Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Beach tableau

For Luke Buchanan, 2010
Leon de Kock
We are the people who lie on the beach,
the people who put towels down, and umbrellas up,
and lie on the beach, for the sake of just that,
lying on the beach and doing anything we want,
as long as it’s not important, for this is the only act
that is frowned upon, here on the beach.
And mainly, apart from reading soggy paperbacks,
and staring aimlessly at the ocean,
mainly we stare unthinkingly at other people, and,
of course, conduct desultory family arguments,
rehashing old feuds, and fights, in a forgiving way,
as if, on a beach, all is suddenly forgiven,
and as we do this, on and off, with no rhyme or reason,
we watch the pumpkin bodies passing by,
the grown-ups who have given up, given up
on the Body Perfect, and are somehow happier for it,
even though they trundle along awkwardly,
pushing their overfull barrows of flesh
and not giving a damn about who sees their strapped
bulging listing cargoes, their holds of holiday fare,
now sagging and swaying as they push ahead,
push these serviceable bodies ahead,
despite their one-crooked-wheel look, their shambling gait.
And there goes my 19-year-old son, unable to sit still,
so new is he in his body, his new-model, out-of-the-box
torso, flat where it should be flat, with muscles,
muscles that ripple where they should ripple,
and he holds, he holds this new-found perfection
in his palm like a glass ball in which he sees his own vanity,
and he loves it, as he should, for it is a glorious,
irresistible vanity, a globed, immaculate beauty,
and I thank God he can see it, recognise it
for what it is, even as I remember how it felt,
once, in myself, even though, in my own case,
I didn’t quite see it whole, saw only the horizon,
looked always away, at the line of doubt,
somewhere out there, a lurch in the guts.
And now this boy has somehow found it,
grabbed hold of it, the way he plucks the beach Frisbee
out of the air. This poise, this easy confidence,
which he manages like the bat and ball
with which he’s playing, smacking the ball high,
higher and higher, and running to meet its fall, diving for it,
and then hitting it up again, with such a perfect whack
you marvel, marvel at the beauty, the symmetry,
the sprung arc of his grace, and you know,
you know that your own strength has gone into him,
has left your own body by degrees,
has carried across to his beauteous form,
and it is hard, it is hard to be graceful about this,
this theft of youth, this midnight plunder,
so many midnights, hundreds and hundreds
of them, during which this occult transfusion
was secretly happening, as you worried and paced,
as he recovered from asthma scares, and ruptured flesh,
broken parts, once, even stitches on his foreskin,
as you rode your own strength hard,
discovering in yourself, finding in your own body
the only heroism you would truly have,
the only kind you could have all to yourself.
And now your hair is the colour of grey sky,
your skin like driftwood, your eyes watery
as you watch this tidal surge pushing at you,
lifting you up and taking you with it, there, up there,
beyond the tide-line, into the undergrowth
where the flies buzz, and the sea’s surges can still be heard
in relays of sweet love, castaway love,
and the crash of abandonment, water on rock, surf and sound
come down upon you, nothing and everything all at once,
all the same, all the same.

From: McGregor Poetry Anthology 2013

Published by African Sun Press in association with the McGregor Poetry Festival

ISBN number 978-0-620-62302-5

The Poet:

Leon de Kock is a poet, translator, essayist, writer of fiction, literary translator and professional literary practitioner. He has published three volumes of poetry: Bloodsong (1997); gone to the edges (2006); and Bodyhood (2010). He was awarded the Pringle Prize for Poetry and the FNB Vita/English Academy Prize for Poetry Translation. His translation of Marlene van Niekerk’s major Afrikaans novel Triomf won the South African Translators Institute’s Award for Outstanding Translation in 2000. He is Professor of English at the University of Stellenbosch, having formerly served as an English professor at both the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was Head of the School of Literature and Language Studies, and the University of South Africa.

Previously published:

Leon de Kock: Athol Fugard in Stellenbosch first published on SLiPnet, 18 June 2013, at www.slipnet.co.za/view/blog/athol-fugard-in-stellenbosch/

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