A WEST AFRICAN QUINTET
1 VERANDAH AND STORM
Cloud piled like pillows in a pillow-factory,
All afternoon the storm has stalked the silence,
A wild elephant with feathered feet. Right now
The sky's a massive firework, all cracks and booms.
Roofs sprout tails of silver; bushed plants and bushes
Are dervishes whirling on their roots, trees tigerish,
The distance oily and streaked with gleams -
A scene of which Kandinsky might have been proud!
Up on some umpteenth floor lightning slams eerie blue doors.
Back-porch turned commentary booth, we view
Bungalows riding waves of grass like arks
Until dry land and quiet harbour them once more,
The storm dwindles to a drum talking to itself
In the trillion-beaded shade. Then the sky clears.
Each raindrop is a different sound if we had ears
Enough to hear, o tiny invisible games of tennis
Along the concrete steps and lawn open to the din
Of frogs starting up again, locusts' electric whistle,
Thunder trundling over the horizon to its Saharan den...
2 ATMOSPHERIC INCIDENT
Dry spectral February! The wide-
ranging brunt of it by now moved on,
Harmattan shrinks to an aerial wheezing
a few feet above my head, a weird
asthmatic rustle which investigation
re-embodies as the owl snoring
beneath an eave of our schoolhouse roof.
Balking at fact, Rumour and Speculation
meanwhile take their pick between 1,
A papyrus-shuffling ghost; 2, Some snug bunched-
up poltergeist snatching a rest
from frenetic duty: Sound turns surrealist
photo, identikit with a difference...
3 THE BEANPATCH
While ministerial tomorrows
Turn plain citizenship into a morass
Whose frustrations are orchestrated
By the backfire of a passing taxi
Whose echo lingers all the way to home,
These residents make do with light and loam;
As spry naturals of laissez-faire,
They improvise arabesques on the evening air -
No directive or sub-clause needed.
Hyphening elements, they sway, they nod,
And from the heights of a ripe old age
Blithely pop pods.
Tucked ten snug feet below,
A seedling progeny draw sun from clods,
Here prepare, row along rough-strung row,
Their own slow-motion spring and pole-vault
Into the green-conjuring expanse of blue.
How enviable is such quiet purpose!
Grower-stroke-votary, I trowel away husks
And insects inching about their heads,
Petty tangles of weeds, low-flung shreds.
A papaw tree newly arrived upon the breeze
Takes root in a corner of the flowerbed:
The world's rolled back into a peaceful size.
4 A MOUNTAIN SPELL
(Rimsiki-Kapsiki, N. Cameroon)
To think I, five foot five, can contain you,
Your hulk balanced upon an eyebeam,
My head giddy with the cries of birds.
Antlike purpose, wishes, worries, words
Vanish in space's prodigious mirror;
I'm aware of only the pulse of now.
Yet the air is sparing with such rapture:
Like a distance athlete even solitude
Grows tired and signals the climb back downward.
Enough seen. Tics of time crowd the skylight.
Let your memory be an amulet
Against smallness, erosions of everyday.
5 FIRST RAINS
If wind's a balafon,
The telegraph some wide-strung
Kora, then the rooftops
Around the market square
Make up a corrugated-iron
Drumkit, here and there
A sprinkling triangle
Synchronised with horn
And trumpet, buckets'
Brimful timpani, wash-
boards galore, thunder
On ultrasonic bass -
So, in far-flung stereo,
A downpour beats up
Its impromptu symphony:
Handel's Water Music
Rescored by Stockhausen
For free jazz ensemble
And frustrated traffic -
Meanwhile, above slate-grey cloud,
Imagine raingods huddled
For their 76,000,000th
Annual Conclave -
Minutes passed, see here beneath
All those libations trickled
From supplicant calabash or glass
Finally repaid -
Months of dusty speculation made
And rippling litres-per-second
Around our feet -
Now gliding down the street,
Animating litter -
Polishing each flagstone, each pebble -
Splashing the backs of shacks -
Fingering fissures -
Raising smells you could peel.
Martin Wilmot Bennett
If you've any comments on this poem,
Martin Wilmot Bennett
would be pleased to hear from you.