my ghostly fingers touch your hair
Away from you, I hold hands with the air,

and over miles, above you as you sleep
I blow a feathered breath across your cheek.

With my tongue, I brush the crescent folds
of your eyelids, rich with frankincense,
and drink rosewater from the shallow well
that lies in the oasis of your throat.

I trace the lines across the sleeping palm of
your imagined, untouchable hand. Not there,

but over frozen miles, beyond dark seas
in a bright city, where you lie asleep,

there I find a small, remembered pulse
in the translucent parchment of your wrist.
There, on that pale skin I write these words
for you to read on waking, read of me.

Here, I recall your voice’s touch and feel
your fingers braid with mine as I walk.

Over miles, I float in all your tides,
a starfish in the shallows of your skin.

I am a tiny button at your wrist,
a seam inside your shirt, slightly undone.
I am the soft and sudden breath of air
above the upturned collar of your coat.

I watch your day begin, shadow your walk.
Far away in my heart, you start to talk.

Jean Badenhorst

as the tides of anxiety rush towards
an armour of self-doubt
curves around in a womblike embrace
revives the spirit!
Beryl Eichenberger

smooth as a mirror
the leaden ocean slumbers
beneath an inscrutable sky
betraying nothing.
tiny, ordered waves
march in single file
marshalled by an invisible moon.
far below, sand churns
a dervish starts to dance
as the tides of anxiety rush towards

the sand, smooth as glass.
tiny, ordered waves perform
a studied mime along its edge.
betraying nothing,
they dance their ordered dance.
but beneath the carapace
a demon paws the ground
anticipating rapture
hidden from view, locked inside
an armour of self- doubt

hidden from view, trapped beneath
the softly breathing sand
the bruised water, lying dead,
betraying nothing.
then, foam-blossoms stir, toss their heads
a windy moan grows to a howl
whips and churns the startled waves
into disarray. far below,
the demon’s song begins and
curves around in a womblike embrace

above the water, air as thick as wool
hangs in steaming silence.
the sultry sky broods,
betraying nothing.
a rumbling murmur on the horizon
neon across the amphitheatre
the sound of sudden rain
and the demon’s shout as it rises,
crashing up into the storm 
revives the spirit!

Jean Badenhorst

this risky country

this risky country
babel surrounds me
three moons align above me
dogs howl, the sirocco blows
bells chime around my ankles
my head is shaved, my eyelids brushed with cloves
winds carry me on hot, white dust

to a snowbound forest, a frozen river
a city, iced and pale
scattered with speechless shades
I walk the silent streets
searching, belonging nowhere
day to night to day

somewhere in this labyrinth
treasure lies hidden

***

treasure lies hidden
somewhere in this labyrinth

day to night to day
searching, belonging nowhere
I walk the silent streets
scattered with speechless shades
a city, iced and pale
to a snowbound forest, a frozen river

winds carry me on hot, white dust
my head is shaved, my eyelids brushed with cloves
bells chime around my ankles
dogs howl, the sirocco blows
three moons align above me
babel surrounds me
this risky country

 

 

Jean Badenhorst

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning.

Fan blades turn slowly against the high, white ceiling. Sunlight, shaved into soft-edged slivers, streams through the narrow shuttered doors. Wooden floors still warm from yesterday, tick-tick, resettle after their night’s sleep. Beyond the shutters, out of sight, the chamber orchestra of cicadas begins its piercing overture.  Christmas. Christmas in high summer, Christmas morning on white linen, in a white room, under a lazy fan.

Someone walks by in the street below. You watch the walking shadow move through the bands of sunlight thrown against the high, white ceiling. You remark on the beauty of the movement of the shadow across the ceiling, shifting slowly in time with the sound of the footsteps in the street below.

No plans, no invitations accepted; we drift in and out of sleep. I wake to find you reading – poetry, to my surprise. Through the slats, the sun, brighter now, casts narrow, diagonal lines on the wall opposite. I take the book from your hand, choose a page and start to read aloud.  You tell me later that you feel my voice sinking through the pores of your skin, into your blood, drifting into the fabric of your bones, weaving itself in amongst your cells. Now, I wonder why I was reading poetry to you, written by a stranger.

July, winter.

The mornings are dark; no light or shadows play on the ceiling. You have been gone for six months. I sleep in your shirt to retain some sense of you, in this room with me. I recall with complete clarity the outline of your body, wearing this shirt, leaning in the doorway, looking out onto the balcony and the city sprawled below, the room in darkness behind you. Your arms are folded, your ankles crossed. You have your back turned to me, one shoulder dropped against the doorframe, contemplating this place where you find yourself, quite unexpectedly, this Christmas Eve.
Now, I leave the room in darkness in the morning and return to it in darkness at night. Living in my own twilight, this darkness at the extremities of the days sits with me more easily than the splintered light of summer, so redolent of you. The memory of those splinters lodges in my throat, throws back the taste of Christmas morning.

I press my cheek into the moulding of the architrave of that slatted door, carving a pattern of fine vertical lines above my jawbone, with intent. Perhaps some of your DNA remains embedded in the rough surface of the wood – perhaps I can still connect with you through the bones of this room.

Perhaps I will simply wear the shyly imprinted lines on my face for the day, a little talisman proclaiming:

“This love has been abandoned with unseemly haste.”