Refurbishing the human heart through poetry

Poetry in McGregor recently held two Literary Aperitifs at Woodlands Eatery in Cape Town. These were in anticipation of the forthcoming poetry festival which will take place on the weekend of 19 November this year.

The first Literary Aperitif was called Dinner-For-Two-Or-One-Or-More. Here we celebrated the lives of Candy Rohde, Bernard Levinson, Chris Mann and Hugh Hodge—four South African poets of note—by reading a selection of their poems.

We also celebrated the life of Michael Pettit, enthusiast of all things poetic, culinary and operatic, who was a behind-the-scenes anchor of all our Poetry in McGregor Festivals. These five creative persons died in the past year or so, leaving many bereft and sad.

Our second Literary Aperitif was called Masked Portraiture and the poems were very much like paintings and photographs, facial reportage and reflections on the scaffolding of personal character. The choice of poems for both events was made with cognisance of the long period of isolated living we’ve endured, under the shadow of pestilence, in the grip of curfews and lockdowns. They also take note of how we’ve been made abruptly aware of our mortality.

Through the ‘Covid situation’ we have come to realise that few of us understand the intrinsic mystery of life.

And that all of us fail to understand the selection process and timing by which the Angel of Death reaps.

Our certainty is that all are born.

And that all will, in turn, depart this life.

Some go first and others are left to mourn.

The Time of Covid, which has spanned nearly two years, has given us an acute appreciation of life and its fragility.

It has inspired a new valuation of others, of friendship, of the ending of days, of love, of healing and of regeneration.

We have become aware that we can take nothing with us when we die, except the value of the inner light we have cultivated.

Perhaps this Time of Covid has allowed forgiveness to surface in our repertoire of emotions.

Perhaps it has made us look at what we bequeath to others.

These dear poets whom we celebrated at our Literary Aperitifs, bequeathed us their words, their ponderings, their perceptions of beauty, their own preoccupations with life and death.

They left us expressions to savour as we travel our metaphorical and actual life-journeys from beginning to end.

They remind us that poetry serves well as an elixir in the refurbishment of the human heart, in the distillation of Hope, and in the administration of Love.

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Black socks 

Chris Mann

When Father Time knocked on my door,
I had, I thought, a few years more.

Wind-torn the night, dark as a crow.
‘Be strong,’ he said, ‘your turn to go’.

‘Why now? I’ve things to do!’ I said,
‘Besides, I want my kin around my bed,

Must also phone a priest and friends,
A heart I hurt to make amends.’

He stomped his scythe, then glared at me.
‘Too late!’ he said. ‘Let loved ones be!

Give me your wallet, keys and phone,
Even your breath is air on loan.’

I put black socks, my best suit on,
‘One thing,’ I said, ‘before I’m gone.’

‘Make haste,’ he said, ‘I need my sleep,
Eternity is slow and deep.’

‘Take, take,’ I said, ‘my books and clothes,
My creaking joints, my cares and woes,                  

‘But don’t,’ I said, ‘don’t take from me,
The days of joy and mystery.’

A hearse drew up, a gloved man bowed,
Old Father Time shook out my shroud.

What happened next, I’ll never know,
The mind goes dark when life lets go.

My eyelids twitched. A jolt. And then,
I woke—and saw Time’s scythe again.

His cold hard eyes now haunt my day,
His dirge-dour voice prompts me to pray.

Songs of the heart outlive its tears,
I’m rhyming to you through my fears,

Cherish, relish, before dreams thin,
The love of friends, and Christ, and kin.

Black socks by Chris Mann from: Love in the Time of Covid, Poetry in McGregor 2020 Anthology

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Image by Johannes Vermeer. The Frick Collection, New York

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