POEM: A letter to a paper in a typewriter


You must be hungry,
I have starved you for too long
Haven’t I?
You pure white paper
Without any blemish or fault,
Virgin Mary white.
You are a blank canvas
On which words are painted,
Words that could spark revolutions
Or heal scars.
I have to put an end to your purity,
Blotting this clear image.
I hope that when these keys strike you
They do not hurt,
But if you do suffer,
Know that it was to leave something forever,
Permanent and long-lasting.
Nothing valuable is born without pain



They have called my number
They have identified me
I wear a patch on my arm now
And fear is where I live
I must be watched, guarded,
Blame falls about my ears daily
Like red rain.
I am corralled, herded,
My voice has been murdered;
These innominate fingerprints,
This anonymous plight
They are confused by my existence,
Demand confession of sin
I wear a patch on my arm now,
And submission’s where I live

EXTRACT: Theo & Flora

An extract from Mark Winkler’s fourth novel.

Mark Winkler

A gust of summer-strength wind almost throws Silver to the Port Elizabeth pavement as he steps off the bus. He is feeling unwell after the train journey from Knysna and the ride from the station to Summerstrand, and in the buffeting he hears the tumult of Holst, all discord and cymbals, clamorous and atonal. He walks the short distance to the house he has rented for his family’s vacation. It is old and lacking in charm, cheaply built twenty or so years earlier, but only a block from the beach, and in the meagre garden the little tree that grows at a forty-five degree angle is relentlessly assaulted by the wind.

He finds Norman lying on a rug in the hallway, reading the comics page of The Herald. Norman pushes the paper away, rests his head on his arms, sniffs, rolls onto his back. When he sees Silver his ennui leaves him and he jumps up, moves towards his father, stops short of hugging him.

“Father!” he says.

Silver takes his son by the shoulders. The boy is tending towards fat, he thinks. Gezunt. What, and how much of it, has Sarah been feeding the child? He should raise this with her, but today is not the day. “How are you, son?”

“Very well, thank you, sir.” Norman says and sniffs again.

“I may be here for a few days.”

Norman’s face lights up. “Can we go fishing at the harbour? May we, please?”

Silver makes a show of looking through the window at the wind-whipped tree. “I think we’ll let the weather decide that, young man. Let us see what it does tomorrow.”

Their chatter has summoned Sarah, who appears in the doorway drying her hands on a tea-towel. She pulls herself erect when she sees her husband.

“Theodore.”Theo & Flora

“Hello, Sarah.”

“I didn’t expect you here.”

“Nor did I,” he says.

At the foot of a chair he places his valise, puts his folded jacket on top of it. “I shan’t be staying long, a night or two at most.”

Sarah offers to make tea.

Hoping it will help settle his stomach, Silver accepts, and she retreats into the kitchen.

“May I show you something, Father?” Norman says.

“Of course.”

Norman scampers off and Silver takes himself to the lounge. The upholstery has worn to a dark shine on seats and armrests, and a curtain is torn. On the walls, hung high against the cornices, are gloomy little prints cheaply framed, and in a corner a glass-fronted cabinet with a cracked pane stands empty. The place might do for a holiday, but nothing more. He sits on the edge of a chair and loosens his cravat.

“Look!” Norman says. The object he holds up takes his father a moment to identify. It is a kite, Silver realises, its lopsided diamond fashioned from wire coat-hangers covered in newspaper and held together with the liberal use of Sellotape. For the tail, Norman has used a nylon stocking. Silver is certain that it is Sarah’s, and his stomach turns at the sight of the intimate garment.

“That’s quite spectacular, son,” Silver says.

Norman beams, dangles the kite from a reel of fishing line, swings it from side to side. “I made it this morning, all by my own self,” he says. “Can we try it?”

“We’ll need to wait for the wind to drop a little. I’m afraid it will be torn to shreds on a day like today,” Silver says. The practicality of his suggestion does little to mitigate the boy’s disappointment, and Silver tries to think of some way to mollify him, but nothing comes. He is relieved when his sisters appear, led into the room by his wife who carries a tray, the teapot, cups and saucers rattling with each footstep.

Sarah pours. Silver asks Leah and Sally about their journey from Cape Town and they both reply at once, as if eager to break the silence. Norman sits in a chair making soft whooshing sounds as he waves the kite above his head in swooping parabolas. He stops, sneezes, continues. The adults discuss the wind, how the holidaymakers seem to be fewer in number than they were the previous year, how the austerity forced by War has made travel difficult, and why it is that groceries in Port Elizabeth are so much cheaper than in Cape Town.

The tea does little to settle Silver’s stomach, and as the pot runs dry, so does the conversation. He clears his throat and suggests to Leah and Sally that they take their nephew for a walk. Yes, it might be blustery out, but the fresh air will do Norman’s cold a world of good. The boy’s face falls, but he knows, as his mother and aunts do, that his father’s words are less a suggestion than a directive.

As the front door slams shut, Sarah starts and remarks, “Leah just can’t figure out how the wind works.” Then she turns to Silver, appraises him coolly. “I know exactly,” she says, “why you are here, Theodore.”

Theo & Flora is published by Umuzi. Read our interview with Winkler about his writing life here, and our reviews of Wasted and An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything), two of his previous novels.