POEMS by Cornelia Rohde


Apple, Moon, Fire

Apple and moon are his new words today.
Both round, both as delicious as he is.
One he can hold. One he tries to reach,
lifting his dimpled arm to the night sky.

His eyes land on the headline photo
of a man cycling close to an inferno of flames,
a smokescreen of burning rubber
to defy bomber pilots.

What dat? What doing? he asks.
Fire, I say, to teach him another word.
He doesn’t repeat it. He only insists,
What dat? What doing? over and over again.

I carry him into the California sunshine.
His laughter lights the morning as I push him
on the tire swing his father hung
from a branch of the gnarled pepper tree.

Sirens scream as a small boy
is lifted from Aleppo’s rubble.

What dat? What doing?



Sibongile brings La Foliage’s tony menu,
takes our order for organic beetroot
with hibiscus jelly, smoked cheesecake with garnishes
of sea lettuce and nettle pesto, cauliflower on a bed
of parmesan velouté with crushed chestnut,
Springbok carpaccio with fennel chutney,
naartjie buttermilk dressing, and puffed crackling.
For dessert, fresh strawberries sprinkled with roasted hay,
pistachio, violas, and a scoop of ginger sake ice cream.

He shakes our hands with a smile as we leave.
Off work, he will eat a sheep head roasted golden brown
over hot coals, its lips shrunken into a grin.
He imagines the delicate taste of its eyes,
its chewy ears, the suck and crunch of its bones.

Inhloko isiqokweni: head-on-a-plate. Real food.

POEM: Out of Vegas


Midnight I drive The Strip
in furnace heat dry as a bale of cotton.
I pass crowds gawking at a hundred foot
fountain of golden fire shooting into desert sky.

All around me, multitudes of kaleidoscopic strobe lights
project beams visible from outer space.
Anaesthetised robotic hands pump
one arm bandits clanging like train alarm signals.

On MGM Tower’s ledges, threatened peregrine falcons perch,
wearing camouflage colours of smoke and wet ash.
My eye catches one of them hunting in pulsing neon light,
intense as the fluorescence of an operating theatre.

At dawn I speed past tumbleweed and mesquite toward Utah,
where my brother awakens after heart surgery.
I sight a falcon soaring in the Gorge of the Virgin River,
looking wholly at home in sun on timeless cliffs.

With tenacity of falcons and gamblers on my mind,
I sing the morning from the night.

POEM: How to Make Fire


Shock whole cloves, a stick
of cinnamon, and plump seeds
of cardamom with sizzling oil
until they blurt their secrets.
Render a headstrong onion into bits.
Crush two pungent cloves of garlic.
Shred bold fresh ginger root.
Fry them like you love them,
soft and caramel brown.
Add sunny turmeric and
juice-laden crushed tomatoes.
Squeeze handfuls of boiled
red kidney beans into a thick mash
to stir in with the rest.
Toss in enough chili to make every
tango dancer and flame blower,
rush headlong for a fire hose.

POEM: In the East London Airport, 30 January, 1999


“No-one was too small to be of real interest to him.” – Allister Sparks

An elder stands on his own.
My quick glance notes
his glad batik,
on double take, his
celebrated face.
My simple chatter

I feel long years
of prison in his
patient shoulders, his
steady heron stillness.

A blond mother
seizes the moment, lifts
her daughter’s timid hand
to greet his boxer’s fingers.

His eyes quicken.
The sunburst of his smile
forges trust
in an innocent day.

I hold sure his
praise song,
after his prominence
sweeps him away.