Karin Andersen

A Long Haiku of Love

Sharing a smile
with a stranger
forgetting to be afraid

folded in your arms
I am a child again
laughing.

love hides in the flowers
of the syringa tree
surprising me each spring

a window seat over Africa
red dust roads
aching in the sunlight

sharing a meal with strangers
under a syringa tree
barefoot in God’s garden

where fat bellied secrets
sprout from the seeds
of lost words.

 

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Karin Andersen

A storm, from the verandah at Fairview.

Lightning, accusing, says “You will remember me.”
(Don’t stand under the electric blue of lightning.)
The sky tastes of lost love and warm honey
Flying ants drop their wings at my feet.

Thunder curses under a blanket of rain.
The earth sighs in dreams
as the storm hunches its back
entering the green gate, pregnant with rain.

Karin Andersen

A sonnet.

the spider abandoned her web at sunset.
darkness slips beneath my pillow.
my bed sweats beneath me in the sleepless night.
the train’s whistle forlorns my midnight vigil.

echoes chase me through dreaming caverns.
stumbling through a lamenting maze
my legs cry the sound of loss.
silence hounds me, quarries my fears.

that narrow night bunked above the wheels
my ears emptied sounds into the basket of truth.
my eyes unshuttered, starred with dust.
sunrise brought forth new lands

deciphered by the train in the dark.
the web harvests dawn’s tears.

.

Karin Andersen

My soul is a scrap of paper blown by the wind,
my cold tears have named themselves sorrow and loss.
I lie awake and listen to the crying wind.

Come beloved, walk with me through our secret garden
where sparrows gather, waiting for your crumbs to fall.
The petals of summer’s last rose flee from the wind.

They tell me that God has one hundred and one names
my tongue stumbles over saying one. In the face
of His glory I am but a reed in the wind.

The aloe’s spiked flowers pierce the grey clouds, blood red.
The waterfall merrily counts the steps to the sea.
Seagulls soar, suspended overhead in the wild wind.

Winter settles deep in my bones and makes a home,
My love is a flame grown cold and grey with waiting.
Even the brown tortoise turns his back to the wind.

If I surrender to this voice where will it lead?
The ship has lost its captain and blows rudderless
across the sea, hounded by a following wind.

In the calm after the storm the birds sing a new day.
Golden sunlight slants warmth through an open window,
one cloud still hangs, motionless, waiting for the wind.

Karin Andersen

summer.
Come, come, watch the wind as
it walks the field stroking the grass
a song of clouds gathering
hot air breathless, waiting, only
a finger trailed across
a cheek, a dust devil dancing
a song of slow summer
a barefoot dusty song
of swimming pools and naked days.

autumn.
the wind is a bugle
defeating reason it summons
us to war, to rise, to
overcome, it screams in our ears
saying arise, fight, win
calling us to action, to
movement, to march, a wind
announcing a change, a shift, a
renewal, an overthrow
an insidious wind bringing
days without light or joy.

winter.
the sun burns red, the world
holds its breath, the mist rises
from the hollows and dances
hours drag sullen feet into
the morning shoulders hunched
against grey sulking aching days
the sluggish river is oiled by cold
I am a fish floating belly up
a farewell will o’ the wisp.

Karin Andersen

The Emergency Happiness Shop

The Emergency Happiness Shop is not easy to find. At certain times of day the bright yellow sign might catch your eye, but most people never notice it. On grey gloomy days its window is brightly lit, flashing morse code signals from the ropes of coloured lights that lie tangled behind the glass.

The crystal ball in the back room stands on a black marble plinth which sucks the light deep into itself and spits it back out, leaving the crystal glowing. A velvet cloth covers it, keeping unwary eyes and souls away. The crystal is strangely warm to the touch, coruscating in a rainbow swirl which almost tells a story.

She sits at the table. Her red hair is knotted behind her head. Her eyes are grey. Her teeth are straight, except for her left canine, which catches her lip when she smiles.

She looks down at the boy and says softly, “It’s okay to make mistakes.”

He looks away. Words fester like boils. Why-don’t-you-listen-you-always-do it-wrong-your-dad-would- sort-you-out…

He has freckles spattered across his nose, green eyes and hair that streaks blond in summer. His knees are scabbed and there’s a plaster on his elbow. One sock is hauled up, the other is wrapped around his ankle. A shoelace trails in the dirt. His pockets are stuffed with bones and stones.

“Will the crystal ball tell me when my dad’s coming home? It’s really important, you know.”

Monsters hide under his bed at night waiting to snag his feet with their long nails. He knows that if they catch him they’ll drag him under the bed and crunch his bones. If his father was there the monsters would be too scared to come out. And his mum might be happy again.

“Let’s see.” she says, lifting the velvet cloth. The crystal ball shines, black as night, pure as hellfire, deep as despair.

Karin Andersen

Swinging

Swinging through space tip-tilting my legs almost over my head, the mountain upside down behind me at the apex, a dizzy gasp and plunge back to the earth. I pull on the chains, swing harder, up and back, testing the limit of my fear. Words swing in giddy arcs past  my eyes, through my head, escaping in a drop and fall, swinging back to the earth, up to the sky. A leaf falls to the ground, a gentle flutter. The child yells, suspended on the rope, daring fear. Will my words swing on a rope of caution or fly free? Can they swing unfettered and let go?
Swing free as a gypsy’s skirt, bright and bold, swing as I pirouette, colours flirting, words laughing. Words dance, words are free, words swing from my pen and land on the paper, a necklace of bright beads swinging from my neck, speaking joy, saying ‘look at me’. Words swing from my earrings and drop into the silence, each one spreading ripples out to waiting ears.
Swing like a horse’s tail, flicking, twitching, impatient sometimes, sometimes just a rhythm of breath and heartbeat. My heart swings in my chest, my breath swings down and back and meets the air.
The swing of hips that strut down a path, words proud and alive that speak to your eyes, to your feet, to your heart and to your breath.

Karin Andersen

A collaboration

Fiery sparks of accidental meetings
the archaeologist and writer become witness
creativity an illusion, writing pure impulse.

At the end an empty hand
pulls me into the dark depths of life.
I thread my way through the maze,

running from the Minotaur.

Collabaration 2

My bright pink bicycle with multicoloured streamers,
Velveteen slippers splotched with ungrowing flowers,
the green moss of comfort.

I lie down with paradox in fields of daisies.
Vibrating truth musical glimpses
pull me into the dark depths of life.

At the end, an empty hand.

Karin Andersen – Travelling to the Islands

The dhows are clustered along the jetties, bobbing in the wash of the speedboats. Their triangular sails flap from the masts, cracking as the wind gusts. The hill down to the port is crammed with passengers, hawkers, and children weaving in and out of the crowd. A posse of goats on ropes drag their shepherd down towards the sea while a dog barks and runs at their side, making them leap and buck, their ripe smell and a chorus of bleats blowing toward me on the breeze.
I hesitate, my bag heavy on my shoulder. Do I walk down those stairs, blistered with rust, to a speedboat? Do I walk to the beach and wade out hip deep into the water and hand my bag to a sailor on a dhow?

A speedboat drifts across the bay accompanied by a chorus of shouts and warnings, the steersman pulling fruitlessly on the starter cord, his head wreathed in diesel fumes, the barefoot white-uniformed sailor on the bow warding other boats off with a pole as the wind carries them towards the sand bar. They throw out the anchor at the last minute, but the engine won’t start.
The wind is strong and steady. I choose a dhow. Being a white woman is sometimes good – a sailor heaves me onto his back and wades out to the boat, turning to dump me on the prow and then confidently putting his hand out for a bonsella.

The boat packed, gunwales barely above the water, we set sail for the islands. A smudge of green on the horizon slowly turns to waving palm trees and the stone walls of the old town. Seagulls careen and scream overhead as the dhow pitches through the waves. A large grey cruiser cruiser looms, approaching us, and I see the crew muttering, averting their eyes. One old woman begins to pray, clutching two chickens in her lap, rocking back and forth on her seat. “Bismillah, el rahmen el rahim,” she croons, “In the name of God, almighty and merciful”.

The cruiser moors alongside the dhow, throwing down ropes crowned with grapples, binding us tightly to her cold grey side. An official appears, holding a loud hailer, and begins barking commands in Swahili. The chickens cooped up in a box are passed up to him. The old woman cries, softly. The white goat with black ears is manhandled up, a bundle of furious bleats.
Then he points at me. “You. Where passport?” I pass it along, holding my breath. He flicks through it, frowns, speaks to the sailor at his side. “Departure tax! You pay tax for this boat! Show paper now!” I don’t know what he means. No-one told me about taxes. I feel a bony finger poking my thigh, patting my hand, leaving a piece of paper in it, but I can’t take my eyes off the captain, stories of immense bribes, slavery and disappearances running through my head. No-one knows where I am. The woman pokes me again and I become aware of the paper crumpled in my hand. She speaks to the captain. “Mzungu” she says. I know that’s me, I’ve heard it often enough. She takes the note from my hand and waves it at him.

“How much?” I say, suddenly understanding.

A broad smile lights up his face. “One US dollar, only one”.

I fumble in my money belt and pull one out, handing it to the waiting hands that will ferry it up to him.

Karin Andersen – The furry ‘I’ narrator

The sun shines golden across the bed, warming my fur in stripes of heat. I curl a little tighter, nose buried in my tail, listening to her write. The pencil scratches, scrawls and runs across the page, like a mouse burying through dry leaves. Every now and then she stops and sighs, wind in the leaves, and the mouse is quiet. Sometimes she reaches across to me and strokes my fur. She speaks quietly to me and I purr, feeling comfortable right here on the rumpled sheets. Then she picks up her pencil again and the mouse scurries away, carrying words across the white page, slowly covering it with letters, making a pattern of grey against white, leaves in the courtyard. I would catch words for her if I could, but she doesn’t wait for me, she writes and sighs, or even laughs. I can feel her moods rising and falling. Sometimes she sends out fear, sometimes joy, sometimes confusion. But at the end when she puts down her pencil, she stretches and sighs in contentment or in some kind of release and then I know that she’s about to shake me off the sheets and make the bed, so I leave. I have other things to do, after all.

Karin Andersen

Salt River

The water burbles, bubbles, swirls, untroubled depths dark chocolate brown, shallows tannin tinted like weak tea. It speaks to those who listen, even in its sluggish reeded corners. Sit on the bank, quiet and still, hear the waves hush on the distant sea-shore. The river meanders, hesitates, rolls its flanks along the sand, travelling to its ocean rendezvous.
Sit longer, become a pebble, a piece of sun-silvered driftwood. Hear fish jumping; see an infinity of ripples circling outwards, shorewards. Sit, swaying in the breeze, become a river reed, roots anchored in the tidal zone, washed twice daily by timid wavelets. Sit, become mud, tinted dark and flecked bright by aeons of leaves and sea shells. Feel the mud prawns scratch and tunnel, scoring your ribs, hiding in your depths.
Sit, flow with the water, see the silver flash of a leervis hunting, echo the fish eagle’s cry, catch the kingfisher as he dives arrow straight and true to his mark. Sit, sing with the trees that clothe the cliffs. Join the otter as he pads the early morning sands.
Sit, being, and become.

(Sixteen new species of six legged insects have been discovered in Salt River’s unique eco-system. Absolutely brand new never-before seen in the world insects that have been around for 140 million years. One day, the developers will build upstream. A golf course perhaps. Or an exclusive Tuscan style  holiday village…)

Karin Andersen

Incantation for a sleeping beast

To reach for the beast called unspoken
first pretend he isn’t there.
Build a fire that licks and teases
stoke a fire that calls to him.
Turn your back and leave him warming,
once he sleeps start your work.
First strip him naked while he slumbers,
worry meaning from his fur
then weave the strands with spindle flying
weaving words that dare not speak
chanting songs as yet unsung.

Weave, weave the words on a chanting loom,
singing in colours, painting with sounds.

Strip him naked while he slumbers
then re-make him into speech.
Fingers flying, eyes unseeing, words a-weaving.
Hush, don’t say them, spin them, paint them
Guard them from your breath,
while the cloth grows long and bright
while he slumbers all unknowing
shorn, defenceless, fire-side sleeping.

Weave, weave the words on a chanting loom,
singing their colours, painting their sounds.

To reach for words still unspoken
Sing them, paint them, picture them,
free them from the sleeping beast.
Free them, fingers darting,
free them as you weave, as you sing, as you dream
free them from the marrow of your bones
from the well of your being.
Free them from the beast,
birth them through your fingers
on the loom
on your tongue.

Weave, weave the words on a chanting loom,
singing their secrets, giving them life.

Karin Anderson

A bad hair day

I was at the hairdresser today. He asked why I didn’t grow my hair longer and I replied airily, “Oh, short works for me.” But my eleven-year-old self nudged me the ribs and said “Hey, I’ll remind you why. Remember that winter’s day?”

It’s cold. The leaves have fallen off the trees, their branches scratch the sky and let the stars peep through. Mum woke me up and said “Come and sit on the edge of the bed and I’ll plait your hair.”

I love it when she does that. I lean against her with my eyes closed while she brushes and plaits. Sometimes she hums quietly, sometimes we talk, but I’m mostly sleepy. When she was done she patted me on the back and said “There you are. Now get dressed and come downstairs.”

Our uniform is dark blue with red bits around the sleeves. The cardigan also has a red stripe. My tights are just blue. They’re scratchy but they keep my legs warm. It’s assembly today. I do so hope I don’t stand near Sarah. She always teases me. And now Mary’s joined in too. My tummy hurts when I think about it, so I stomp down the stairs and rattle the banisters.

We sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I can hear them giggling behind me. They’re teasing me about my plaits ‘cos their hair is short. I turn around and stick out my tongue at them. Then the prayers start. The headmaster has just begun when they pull my plaits. Hard. I scream, I can’t help it. Mrs Brown wades through the girls and grabs me by the arm.  She pulls me outside. It hurts and she pinches but I’m too scared to tell her.

She hisses, “How dare you!”

“But Mrs Brown,” I squeak, my cheeks hot.

She snaps back, “Not another word from you or you’ll be sorry!”

My heads aches with unfairness. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even start it. They always pick on me. But I can’t tell her that. Still holding my elbow, she drags me to the dorm and locks me inside. It’s freezing and I’m really crying now. My nose is running and my eyes burn. I’m going to run away, that’ll show them. They’ll open the door and the room will be empty. Mrs Brown will get into loads of trouble for kidnapping me and no-one will ever know what happened to me. I’ll cut off my plaits and no-one will ever tease me again.

I jump through the window and fall into the flower bed. There’s only mud in there now. My tights are dirty so I stand up and brush my knees. My nose and my eyes are all itchy from crying, so I rub them too.

The headmaster’s voice booms out behind me, “Just where do you think you are going to, young lady?”

I turn around and look up at him.

“Ah,” he says, “tunnelling out through the rose bushes?”

I giggle a little, but it’s more like a snort because of my snotty nose.

“Sir,” I start, “it wasn’t me, they keep teasing me sir, and they hurt me too.”

“I know,” he says, “I saw them. If Mrs Brown hadn’t hustled you out so fast you would have seen me call them up to the front for the rest of prayers. They’re waiting to say sorry to you. First of all though, let’s get that mud off your nose.” And then he gave me his big white hanky to clean my face with.

They said sorry that time, but they carried on teasing me when no big people were around.
When I turned thirteen I cut all my hair off. The next time Sarah tried to tease me I punched her nose. She bled buckets. It was a fantastic feeling.  Then I kicked Mary so hard on her shins that she fell down. After that they really did leave me alone.

I saw them one day many years later. They were pushing a rickety trolley down the High Street and squabbling with each other. I tossed my hair back, smiled and left them to it.

“You know,” I said to my hairdresser, “I cut all my hair off when I turned thirteen, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Karin Andersen

Rose

She seizes me, merciless, drawing blood, each scratch burning acid on my skin. Ah, my toxic Rose. I curse you. But I have loved you too, when your heavy blooms hang their summer heads, broadcasting delicate perfume on subtle evening breezes.

I’ve learnt now. I talk to her before I begin. I tell her, Rose, I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to clear the weeds from your stem. Don’t bite me, don’t hold me. I don’t need your warnings. I understand that this patch of garden belongs to you, your aphids, your rose spiders, your thorns.

I touch her silken petals with my little finger, gently, loving her. I watch her buds as they curl, unfurl, from shy bloom to full blown rose. Each slow opening takes me deeper into her heart, until she lies before me, defenceless, luscious, ripe. Crab spiders sit crosswise in the heart of her flowers, waiting, precisely poised, for a victim. Ladybirds climb her stems, hunting aphids as they perambulate. They guard her, ladies for a woman. Sometimes I have to help, so I take a hose, cup her buds in my hand and soak the furry covering of aphids in a stream of water. They fall, writhing, in my hand, and then drip earthwards. I take every bud between my thumb and finger and roll it, stroking it while the water runs, sliming aphids and returning each tightly closed rose to pink glory. One by one, they flower, briefly, gloriously. Then the edges of the petals curve and curl, begin to brown, fray, and drop one by one, although the heart remains stubbornly alive to the end.

Sometimes I cut them away so that new blooms return. But as the days grow shorter I leave them to become rose hips, round, rosy and plump, bearing a cargo of useless seeds. When winter rains fall cold and hard, her leaves shrivel and brown, falling to join the soil. Perhaps her fruit will flavour my tea with a deep tart redness that tickles my palate and warms my throat. But winter calls for new beginnings.

Then I take out my clippers, test the edge with my thumb, wait for a break in the cloud, and go out to talk to her. Rose, I say, this will make you strong and beautiful again. I’m doing it out of love for you, not to harm you. Be gentle with me, Rose, and I’ll be gentle too.

I cut nervously, gingerly, aware of her thorns, hooked to catch and hold me. If she traps me, I can’t escape. First I have to go closer, gently, quietly. Then pause and look and while blood wells and skin smarts. Then, thorn by thorn, I free myself from her grasp. Ah Rose. Perhaps this year I’ll pull you out, roots and all. Or perhaps I’ll try again to become your friend.

Karin Andersen

A shelter of withdrawal and paralysis,
lulled into passivity – half alive, half dead,
I stumble over a slippery stone
crabs scurry skewly.
Annaleen Erasmus.

 

 

Lost and found.

 

 

(Lost.)

 

 

She quivers, a tear rolls down her cheek.
Hot, burning, it sears her skin.
Grasping at the rough bricks, gasping
against the coarse wall,
she cries harder, hopelessly
shopping list crumpled in her hand.
A shelter of withdrawal and paralysis.

 

 

She half turns, stops, hesitates.
The shadows are growing.
If she stands still the flow parts
around her and rejoins.
It´s the only test that proves she still exists.
Lulled into passivity – half alive, half dead.

 

 

(Found.)

 

 

Walking, stretching, movement brings release.
The curve and tilt of the pavement,
wind watering my eyes
I move from the sea to the air to my feet.
Walked out here to feel my living, my life,
my existence on this turning planet,
I stumble over a slippery stone.

 

 

This rock has called me to stop.
I sit, breathe, look at my feet.
They carry me, confuse me, stumble me
onto life´s obstacles.
I am body, bound, earth, not ether.
An anenome waves questing tentacles,
crabs scurry skewly.

 

Karin Andersen

Being you.

Is your skin mine is sun warm
Your fingers smell skin
Give me your eyes, lend me your words

In the sun dreaming, thought lay belly up
Skin warm, thinks of love
The air brushes, touches, plays

In spider webs my heart opens
Roses hide secrets
Brambles close its back door

Let me into your heart
Your heart beats faster than words
Gardens tangled, ghosts concealed

Gardens tangled, ghosts concealed
Your heart beats faster than words
Let me into your heart

Brambles close its back door
Roses hide secrets
In spider webs my heart opens

The air brushes, touches, plays
Skin warm, thinks of love
In the sun dreaming, thought lay belly up

Give me your eyes, lend me your words
Your fingers smell skin
Is your skin mine is sun warm