Mike Nicol as poet

Africa! My Africa! includes five haunting poems by Mike Nicol who is best known as a journalist and acclaimed author of crime fiction.

I first came across his writing in 1994 through his collection, This Sad Place, at the offices of David Philip Publisher in the Werdmuller Centre.

At the time, the Werdmuller Centre was already considered an architectural failure, though I found it starkly beautiful.

Reading Mike’s poems in the David Philip showroom, within that dark concrete edifice, peripherally coloured by the busy-bustle of Claremont, I remember feeling chilled by the vivid war and after-war imagery his words conjured.

They set me wondering about who he was; about how he had come to be writing as he did; about what inner cauldron produced poems of such voltage.

Under grass
Mike Nicol

Here again a thought occurs and hardens
Of a farmhouse, gutted and abandoned
Among tall trees
In the low country.
The careful gardens gone to weed,
Toys, broken and rusted, on the porch. Children
Lived here until the last campaign.

All departed now; into the ground
Or down the track disappearing under grass.
The debris of small
Creatures covers the turmoil
Of how they left, at night, futureless,
Carrying what they could:
Clothes, blankets, water, food.

If they made it through lurking fields
Down exploding roads, some survivors,
Some refugees,
In scattered cities
Must still hold the distant manor
In their dreams, as a child
Might half remember a father’s kind hand.

The war is over: grass has won.
We have gone to our separate lives
In the confusion
Of evacuation.
In which city, under planes or olives,
Near mountains or the slow run
Of old rivers are you? The sun

Is setting on the western heights.
It is time for bats and the calls
Of guinea fowl
And owls.
The house is little more than walls,
Doors kicked or blown in, all rights
Reserved for white ants, borers, termites.


The deserter
Mike Nicol

When the mists come down, the men,
Huddled in their damp huts, still talk
Of the commander who late
One June night, taking no weapons
Despite the barbarians in the hills,
Walked out into the dark.
In the history of the regiment
Deserters were unheard of.

This much is known: he
Took his usual evening tea
On the wide verandah that faced
North to the hills. Next morning
They found the cups; and
His chair rocking gently back and forth.


This Sad Place by Mike Nicol
Snailpress Cape Town 1993. ISBN 1-874923-05-1

Mike Nicol (1951- ) is a renowned journalist, novelist and poet. He is one of South Africa’s prominent authors of crime fiction. He won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize in 1980 and authored the formative biography of Nelson Mandela, Mandela: The Authorised Portrait, in 2006.

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