Tuesday, July 26, 2016


It was a cold, clear, night when Ayal, Dror and Shalom 'borrowed' some potatoes. They parked the jeeps in a dark field on the outskirts of Gaza city and dug a hole in the ground. Soon a fire was blazing, and they sat round it, warming their hands and baking the potatoes. Gavriel, who wanted to show his disapproval of them and their stolen food, sat shivering in the dark, a little way off.
A shape emerged from the darkness.
Why don't you sit with us?' it asked.
'I don't feel like it,' said Gavriel, surprised that the obtuse Shalom had even bothered to ask.
'Is it coz of politics and all,' asked Shalom nasally, 'because you don't agree with us being here?'
Gavriel felt a lump rising in his throat. It was the first time his lonely stand had been acknowledged.
'It's because of the way you act. Stealing, humiliating...no wonder they hate us.'
'They've always hated us. My grandfather came from Iraq. He told us exactly what the Arabs did to the Jews there. And what about Ofer Sharabi last week. Kidnapped, hands tied behind his back, stabbed 19 times and left to bleed to death in a cave...I promise you, they don't care if you're a lefty or not - they'll slaughter you just the same.' Shalom drew a meditative line across his own throat, as if reminding himself of something. 'If they want to riot let them riot in their own countries. Jordan. Or Iraq. Or Iran. Or -'
'The Iranians aren't Arabs,' Gavriel interrupted.
Another shape stepped out of the night. It stood there quietly, listening, huddled in its dubon the army parka which rendered its wearer bear-like. Only the red glow of a cigarette tip indicating where its mouth was.
'You should see how they deal with their own,' said Shalom. 'Like in Rafiach. As soon as trouble began the Egyptians brought a squad, no rubber, no tear gas, just live. Killed eleven, thirty wounded. Now they're behaving themselves. No intifada there. But we're shit scared, we're scared what the world will say, we're too soft.'
'You can't just go shooting people,' said Gavriel, wondering how to say it so as not to lose Shalom and the silent listener. 'When terrorists murder one of us, it doesn't make us weaker, it makes us more determined. It's the same for them. If we kill Palestinians, their people turn them into martyrs."
There was a silence.
"Anyway, we're not trying to be like Egypt or Syria or Iraq. We're supposed to be a first world country, not a place where you can just shoot anyone who demonstrates against you.'
Gavriel wondered if he'd overdone it, come across as too much of a bleeding heart. Not that he'd shared  even a quarter of his anguished thoughts.
'What's a first world country?' said Shalom.
'It's a modern country' answered Gavriel gladly, 'an advanced country, like America.'Another silence. A breeze passed them by on its way to the sea. It brought with it an odour of wood smoke, animals, and garbage from Shati refugee camp. The hardy little weeds in the beach soil shivered along with Gavriel. Then Shalom burst out angrily:
'If I were you, I'd worry a little bit more about your own, and less about the Arabs!'
'Don't waste your time,' said Dror's voice, and the glowing ember in front of the cowled figure moved in the air. 'Have you seen how he acts on patrol? Like he's in the middle of Dizengoff. A danger to the guys with him.'
'I'm not,' said Gavriel, his voice sounding unconvincing to his own ears. 'You're the ones who break explicit orders, who take people into the orchards, tie teenagers to the jeeps I didn't join the army...
'They're done,' came a shout out of the darkness, and Shalom and Dror disappeared. 'to be here,' said Gavriel to himself.
The next day they got stuck on the road to Gibalia refugee camp, and had to perform one of the endless tyre changes. The Shebab - Palestinian youth - drove nails through flat bits of metal, and sprinkled these on the roads. 'Ninjot,' the soldiers called them, after the Ninja weapons they had seen in the movies. On some patrols these ninjot caused as many as six punctures.
Gavriel was standing alongside the second jeep, near the radio.
'Take off the spare,' said Ayal, the young lieutenant who used a cigarette holder to smoke his cigarettes, and who was, like the platoon commander Nevo, the son of a kibbutz.
Gavriel hesitated. He didn't want to help out with anything. He didn't care if they reached Gibalia or not. Better to wait out their three-month tour of service in barracks, playing backgammon, or, in his case, reading and listening to music on his walkman. They'd do less damage that way. It was easy to disobey Ayal's command. When you didn't want to do something, you pretended you hadn't understood - a technique much favoured by immigrant soldiers like himself. But they weren't safe stuck here, and besides, he had a strong need to make himself useful. Gavriel looked around in the back for the spanner. Avikam was nearby, tying the punctured tyre to the bonnet of the jeep. He would know where the spanner was, but Gavriel hated to ask Avikam anything. He had seen the ginger-haired soldier grinning as other soldiers held a Palestinian down on the bonnet of one of the jeeps. The Palestinian had earlier pulled a pair of scissors from his pocket when asked to presented his ID, and attempted - according to the soldiers - to stab one of them. Avikam had then proceeded to methodically smash the man's legs.
Eventually Gavriel found the spanner in a box full of rubber grenades and tear gas canisters. The first nut was very tight and the spanner slipped off and fell in the dust.
'What's taking so long,' asked AyaI.
'I'll do it,' said Avikam, 'you can't expect anything from him. He's useless.'
Gavriel handed the spanner over wordlessly. Then he stood back, leaning against the jeep, noting with satisfaction that Avikam was also struggling with the nut. So they thought he was useless, did they? Very well, he would be useless. He wouldn't lift a finger to help them. But years from now he would...
'Answer it,' snapped  Ayal, 'can't you hear they're calling us?'
Gavriel, busy with his thoughts, hadn't heard. He always tensed up when he had to talk on the radio. Sometimes there were unfamiliar words,and he couldn't work out what was being said. He picked up the handset and asked them to repeat. A crackly voice said something which Gavriel found incomprehensible. He hesitated, at a loss what to reply. Ayal snatched the handpiece from him.
'Phosphorus six here,' he said, 'we're on our way. There in five.'
Gavriel stood aside, went back into his golem mode. Let them handle it, it was their affair.
When they rejoined the others, Gavriel saw that a young woman from the Red Cross had attached herself to Nevo. She had white hair and thin pinched nostrils. Probably Scandinavian.
'Some of us,' Gavriel mentally beamed at her, 'are as distressed by all of this as you are.'
Their little convoy, three jeeps and a blue Subaru with a red cross on its roof, moved slowly down the main 'street' of Gibalia. Brown water in an open sewer trickled lazily along besides them. The sun beat down on the soldiers, on the corrugated tin roof held in place with bricks and stones, on the empty street. Some children emerged from an alley, smiled, and waved their hands in greeting. Gavriel, surprised, waved back uncertainly. Then whistles - the Shebab warning each other of the army's approach - began to precede and to follow them. Gavriel lowed the vizier attached to his helmet. They rounded a corner and the first jeep screeched to a halt. At the other end of the street was a crowd of forty or fifty gesticulating youths, hurling stones and insults.
'Shamir fucks his mother,' came towards them in thicly accented Hebrew.
'Arafat fucks dogs,' Dror shouted back in Arabic.
Most of the stones landed short of them, one hit the bonnet of the jeep with a metallic clunk.
'Reverse.' Nevo indicated to the other two jeeps with his hands. He didn't want a confrontation, especially with the Red Cross there. They started back, but the road was now blocked by an old fridge, washing machine, and burning tractor tyre.
'World's best prop movers,' joked the platoon commander, 'go into the houses, get them out to clear this.'
Dror started off.
'Not alone,' barked Nevo, 'you, Gavriel, go with him.'
Unwillingly Gavriel went. They knocked on the first door. No one answered.
Dror began hammering on it with the stock of his rifle while Gavriel stood nervously by, holding the grip of his gun tightly, expecting a molotov cocktail or grenade to be hurled at them from a neighbouring courtyard. Eventually an old lady answered the door. Dror conversed with her in what sounded to Gavriel like fluent Arabic.
'There are no men here,' she told them.
They went to the second house. Again Dror hammered at the door until it opened. This time a young woman appeared.
'There are no men here,' she said.
Dror forced his way past her, and Gavriel followed, uncertain whether to guard outside or come in. The desire not to be left alone decided for him, and he followed Dror into a dirty blue courtyard. Wood smoke and earth and cooking mutton smells filled the shaded enclosure.
'Come here,' said Dror to the four men sitting cross-legged on the floor.
The men stood up to go with them. The woman grabbed hold of Gavriel's sleeve, and sobbed at him in Arabic, spittle flying from her mouth onto his face.. .
 'Don't worry,' he gabbled stupidly, hoping she understood Hebrew, trying to get his sleeve loose, careful not to touch her. He had heard that touching 'their' women made Arabs go absolutely berserk. He backed out of the courtyard, following Dror and the Arab men out through the cramped alleyway. By the time they arrived back at the jeeps, one of the men had slipped away in the confusion. The Red Cross representative was poised to pounce, hoping an atrocity was about to occur, so that she could step in and save the day.
'Vy you don't at least try and look for the people vhich haf built it,' said the woman, 'instead of just dragging these people out.'
The officer grinned and swept his arm in a broad gesture which encompassed the jumble of densely packed shacks, houses and alleys.
'In this?'
'I'm going to report you,' said the woman.
Gavriel listened to them arguing in their broken English. He longed to step in and offer to translate. He imagined even Dror standing by respectfully as he displayed his linguistic skills. Perhaps the red cross woman knew some Spanish, and he could discreetly fill her in, explain the context to her, explain that not all the soldiers agreed with being here.
Nevo ended the debate with a shrug of his shoulders. '
'Get on with it,' he said to the soldiers, 'take their ID's and hurry them up' .
Gavriel 'supervised' the men, two of whom looked rather dangerous to him. He disobeyed his desire to smile at them. It was too late for that. The weight of everybody's expectations - both Arabs and soldiers - prevented it. Instead he tried to make his voice and face opaque, to stop his softness from being observed.
The youngsters were closer now, and their throws were more accurate. Shalom, without being told, loaded a tear gas canister and fired. It landed behind the advancing youths, but the wind took it to them, and it temporanly halted their forward momentum.
'It's dangerous here,' said Nevo to the woman.
He was worried they were going to have to fire on the youths, who numbered about a hundred now, and wanted to get rid of her. 'But you people should take these road-blocks apart yourselfs,' she stubbornly insisted, retreating from the stones.
A large missile - almost a half brick - hit Nevo - who was standing without a helmet - on the ear. He shook his head to clear it and put his hand up to the numb flesh.  When he took his hand away there was blood on the fingers.
'Don't think I haven't seen everything,' said the Red Cross representative, who was looking down at her notebook, busily recording the registration numbers of the jeeps.  Nevo finally lost his temper.
'We're not taking them apart ourself because they may have explosion inside. Now you understand?'
'Oh,' said the woman, outraged, 'and then these innocent people will be killed.'
'It's them or us, lady'
The woman stalked off, her back radiating moral indignation, and got into the Subaru. The Arabs had finished clearing the road.
'If the people who place these roadblock know they're only going to hurt their own then maybe they stop,' Nevo shouted after her, 'stupid bitch!'
The Subaru reversed. Dror fired several rounds into the air.
'Don't shoot live,' said Nevo, 'let's get out of here.'
They scrambled for the jeeps. Gavriel was on the last jeep to reverse. He stood facing backwards, as the yelling crowd, ran towards them. He was the only one with a rubber grenade on his gun.
'Shoot,' yelled Ayal.
Gavriel didn't.
'Shoot already,' shouted Ayal and Dror and Shalom.
Gavriel hesitated, standing up on the back seat, facing the jeering youths.
Shoot fuck head,' screamed someone in his ear.
Gavriel pulled the trigger. He didn't even think to point down, so that the rubber would go towards their feet, not their faces. Then the jeep shot round a corner, and he couldn't see if his grenade had halted them or not. His hands were trembling and his heart: pumping wildly. He felt the adrenalin flowing freely and eliminating all fear. What a strange interesting taste to have thoughtlesly pulled the trigger. It was something new, to witness an action outpacing his endless inner debates.
Gavriel savoured that for a while hunched in the back of the jeep as it careened out of Gibalia. But tomorrow he would certainly go to Nevo and tell him he refused to serve here any longer, that he was prepared - no wanted - to go to jail.
Yes, tomorrow.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Puddle

Some friends of mine had been house-sitting in Randburg, and decided in the middle they wanted to go off to Malawi.
"It's a cinch," they told me, "the fridge is full of food, there's a great collection of videos and CDs, and besides, you need the change."
I willingly agreed, glad at the chance to get out of my stuffy little flat.
The first night in my new home I got down the wok and made myself a sumptuous stir fry, then sat with my feet up on the Chippendale watching 'Pretty Woman.' After several glasses of carrot juice, a long conversation with Australia, and a night swim in the buff, I began to feel sleepy. I locked the Rottweiler and the house cat up in the laundry, and climbed into my hosts' double bed, content with only a cursory examination of their wardrobes.
As soon as I lay down I became aware of a steady dripping emanating from the bathroom. I got up, lit a candle, and went to seek out the source of the trouble. It was the cold tap in the bath, and I tightened it. The dripping didn't stop, so I figured the washer must be gone. I loosened the tap and the whole thing came off. Water gushed all over me, and onto the floor. I tried to force the cover back on, but the thread had rusted away, and wouldn't hold. I would have to get the Swedish wrench out of the car.
I unlocked the back door, but the security gate refused to open. When I tried to force the key, it snapped off I therefore went out through the front door, and walked around to the garage. It was surprisingly chilly, and the flimsy negligee I had borrowed gave no warmth. I took the wrench from under the front seat, where I keep it for protection. I tiptoed back through the rose garden, one hand holding the wrench, the other modestly holding the nightie from blowing up above my erection. I don't know why—cold air on my flesh always does that to me.
Even before I got to the front door I sensed something else had gone wrong. And indeed it had. The door had blown shut. My warm bed called to me, but I was locked out, with no way in. The windows all had burglar bars, and the Rottweiler, who had somehow gotten loose, stuck his head out and growled at me. I could hear the water in the bathroom. Soon it would begin to soak the bedroom carpet. If I tried to climb in, I faced getting stuck, being shot by a passing patrol of Eagle Security, or savaged by the dog. The only other person who had a set of keys was Salamina, the maid, who stayed in Meadowlands, Soweto.
I got into the car and raced down the M1, before merging onto the M2. In White City Jabavu  I was abducted by an APLA cell, painted black, and coerced into joining them in a raid on a sperm bank. They were all very disappointed when they saw the giant cold rooms filled with little plastic jars. "I thought they kept ambergris here," explained their leader, who sounded a little like old Opperman from Military Intelligence. They tied me to a policeman, and after driving my car into a wall, went off.
After I had stopped trembling uncontrollably I woke up the officer.
"We value feedback from the public," he said, "and certainly if any members of the force have been amiss then we will spare no effort to bring them to brook. However, unsubstantiated allegations are......"
I silenced him with a fifty and continued on foot, arriving at Salamina's house at three a.m. It took some time to explain to the terrified woman that I was not a supernatural winged apparition, but rather a middle aged bachelor with a shredded nightie and a thick layer of black paint. I took a taxi back, looking at my watch every two minutes and cursing the driver at each unscheduled stop. None of the constant stream of passengers getting in and out commented on my rather foreign appearance. Their gaze might rest upon me for a moment, but was then averted rapidly, as if they were very used to seeing strange sights and had become inured to them.
I didn't have too much time to reflect on this because I was busy worrying about the house. The wooden floors and carpets were probably knee-deep in water by now. In Louis Botha, my head was flung sideways into the large bosom of the lady beside me. After two of the drivers had swopped details (the third one just drove off), a gun battle broke out between rival tow truck drivers who had magically arrived on the scene seconds after the accident occurred. I hid under a pile of bodies until the shooting was over. The taxi driver, whistling softly to himself, stretched some plastic across the shattered glass of his Hi-Ace, and then we limped on to Republic road where I disembarked.
Empty suburban streets with their greenery and high walls make a very pretty sight in the pearly morning-glow. I vaulted the garden wall just as the sun was rising. Strangely enough, I couldn't hear the gushing of water within. Only the gentle throbbing of the automatic pool cleaner disturbed the silence. Even stranger was that there was no water seeping out under the front door. I unlocked it, but it wouldn't open. Looking through the lounge window I saw that someone had pushed the grand piano against the door. Eventually I managed to push it back, and enter. The house seemed empty. Absolutely empty. They had even unscrewed the light bulbs and plug covers and taken them. In the kitchen little marks on the tiles indicated where the melamine units had once stood. Someone had scratched "Thlokomelo Nja**" on the side of the piano. The Rottweiler was snoozing on the bare lounge floor, and cuddled up next to it was the cat. Inexplicably angered by this graphic explosion of yet another myth, I did for them both with an AK47 I had taken from the taxi by mistake, and then went to see if the thieves had at least left the lady of the house's underwear for me to try on.
"What incredible monsters" I thought to myself when I discovered the bedroom cupboard had vanished. But my worst fears were confirmed when I walked into the bathroom. They had even taken the puddle.

First published by Peter Esterhuysen (z"l) in a Hippogriff Press anthology around 1993, and subsequently published in "Running Towards Us" a Heinnemann anthology of new South African writing edited by Isabel Baleseiro. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Chicken Coop

I was just making supper when there was a knock on the door. Solomon, my eldest, went to hide in the chicken coop, and I went off to answer.
Before I got there, the door was smashed open. "Were  looking for Solomon Madingwane" said a young lieutenant, while his soldiers shook the wardrobe apart.
"My son" I told them, "he has not been home for three days."
"I'll tell you what", said the lieutenant, "we have to make some other house calls in this neighbourhood, but well be back just now. See if you can find him by then. If not..." He pointed threateningly at the TV.
"Also, have some tea ready. I'm thirsty."
"I want coffee" said one of the young soldiers.
"Shut up" said the lieutenant, and then added more politely, "you'll drink whatever Mrs Madingwane prepares."
They went out I fitted the various bits of door back together as best I could. Then I put the kettle on to boil. I sprinkled dirt from the floor into seven glasses, and spat into each one in turn. The tea was just cooling when there was a knock on the door.
My husband hid in the chicken coop, while I went to open. Before I could get to what remained of the door it was kicked in, and several comrades entered.
"Were looking for Abel Madingwane" said their leader, who wore a balaclava.
"My husband" I told them, "he has not been home for three days."
"I'll tell you what" said the leader, "we have to make some other house calls in the neighbourhood. We'll be back just now. Have him ready for us by then."
Their eyes fell upon the tea.
"You shouldnt" I warned them, but they drained the tea before I could stop them.
"Dont worry" they reassured me, "its for the struggle. We all have to make sacrifices you know."
They went out through the back. Abel waited two minutes, and then came into the house dusting feathers and chichen shit off his clothes.
"Solomons snoring away in the coop" he told me.
The soldiers came back in through the broken door, which flapped loosely on its hinges.
"Vie is hierdie hoender ?" said the lieutenant, and all the soldiers laughed.
He's my husband", I explained, "he was just repairing the chicken coop."
"So he's a Madingwane ?" queried the lieutenant.
"I am Abel Madingwane" said Abel, drawing himself up proudly and ignoring my warning glare. More feathers scattered over the floor.
"Good," said the lieutenant, "we'll take you"
The coffee-soldier pointed out, that the warrant read S Madingwane not A Madingwane
"Viljoen" said the officer, "dont argue in front of the natives. It makes us look stupid. Give me that warrant." Painstakingly he changed the S into an A.
"Right" he said, "we'll have that tea and be off."
"I'd still prefer coffee" said Viljoen stubbornly.
"I explained that the water was just coming to the boil.
"We cant wait" said the lieutenant disappointedly, "we have to he back in the casspirs before the shooting starts."
"Wait" said Viljoen, "you haven't given her a receipt for her husband yet."
"OK" said the lieutenant, turning towards his other men, "tie him to the bed."
They tied Viljoen to the bed. In the struggle his glasses fell off and got broken. They tied us to the bed too. "Inkatha will deal with you" said the lieutenant as they hurried out.
Solomon was woken up by the gunfire. He came in and untied us. Then we all went to hide in the chicken coop. Solomon went back to sleep.
"Excuse me" said Viijoen, whose pimply chin was digging into my bosom.
"Thats all right young man", I told him, "theres plenty of room for us all.
(This little sketch was written about 1992, about a year after I returned to South Africa from Israel.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What grabs our attention?

When I see the posts about the murders in Tel Aviv last night by Palestinian terrorists (were they Islamists? I don't know) there are at least two paths I can go down....

One is the fairly easily available path of joining in the great washing machine of reactivity which Facebook so effectively amplifies. The lifeshock of reading about the murders reawakens in me the predictable emotions of shock, fear, sadness, sorrow, anxiety, anger and helplessness - as it does in millions of others.

Yet another part of me recognises the futility of this endless cycle, and the arbitrariness of distinguishing one kind of death from another. That part notes that we focus our righteous indignation and sense of shared outrage and vulnerability on death which is delivered by enemies. We don't seem to have the same emotional reponse to death delivered by "our own". When a Palestinian terrorist rams his or her car into a group of people waiting at a bus stop, our attention is pulled towards this like some kind of super-powerful magnet.

But when an 88 year old or 10 year old child gets knocked over by an Israeli driver in a hit and run, it attracts nowhere near the same degree of emotional response.

Road accidents in Israel are arguably as pointless and insane and as arbitrary as a terrorist attack, and for the grieving families, other than their own subjective acts of meaning making, the loss is as absolute. From 2012 - 2015 some 80 000 people were lightly injured in motor vehicle accidents in Israel (MVAs). In the same period around 7 500 Israelis were killed in MVAs. (Source: This is MANY MORE injuries and fatalaties than those caused by Palestinian terrorists. Yet these arguably preventable deaths and injuries engender no sense of collective fear and hurt and outrage, or at least nothing like the fear and loathing which terror attacks engender. [Some might argue that the way Israelis drive is a product of the trauma and tension engendered by being surrounded by hostile entities and relentless terror attacks - thus linking the two - but this is as specious as those who say that Palestinian - Islamist terror is "caused" by the "occupation" ]

The malach hamavet - the angel of death - has many messengers. And nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Charedi (ultra-orthodox Jewish) identity

Chareydi identity - like many particular identities - is built on them vs us, self definition by negation rather than assertion....a straw man version of "the goy" is built up, someone who is physical, base, brawn more than brain, and possibly inclined to murder or theft or adultery or incest. Contrasted against this charicature is the Jew, spiritual, inherently pure, gentle and merciful, yoshev beohalim, ("a dweller of tents") able to comprehend delicate spiritual concepts that "the goy" cannot....that this breaks down at the level of individual variance is a truism....there are many Jewish goys and many goyish Jews, and even more nochlim bereshut HaTorah. (scoundrels with the Torah's permission - people who seem to follow the letter of the law but contravene its spirit at every turn.)

The way to enlightenment leads through the shadow of the valley of death, owning our own unconsciousness, owning the less attractive parts of ourselves, instead of living with some fabricated idealised version of self that clashes with reality every step of the way.

Don't get me wrong - to play with polarities - white/black/ gay straight, hindu/muslim, black hat/kipa sruga, male/female, goy/jew left/right can be fertile and generative....but to rigidify the play play roles can become a real bind..a meytzar, or place of constriction.

The Body's "Betrayal" - bringing it all back home

What kinds or aspects of sexuality get shunted to the margins and delegitimised in popular discourse, thus driving them underground where they fester? For example some victims/survivors/experiencers of incest, rape or other forms of sexual abuse are subtly encouraged to publicly own their pain, trauma, shock, ongoing resultant dysfunctionality and maladaptions, but are not so subtly discouraged (via social learning, the feedback we get from others) from publicly owning their body's pleasure response to the incident, They are thus left to wrestle on their own - or perhaps in therapy - with their own guilt about, bewilderment with, and possible rage at, let us call it, the body's betrayal. Fear driven approaches based on an imaginary future - slippery slope arguments - lead to unnuanced approaches which do not reflect or acknowledge complex realities. And this in turn promotes fragmented rather than integrated beings.

Kaddish for Kefilwe

On Shabes I decided to follow Jonas. After dropping off the fruit, he turned towards Doornfontein. The houses got poorer and shabbier and I saw fewer and fewer europeans Eventually he stopped at the end of Overbeek Street, a dead-end next to the railway line, and went into a corrugated iron house which looked like it was about to collapse. When he came out. after half an hour, he was riding all funny, zigzagging across the road, and drawing hoots and insults from the motor cars.

It was easy to catch up with him, because he was riding so badly, but I waited till we were almost across Harrow Road before I called his name from behind. He nearly fell off his bike.'Haahlow, Kleinbaas!' said Jonas. Wat doen jy hier?' 'You doing the fahfee round for the chinaman again?'I kept on questioning him, but could get nothing more except comments about the weather. I rode slowly next to him as he sang and burped his way up Observatory Ridge. It took us a long time to get home, but Jonas just parked his bike under the awning as if nothing had happened.

Jonas was the delivery boy, and had been with us for almost a year. He took orders in the basket of his bicycle with the broken left handlebar. I had been doing the deliveries, but they needed someone when I was at school. Martha the amawasha who lived in the back and paid us rent said her brother needed a job. So Jonas came and took over. He lived in Martindale location, but generally slept over on the floor of the shop, with an old blanket thrown over him. This suited both him and tate, especially on the days when deliveries had to be made early.

We stayed in Rockey Street, opposite the fruit shop. When we first came to dorem afrike we were in Doornfontein for six months, and then we moved to Yeoville, which tate said was a rise in the world. That was when I found Spotty. Someone had wrapped him up in a bag and left him amongst the weeds that grew in the empty stand where we met after school for a smoke. There were three tiny dogs in the bag, with swollen stomachs and ribs sticking out, dead, and one still shaking and whimpering and wet from his own piddle. I brought him home and mame said he could stay, but that, like Jonas, he must stay out of the house. Spotty recovered. We gave him milk with dissolved tennis biscuits and when he was stronger 1 went back to Doornfontein, to Wachenheimer's, and got some of the treyf parts they threw away. Spotty grew till he was the size of a large cat. I taught him to do tricks like jump into my arms when I said shpring! He wasn't the only dog who understood Yiddish in Yeoville, but he was certainly the cleverest.

At the beginning of our second winter in Rockey Street, when I was hardly a greenhorn any more, I was coming home from school and Spotty ran out to greet me and got smashed into by a motor car. He gave a terrible high squeal and then twitched and stopped moving. I called Sonia from downstairs and she came down and told me he was dead, and that I should he careful not to get blood on my school uniform. I waited to see if he would wake up but he didn't. We buried him in the back yard, just behind the washing line, and Sonia said a few words. I didn't say anything because it was my fault he was killed. I might have said  kaddish, but I only learnt the words properly later that winter. Jonas said I should have just thrown Spotty in the rubbish because dogs do not have souls. I got very cross with him because of that, and because he wouldn't tell me what he'd been doing in the house in Doornfontein. I was so upset I couldn't study and got an F for my English essay. Mame told me I could do better, but when I asked her how, she couldn't tell me because her English was worse than mine. Mame was not much taller than me, and she had short brown hair and tired puffy eyes. Her belly was swollen, as if she'd taken a watennelon from the shop and was hiding it under her skirt for safekeeping.
I asked her if it hurt to have a baby.
'Yes, it does.' she said, 'very much.'
Why can't people just hatch from eggs?' I asked.
'If the Eybeshter wanted us to lay eggs he would have given us more feathers and less sense.'
'But it's not dangerous?'Kevn evn-hore,' she answered - don't invoke the evil eye — which was her way of telling me to go and do something else.

Mame was always busy in the shop, making sure the things tate forgot to do got done. She would give him  list of things to get from the market in Bree Street. argue with Padayachee, the Indian trader, and together with Sonia make up the parcels for delivery while Jonas waited respectfully outside, cap in hand and barefoot. But when the watermelon under her skirt grew very big she spent less time in the shop. A month after Spotty was killed she told me she could have the baby any time now. I went to bed that night and mame went to the nursing home and never came back.
'Davn mame, said Aunty Zelda. who told me the next morning, iz avek tsum Ebershtn. Your mama's gone to God.'
They buried her standing up. like a sentry, because the Brixton-Braamfontein cemetery was already chock-a-block full with dead Jews, and there wasn't room for any more lengthways graves. Besides Spotty's, it was the only funeral I'd ever been to, so I thought that was the way everyone was buried, and started worrying we'd buried Spotty wrong.

After sitting shive I went to shul every day. Both because I had to say kaddish for mame, and because I had to learn the daily prayers for my barmitzve, only four months away. The Yeoville synagogue was big and smart. Everything was new and gleaming. It smelt of wood polish and of the deep red carpets and velvet covers on the bime. I learnt all the tunes and enjoyed singing along. When I was given the honour of opening the curtain in front of the Ark, before the Torah was taken out of it, the other men shook iny hand and said well done. I felt big and important. It was the same feeling I had as when my friends laughed at one ol my jokes when we were having smoke-ring competitions. But this was even better because this club was organised by the adults, and my father was part of it and Mr Weiler the gabe was part of it and now I was part of it as well.

Jonas said he was pleased I attended shul regularly. In fact, he took it upon himself -along with Mr Weiler - to ensure I mourned correctly. Now that Spotty and mame were gone, he and I spent more time together. We had several things in common. He liked a cigarette, and would roll his own from cheap, smelly leaf while I smoked my stompies. He also took a keen interest in gambling. Of course he couldn't play the horses like tate did, natives weren't allowed to, but he played dice. Although he had never been to school, Jonas enjoyed learning as much as I did. In exchange for me teaching him Jewish and basic civilisation, he taught me one or two words of kaffertaal.
'Ek's 'n Pedi.' he told me. 'Mv naam is nie Jonas nie, maar Kefilwe. Dit beteken "geskenk." My real name is Kefilwe - "gift".'

He also shared other secrets with me. Like the fact that good luck always comes in threes, as did bad. And that meant, he explained, that if there were two deaths in the family, the third would he quick to follow. I spent alot of time worrying who was going to be next - tate, my elder sister Sonia, my baby sister Reina, or myself. I also tried to find out if there was anything that could he done to prevent it.I thought perhaps saying kaddish every day might help. But Mr Weiler said the main purpose of kadish was to raise the souls of the deceased higher, and to publicly testify that the Eybershter's glory was not diminished by our deaths. I said I understood, but actually I thought a prayer which stopped people dying would be more useful than a prayer about God's glory.Another thing that wasn't clear to me why kaddish had to be said in shul. I missed mame most at night, when I was alone in my bed, and she didn't come to say shlof gezunt. That seemed to me to be the time to pray for her, and not in shul where I'd be daydreaming about a certain girl in my class. Night was also the time I had listened to mame singing Reina to sleep. Reina slept with tate and mane in their bedroom. and mame sang her the same songs she had sung to me when I was a baby: 'Raisins and Almonds';  'Sleep my Yankele'. and 'Tumbalalaika':

From where do you get a bit of mazl? 
From where a bit of glik?
The wheel will surely turn again
and bring my good luck tsurik.

the world is made for all people together
from where can I get
just a little bit, a little bit of glik?

I used to listen and join in the chorus:  

tumbala tumbala  tumbala laika 
tumbala tumbala  tumbala laika 

Shul become a duty, then a chore, and finally, a punishment. If I went in the morning, I missed breakfast, and if I went in the late afternoon it meant leaving a game of soccer in the middle. Arid no matter how many times 1 reminded them at shul that my name was now Joe, they still called me Yossele. I grew to hate it so much I even started being angry with mame. If she hadn't died I wouldn't have had to go there. And I had to go. because if 1 didn't, Mr Weilerwould have reported it to tate. But all my complaints were forgotten when my worries about who the third fatality would be were ended. Together with his bicycle. srnile.a dozen eggs, a bagof tomatoes and a pumpkin, Jonas was knocked flying in a head-on collision with a truck and, they told me, killed instantly. Like mame, he never said goodbye, and I never saw him again.'He was a good man,' Martha told me. 'except ..: and she armed someone holding a bottle up to his lips and drinking thirstilv. 'I think the Eybeshter is trying to tell me something: said tate, 'Him and Robinson, what wants payment in full by next week.'

The shock of Jonas's death scared me back into shul. Once again I was first in the synagogue in the morning. 1 stopped telling jokes to the other barmitve boys during the parts we were supposed to be quiet, and I swayed and concentrated when I said kaddish. I thought there would be no harm in including Jonas among the growing number of people my daily prayer was having to guide on their final journey. Spotty, mame and now Jonas-Kefllwe-Gift who had gone to God riding on a bicycle. I did this for a few weeks, and one day, when tate said he'd noticed that I was being more conscientious about attending shul,  I explained that my kaddish had grown to include Jonas. Both he and Sonia looked at me as if I was mad.
'Jonas,' said tate, 'was an employee, not family. And Jonas wasn't Jewish.'
'In case you hadn't noticed,' said Sonia. 'he was a shvartse.
''So what?''
So kaddish is not for shvartses, shlemiel''
"But why is kuddish not for shvartses?''
Because each must stick to his own customs.' said tate, 'that's the way of the world.' Then he added, and because the Eybershter is Jewish'.
'And why is God Jewish?
''Why are shvartses black and toffees sweet? Am I responsible for the way things are?'

With mame and Jonas and Spotty gone, our bad luck was supposed to be over. But it seems Jonas only got it partly right. The grocery shop went mekhule, Sonia had to leave school and start working, and Reina was sent to the orphanage.
'Your tate,' said Aunty Zelda. 'never was a businessman. What he really wants is a big win at the races, so that he can sleep the afternoons with a newspaper over his face.'

I had my barmitsve in November, but my shul attendance didn't last. My visits slipped to once every two weeks, and then to even less than that. I knew I was letting mame down when I stayed away, but when I went I felt even worse. My heart was no longer in it. It bothered me that I wasn't supposed to include Jonas, and anyway, there were more important things to do than looking after the dead with a lot of old men who were close to death themselves. About a week before tate and I moved back to a boarding-house in Doornfontein I got up early to go to shakhres. I don't know why 1 decided to go that particular morning. Perhaps it was to say goodbye to the Yeoville synagogue. I didn't hear much of the service, I was thinking about other things the whole way through. I only woke up when Mr Weiler cleared his throat to let me know they were all waiting for me.

'Yisgodol veyiskodosh ...' I began, automatically.
My lips knew the words, but inside my head things were getting jumbled up. The old men looked at me expectantly.
"Shemei rabah" one of them prompted me. Sanctified and extolled be His great name,
I saw Jonas bicycling up the hill, and in his delivery basket sat Spotty, eagerly sniffing the air. 
bealmah divarah chivrutei
in the world He has made  for all people together
Mame hovered over Jonas and Spotty, with her watermelon stomach, and with each turn of the wheel they all said kaddish together with me. 
in the lifetime of all of the house of  Israel, speedily and soon
the wheel will surely turn again
beyond all the praises and consolations that are uttered
I want my mame back 
and let us say

(Based on incidents in Joe Slovo's autobiography, first published in Jewish Affairs circa 1996)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The importance of note - taking

A client of mine recently asked to see the notes that I had been keeping of our therapy sessions, and because the Freedom of information act does guarantee the client's rights to access these notes, I (somewhat reluctantly) handed them over. The client had the following questuions re the notes.

a) Who is Lola and why did I need to call her?
b) What did 3 apples, butter, sugar and self raising flour have to do with her relationship problems?
c) Vet. Was I thinking of consulting a vet re her case?
d) Why did I scrawl "Change oil and water". Was this some kind of abstruse therapeutic metaphor?
e)Cortisone cream. She couldn't recall ever having uttered those words in a session.
f) Why had I written my signature 30 times on one page, alongside little drawings of planes and cars and stickmen?

I explained that I like to free associate when listening to clients, and that those items were indeed a record of
the precious ($200 a session) work we had been doing together.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Important Info I Learnt from the Internet - Please Share

If you get stung by a jellyfish
swim as fast as you can to shore and urinate on the affected area
if no urine is available apply a hot poultice of chammomile tea
or use two litres of battery acid per centimetre of sting
remove any traces of stingers or cystoblasts with a pair of pliers or a claw hammer
if the patient is not moving cut off the affected limb with a sharp knife
suck the poison out by applying your lips to the blow hole. be careful not to swallow any blood that may seep out from the stump.
If you have any welding experience, you may cauterize the wound if a blow torch is handy. Alternatively bathe the stump with a diet cold drink. This will sterilize the area and kill anything organic.
Try to keep the patient from twitching, as this may hasten the spread of the toxin.
If the attack occured on an isolated stretch of coast do not panic. remember there is always something you can do. Grab a lagerhead or leatherback turtle, wet it with a little ocean water, and place it on the affected area. This will numb the area, and possibly crush the patient, but the leather back will move off quickly enough. When it does use seaweed to make a tourniquet around your wedding finger, to prevent any unwhitting transmission of the virus. If driftwood is in short supply, make a fire from sea shells and burn the carcasses / paperwork / calories.
Make him or her as comfortable as possible until help arrives. Keep their head elevated and do not allow them to fall asleep.
You may serve them coffee but energy drinks containing guano should be avoided, unless they were sourced from free range albatrosses.
If you notice the patient's eyes closing tell them a joke. Tickle them. Read them an article from the newspaper. If the patient seems tense, it may be the onset of hyperthermia. in order to calm them down play them a little baroque music, or read them the meditations of Marcus Aurerelis. Reflexology can be useful, but do not overdo it as at this stage the person is likely to still be very weak.
If you have managed to capture the jelly fish put it in a biodegradable paper bag and add a pinch of worcester sauce to kep it fresh. The paramedics will need to know what make of jelly it is, in order to administer the correct anti-venom. Once they have identified it, you may release the jelly fish or consume it. However, only the pyrimidal jelly fish has a shelf life of more than three days.
Take the patients pulse every 2-3 seconds. Keep talking to them, preferably in a language they do not understand. This will stimulate the corpus collusum and make for better outcomes post surgery. When the paramedics arrive, give them a full psychosocial history and any witness statements you have been able to gather. If the patient has stopped breathing make sure you have noted the time of expiry.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Poems 2016

My religion

I believe in foliage
I believe in a catchy tune
I believe in animals drinking water
I believe in abundance

I believe in touch
I believe in the soil after rain

I believe in bedtime
when my mind's fingers unfurl

from the dream of a world

Israel is an itch
Much more itchy than Darfur, than slaves in Saudia, than girls abducted by Boko Haram,
more itchy than South Sudan, Chechnya, the Sahel, Kashmir
Yemen, Syria, the DRC or Tibet (now largely repopulated with settler Han Chinese),
which people in many countries
for reasons they themselves do not understand
feel impelled to scratch
until it bleeds



You moved into our house
didn't take up much room
but we didn't like it
that at night you left
small calling cards 

scattered around
so we poisoned you


Advice to the people of Aleppo, Darfur, Somalia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Libya, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen - a Public Service Announcement

Get at least 8 hours sleep a night
A good mattress is a wise investment. Never skimp when purchasing your mattress
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Make sure you buy a reputable low fat high sugar cereal with the tick of the heart foundation
Visit your dentist every six months for a checkup
Don't drive under the influence, and check that the tyres on your vehicle are not worn

Make sure your swimming pool is properly fenced
Remember you have inalienable human rights. No one is allowed to hurt you, as stipulated by the UN charter. If you believe someone has infringed your rights, speak to your nearest embassy or call us on No-1-Is-There during office hours. 

If the line is unstaffed please leave a message

my mind's attempts to frighten me -
I will not take them seriously

The snail is a monopod
upon whose foot shoe ne'er was shod


I drink my son's sweet untouched
milky tea
and instantly recall
the broad smile, bald black pate
of Lemmy
all that has been left to me
by the Cheshire cat of memory


I want to say to my kids:
"stop growing and doing"
I want to say to my body:
stop flabbing and ageing"
I want to say to my house
"stop breaking and falling"
I want to say to my mind"
stop spinning and desiring
just for a while
so that I can catch
and let go

my breath


the dusk is rising
the lamp casts its pool of light
on the student and teacher
the teacher is talking
the student and piano are silent
head averted, keys inert
the cicadas are droning
their pedal notes:
Sat Chit Ananda

Caw Caw Lord Lord
Ha Eloheem


When younger I travelled
far and wide
but now I prefer
to stay inside


In the beginning
was the sky with birds
and a beach with sand
and a castle on a hill

In the beginning
was a deep dim forest
and a river that hurried
down a mountain side

In the beginning
was a new born babe
soft as clay
and helpless as fury

and all things begin
in fire or water
in earth and air
in the angry hued expanse
that joins day to night
and in the soft rosy glow
of the turning to light

my legs and pelvis
are my Temple Mount
and I am close to
but even closer
to my breath

(Poem from 2016?)

inside I still feel like a young man
wanting to bed as many lovelies as he can
for the sweetness of skin
of silky down on the arm
and the soft apertures down there

but outside I'm ageing
I'm supposed to be settled and content with my lot
not staring at the strikingly tall blond schoolgirl
exploding out of her blouse

sweet regret

look into my eyes
watch my finger
your eyes are getting heavy
your body is relaxed
now close your eyes
and I'm going to count
down from 3 to 1
and when I reach one
I will snap my fingers
you will be asleep
and do and believe whatever I tell you:

Three, two, one...

Now you will believe
you can all drive your own cars and not have traffic jams and gridlock
you can show love and connectedness by going on a 33 hour shopping spree
that casino's can fight irresponsible gamboling and bars irresponsible drinking
that secret hungers can be legislated out of sight
that people in Holland and Australia can resolve problems in the Congo or the rape of slaves in Saudia by reading 3 articles in The Guardian and clicking on a petition
that a brave new world can be built on ancient prejudices
that you can run infomercials and commercials about weight loss products or brain training programs or wholesome milk from the farm and expect your children to tell you the truth
that political correctness can dissolve the fear and stuntedness which lies at the heart of bigotry
that people who are blind to their own splitting and disassociation and projection can effect harmonious change...
that you can fight cancer and environmental degradation and diabetes and sex trafficking and every other symptom whose roots you ignore with five minutes of attention and a small donation on one day a year

isn't it clear?
the universe is created
out of habits
words are a ritual we practice, more often than any other
we invite in the wild wolves of thought and then act surprised
when they gnaw at our wings and legs
so that we gradually loose the power
to walk and fly

emancipate language from the subjugation and colonisation
of commodification and media manipulation
move away from splitting and projection towards integration
leave tokenism behind, not mothers day or fathers day or cancer or earth day
but every day
like breathing, like walking, like brushing your teeth...

begin with a new daily ritual
check the labels
you have placed on your self
maybe you’ve missed something
that begs to be seen.

let compassion rule as the sovereign force in the universe
may it annihilate all barriers in its way
may it nudge all stunted process back into flow
acknowledging all beginning and end points are arbitrary
and all process is postponement
may it practice viveka - discrimination -
not in the sense of exploitation but to
see the rope from the snake
as in owning an impulse vs acting on it
as in telling benign from malign prejudice,
may It be revealed as such to me and to you

on that day
the body will exhale
our doubts will come galloping
over the hill like cavalry
each one an ugly duckling transformed
and the mind's chatter
will be a sweet serenade
letting us know
Adonai hu Elohim
the Lord of barriers and borders
is the Lord of unrestricted space
and that day is today

my child
immanuel suttner is famous
because he had a house
immanuel suttner is famous
because a dog with large paws did follow him
wherever he would go
immanuel suttner is famous
for relocating mice
immanuel suttner is famous for the
spirituality of his semens
immanuel suttner is famous
for his commitment to cleaning up chicken poo
immanuel suttner is famous for his
steady tauran wife
immanuel suttner is famous for being
a father of note
immanuel suttner is famous
for the bargains he triumphantly brought home from the supermarket
immanuel suttner is famous
for his nagging
immanuel suttner is famous
for his anxiety that things would not get recycled
immanuel suttner is famous
for embarrassing his family
by crawling backwards on the beach
immanuel suttner is famous
for sons
more famous than he

Here lies Immanuel Suttner
feet splurged outwards
asleep, asnoring,
one eye open
listening to the
news in Hebrew

by ministerial decree he will henceforth be known as is

is is famous for creating businesses that never got a single client

is is famous
for the milk and shampoo wars
is is famous
for resting a while
is is famous
for his timorous roaring
from behind the screen
is is famous
for his free floating intellect
is is famous for collecting
family artifacts and resentments
is is famous
for his identification with the
is is famous
for their verbal smokescreen
during which time
they got away
is is famous for the soft depths of their kidneys
and the passed-over wisdom
of their intestinal tract?

is famous
for his bird like foward poking
is famous
for gazing at trees then bowing
in heartfelt prayer
is famous
for his oppression of mosquitoes
is famous for his shabbos burps
is famous for suddenly darting
into massage parlours
is famous for his love of song
is famous
for blowing his nose
and discreetly thumbing it

here lies is
pomegranates growing from his groin
wild oregano from his hair
in the golden fields
of eretz yisrah'ail
now all has been heard, here is the conclusion
he is is a sweet boy
tho' he howls and moans
and if you see him
please give him a hug
and send him on home to

my child

immanuel suttner is famous
because he had a house
immanuel suttner is famous
because a dog with large paws followed him
wherever he did go
immanuel suttner is famous
for trapping and releasing mice
immanuel suttner is famous
for the way he picked words
like flowers, and arranged
them in a see through jar

immanuel suttner is famous for the
spirituality of his semens
immanuel suttner is famous
for his commitment to cleaning up chicken shit
immanuel suttner is famous for his
rock steady tauran wife
immanuel suttner is famous for being
a father of note
immanuel suttner is famous
for the bargains he triumphantly
brought home from the supermarket
immanuel suttner is famous
for his nagging
immanuel suttner is famous
for his anxiety that things would not get recycled
immanuel suttner is famous
for embarrassing his family
by crawling backwards on the beach
immanuel suttner is famous
for sons more famous than he

here lies Immanuel Suttner
feet splurged outwards
asleep, asnore
one eye open
listening to the
news in Hebrew
by ministerial decree he will henceforth be known
as is

is is famous for creating businesses that never got a single client
is is famous
for the milk and shampoo wars
is is famous
for resting a while
is is famous
for his timorous roaring
from behind the screen
is is famous
for his incisive free floating intellect
is is famous for collecting
family artifacts and resentments
is is famous
for his identification with the
is is famous
for his verbal smokescreen
under cover of which
he got away

is is famous for the soft depths of his kidneys
and the passed-over wisdom
of his intestinal tract

is, famous
for his avian foward poking head
is, famous
for gazing at trees then bowing
in heartfelt prayer

is, famous for suddenly darting
into massage parlours
is, famous
for his oppression of mosquitoes
is, famous for his shabbos burps
is, famous for his love of song
is, famous
for blowing his nose
and discreetly thumbing it

here lies is
pomegranates growing from his groin
wild oregano from his hair
in the golden fields
of eretz yisrah'ail

now all has been heard,
here is the conclusion of the matter
is is a sweet boy
and if you see him
please give him a hug
rest awhile in his shade
and mail all his seeds home to


(from November 6 2013)

don't turn on the radio
stay with the tree
the sky
the humble dust
the breath
that isn't even yours

It's easy to find G-d in a grove of trees
A lot harder to find Her in corruption or disease

My commitment: I will give whatever it takes to take whatever it gives

Do cycle of poems called "conversations"
between parent and child
dog and owner
people in a pub
on facebook / smartphone
work conversation

and so on...

Five Hebrew phrases reimagined:

arfilei tohar
shtei luchot ha brit
ish chayil
kisei hakavod
tikun olam
t'filat haderech
tikun chatzot


At the protest rally
the air was thick with
terminology and
mine being for
the soulful
young females
who minced about
in embroidered chinese slippers

or chanted
beneath tangled crowns of hair
their t-shirts and ethnic blouses

packed with sweet promise
and I, struck dumb 
by helpless longing, my
mute semi-presence
watched the proceedings
from behind the flat glass
of a drifter's seahole
through which I could
hardly be seen


Just once I'd like
to be desired
for my body
as much as my mind
in fact, for my body
more than my mind
and in fact
more than once


That moment of sweetness
when she enfolds your penis

when I don't know what to do
with the present moment
I try to escape it
with a poem

I go to the barber
who is old and sweet
I imagine it is Ramana giving me the haircut
he lays his hands on my head
and sets me free.

In the place
where a 100 year old
Moreton bay fig stood
larger than a living thing
could plausibly be
now stands a pile of woodchips
surrounded by green grass
and behind it a parkscape
the tree had hid
I cannot truthfully say
that I love that space
any less than the tree



My nervous system
has been set jangling
like a bunch of random keys
whose locks have long since perished
like a bell that tolls
in an endless cemetry
yet how I love
the almost imperceptible stain
on the coat of the woman
in front of me


One day I looked down
and there was a pair of old men's legs
attached to a young mind
I wonder who they belong to?

I'm invested heavily
in trees and earthworms
in piles of rotting leaves
in rainwater and ladybirds  

I took out a margin loan
on thank you cards
long warm hugs
keeping my word

I've sunk resources into breath
into stretching and doing less

I have banked on dog-walking
at the regular time
and discovered the list of important tasks
I reluctantly set aside
was fiction
there was nothing to do

and now my stock is rising
the dividend is coming in
and the pay out of contentment
is in multiples of ten

Hedge shares 

the yield 

I even took a margin loan
when someone mentioned
the next big thing would be
random acts of kindness
and senseless acts of beauty

"yes, well, I had a lot of luck as well... 

let me show you around the place
that? that's just a small thing I picked up
its called a chicken, and that is a broccolli
and that is an earthworm
the insurers
can't even put a value on them"


My quiet song
has been playing in the background
for so long
I have forgotten
that even worlds colliding
are not as loud


In the morning I lay an egg
then leave my house
to try and scratch out a living
as all G-d's creatures must
and when I return
to my humble home
as the sun is setting
though I search for them high and low
my eggs have always vanished
tell me friends, I beseech thee
have you seen my eggs?


At Budderim not Buderoo
Alphonso ate his Kangeroo
and when the moon arose that night
he danced around the firelight



If my garden gets burnt
I will still have a photograph
and if the photograph gets burnt
I will still have my memory
and if my memory gets burnt
I will still have Now
forever and ever

when you said you was leaving
I could not condone
cutting your life line
a long way from home 

you gotta get work
you won't make it alone 
remember I warned that
you're a long way from home

if you get sick you can
still call on the phone
but I can't wipe your brow
such a long way from home

this aint kindergarten 
they'll call in the loan
and no one will bail you
when you're far from your home

you'll be like the beggars
all dirt rags and bone
cos baby I warned ya
you're a long way from home

 Ridle me ridle me ree II

I was a producer
but I am not a producer
I taught
but I am not a teacher
I sub edited
but I am not a sub editor
I went a whoring
but I am not a whore
I worked as a counsellor
but I am not a counsellor
I wrote books
but I am not a writer
I fathered children
but I am not a father
I was born of man
but I  am not a son


Its not easy to find uses for poetry

you can't hang it on the wall
to show you're wealthy and distinguished
you can't use it to unblock the sink
it will not take a headache away
it will not warm your fingers
on a chilly day

poetry is not feasible; it rarely pays for itself
it can sometimes soothe a thought-wound, true
bring some comfort, a panadol for the emotions

but you can't drive it to work
it won't keep out the rain
when you sprain your ankle
it won't block out the pain 


Sort of About Helena

From a bus window
I glimpsed the straw hat
of a gardener who tended
the greenery
in our old building
and quickly filled in
her red hair, green eyes
cheroot, boots,
manly stance,
long jean clad legs
on impulse i rang the bell
and at the next stop
limp leaped off
and doubled back to where she had been
clipping some ground cover
imagining delighted surprise and how we would warmly greet
and exchange a few words as
we reminisced about the good old days
that never were
ending with the warm hug
of two strangers in the city
each trapped in their inexorable routines
who have found a brief island of kinship and connection
but when I caught up
it was a man
so I walked on by

People munching at MacDonalds
muncha muncha munch
cows are processed at the abbatoir
people are processed at lunch

Biyoor Chametz


When i leave my room
to begin dusting off the universe
I do my work tirelessly
I sweep away factory farms

and underpaid workers

the sadness of addiction

and unmet needs
I sweep away fear of death
and fear of life.
Things that have lain hidden
in cobwebbed cupboards
since the dawn of time
are pulled into the airy light
and, seen in the breath of fresh air,
melt to nothingness
I mop up cruelty
along with judgements about what is cruel
I sweep away resentment and blame
no matter how sticky they are
I polish every thing with contentment
and gratitude
both inside and outside.
The crusty thought that has calcified
on the surface of the mind
is softened and sold as fertliser
for unpredictable seeds that bear
fruit sweeter than you or I
could ever have imagined

Kadish (lezichra shel Batya Jaspan z"l)

May the name that every person
takes or makes
be blessed enough
as was yours -
child of God

Not knighted or praised, not glorified and exalted,
not decorated and adored and lauded,

but honoured, acknowledged and well regarded
by the honourable 

not so much just your name, but the work of your hands
and your heart
(blessed she)

above and beyond all the blessings,
hymns, praises and consolations
that are clung to in this world

May the earnest prayers
of the House of Israel
be accepted by the Source
who is present in the Dining Hall
the Clinic
the Children's Home
and amidst the trees
of the hills of Yehudah

As the sun sets over the cotton fields
may there be abundant peace
contentment, equilibrium, satisfaction, help,
comfort, refuge, redemption, forgiveness,
remembering and forgetting
for us and for all who love you

May the One who makes peace low and high
(God knows we do our best)
grant peace upon us
and on all those who mourn that
the light has flickered and dimmed for a while
before it shines again from
North, South East West
above Tzora and Pilgrims Rest


I knew a kibbutznik
who worked in the laundry by day
And at night slipped little poems under peoples doors
regarded as eccentric he was gossiped about
in the dining room
or after passing on the path
as happens in small communities

one day he silently
handed me a little booklet of his poems
photocopied and stapled
and I still have it


Great insights often come suddenly
like a star exploding
in the inky black sky of the unmanifest
they don't come from
torturing laboratory rats
and carefully taking notes


To a poetry editor

You haven't taken ought of mine
so I'm not going to waste my time
casting my pearls before swine
there are pleny who'll drink my wine

You cannot take
What is not given to you
Even if by force or cunning
The heart of the matter will elude you

I tell myself
I will begin again
I do not begin again
I tell myself
I will end
I do not end
I tell myself
I will go
I do not go
I tell myself I will come
but first I must leave

Your gap toothed breasts beneath a cotton blouse

How your atoms danced for me
in layers of unease and free
we tried to harness biology
like the wave tried to subjugate the sea

I saw your pixels on a moving train

Do you have parents
or were you born from the sea
and would you share
your breasts with me
perhaps we can meet with tears or laughter
with no before and who knows what after
you wear your body and I'll wear mine
there's  a diamond in a cave that
emerges in time / perhaps a diamond
will emerge in time

When Moshe went into the desert
he carried his personal history with him
and even after 20 years
of living with the Midianites
he still spoke with a South African accent
Still carried with him
his personal history
like the tabernacle of the Lord


Obituary #47:

"we miss his farts
we miss his burps
we miss his outraged
and outrageous chirps

Gateh gateh paragateh*

Its not easy being a poet
With a disordered personality
I stand and look at plants
and animals wistfully
I snap at people who snap at me
at the merest thought I'm being slighted

my fragile self esteem tumbles and falls
I stop speaking to you
but it ends as punishment for me
I sentence myself
to hours in solitary
but suddenly from nowhere - space
and I can see it all from a different place
so often i am called and become
a grateful state of grace
compassion and resilience return 
I love to set things straight
my Teacher in whose word I trust
has brought me to the gate


I inspect my plants
like a commander inspects his soldiers:
"Get those aphids off you"
"Very good"
"Stand up straight or I'll have you tied to a post"
"Where are your leaves?"
"Remove that caterpillar or I'll knock it off you"
Very nice" 
and before I dismiss myself
I take a few moments
to gaze at my troops
with quiet satisfaction


יין בן חמץ
עצב בן שמחה
שמחה בת עצבות
דמעות בנות פרידות
נצח בן רגע


Everyone gets swept along by an illusion
everyone wakes up
you in your turn
and I in mine

Not by petrol or by diesel
Saith the Lord
but by my spirit
Shall you move

Not by the joy of belonging to a tribe
and not by the sadness of not belonging to all tribes
saith the Lord
but by my spirit
shall you be what you are

Please G-?d
allow me to be of service
in ways more wonderous and incompehensible
bigger and tinier
than the mind could ever conceive
let me marvel at your intricate weaving
as you surprise me again and again

when I was young
some adult said to me
I had to stand on my own two feet
but when I looked down
I could not see anyone else's feet there

I bequeathe to my children
the Pomegranate tree
and if the fire devours it
I bequeathe to them the charcoal

I bequeathe to my children
the piano keys
chipped like teeth
from chewing notes
their granny played
In Benoni and Johannesburg
and their mother played
In Joburg and Sydney

I bequeath to my children
the Hebrew books they cannot read
and the Yiddish ones I cannot read
but keep
as a vague monument to an amputated limb

I bequeath to them the English books -
the big words and the small
enjembements, commas and full stops
with the caveat that
no matter how delightful
the pointing finger
will never be the moon

I bequeath to them time in the garden
I bequeath to them time with friends
I bequeath to them time with creatures
that do not speak with words
bequeath to them my receptive memory
for phrase and lyric, for all that resonates
beauty, gesture, essence, feeling
bequeath to them
my tidal heart

see  http://dougholder.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-sunday-poet-mano-suttner.html


Where there are connecting conversations
there the divine presence dwells
My guru lives across the road
my guru sleeps with me
my guru has no ashram
my guru has no fee

the very first word you utter
must be cross examined
until what you meant by it
and what I understood by it
are no longer assumed


It just so happened
that it

just happened

and everything that ensued from it

discussions, interviews , commentaries, spin offs, tweets, face books posts, likes, dislikes, syndicated cartoons, protest marches, divorces, meals gulped down, wear and tear, and eventual disinterest as the
next thing

just happened

were all an inseperable part of what

just happened

and each part begat
many parts
unto the 1000th generation
and each one

just happened

so follow the vectors back
to where the head meets the tail
until you grasp it

just happened

Let's Pretend

While evidence was being gathered
to formulate an evidence based national policy
the evidence changed
the researchers changed
the measuring stick changed
the funders changed
the fashion for seeking authority in evidence changed
the researcher bias changed
and by the time the policy was formulated
it reflected an aproximation that 

enough people felt enough comfortable with
and enough people felt uncomfortable with
to begin the search for new evidence
and that is why
if you want confirmation
of the truths you already know
before you gather evidence

schedule a meeting
with the gatherer

My name is Richard Suttner
my address is 42 Halford Avenue
Waverly Extension
My phone number is 40 28 44
My dad's name is Ron, he's an electrical engineer
My mom's name is Freda she's a nursery school teacher
When I am big I want to be a spaceman


 may we play fluidly
land lightly
let go elegantly
get out of our own way

Ego is like a merciless rider whipping us tired donkeys on; no wonder we try to throw it off with our drug of choice, so that its sting will be temporarily replaced by numbness or bliss

For every responsibility there must be an irresponsibility, to restore universal balance


If only I had a bigger smart phone
I could sit in restaurants on my own
I'd always have a place to call home
I wouldn't get bored when I am alone
if only I had a bigger smart phone

klip klop
scratch scratch
pad pad
- no barking ! -
moonlight. streetlight.
neighbours van
pad pad pad
dry. cup. glug glug glug.
pad pad
tinkle tinkle
stinks. inhale
ahhhh...is that a mozzie?
bang. missed.
pad pad pad
- inside
klip klop klip klop
- whatimesit?
- dunno


 no one is valuable or worthless but thinking makes it so