Leon Retief. A thief of impeccable taste

 

                                               Glen Sorestad

A THIEF OF IMPECCABLE TASTE

Un ladrón de impeccable buen gusto

 

Glen Sorestad is ʼn prêriedigter van Saskatoon wie se verse ek al voorheen geplaas het. Sy jongste twee publikasies is ʼn sakboekie Along Okema Road en dan bogenoemde bundel wat verlede jaar op die rakke verskyn het met die Engelse gedigte op een bladsy en die Spaanse vertaling op die teenoorgestelde bladsy. Die vertalings is gedoen deur Manuel de Jesús Velásquez León, lektor in “Studies van die Engelssprekende Kulture” aan die universiteit José de la Luz y Caballero in Kuba.

Die Thief bevat ʼn voorwoord deur die vertaler, ʼn taamlike lang een om die waarheid te sê, dus sal ek net enkele sinne uit die eerste twee paragrawe aanhaal” “Generally, (Sorestad) lets the words find their own way through the woods, blazing their own trail, up to the hidden clearing of light, the unexpected spot of finding and conception. Once there, the solid power of the poet makes creation endure.”

“The first surprising thing… is that scenes are illuminated by a luminescence that comes from understanding. The lens that visualizes his world is not myopic. Maybe that is why the poetic reconstruction of what has been lived is impeccable, faultless. The plots of reality offered to scrutiny sometimes reveal niches of an almost painful naturalism. One may feel the wintery cold alienation of those earthly artifacts that just seem to be there. Nevertheless there are conducting wires among the objects, underground connecting tunnels providing sense to the structures. In that way, a universe of indifferent, almost astral nakedness is coloured by hope.”

Soos dit teen hierdie tyd waarskynlik vir almal duidelik behoort te wees, Sorestad is nie ʼn hermetiese digter nie. Trouens, ek het tot op hede nog nie ʼn hermetiese prêriedigter teengekom nie. Sorestad se gedigte is vir my kenmerkend van die prêries en prêriedigkuns waarvoor my vrou Lesli en ek lief geword het.

Die bundel het ʼn rustige toonaard, ʼn dikwels mediterende kyk na die prêries en sy mense, sy vriende en na die lang verhouding tussen hom en sy vrou. Dit is dan ook Sorestad se eggenote wat via die digter aan die woord is in The Thief Reflects.

 

LOOKING BACK

 

Sometimes I am shaken

by a desire to return

to that child I was –

endless days under a vast sky,

sun omnipresent as the mongrel

that dogged my footsteps.

 

A half-century and more

removed, I remember each day

bloomed wonder. Never bored,

I did not realise how poor

we were, having so much.

 

On second thought, it’s possible

my retrospective vision is

blurred, selectively smudged.

Perhaps it is our nature to hold

hard to what causes least pain?

 

To indulge moments of nostalgia

is bo act of foolishness. Though

time past will not return,

we still can marvel

at the road we’ve travelled,

at the one that lies ahead.

 

WINTER BURIAL

 

Bullets of snow blast the polished casket poised

in funeral home harness above the open grave.

 

Mourning family huddled close to one another,

drawn snug to the living, their backs buffeted

 

by hard gusts. Needles of ice probe napes of neck.

Vestments aflutter, numb-fingered, the priest

 

clings to his prayer book, while manic wind worries

the pages, snatches words, scatters them like flakes.

 

At the graveside slim fingers of snow writhe,

curl over and descend, while others leap the chasm.

 

Last words said, family, one by one, step to the fore,

red rose each – this final act of love and letting go.

 

The casket lowered, everyone turns away. Wind blows

mourners to cars. Left behind – red roses and snow.

 

THE THIEF REFLECTS

 

Tell me, what have

I stolen from you

that you have missed?

 

Surely you know

I have taken only

inessential fragments

 

you would have shed

without my help.

I can in no way be

 

dismissed as common

thief, nor as cheap

trickster. You must

 

agree I am a thief

of impeccable taste:

I did choose you.

 

SMALL AND FEATHERED

 

Through my cabin window

needled branches interlace

against a splash of sky.

A fidgety Tree Sparrow

perches on the drooping

finger of spruce for a moment,

adding an apprehensive note

to a subdued backdrop

or trees and sky.

 

The bird frets its way

along the thin bone of spruce,

stops a moment,

and I wonder

what thoughts, if any,

run through its mind

this splendid morning?

 

Exorbitant gas prices?

Not an iota. Nor taxes,

nor promises unkept.

But surely every small bird

must, from time to time,

cease its song to reflect

on the precariousness

of being small

and feathered in a world

that prizes neither.

 

EMMA LAKE VESPERS

 

I am curious

to see whether

      that paper birch

leaf

           succeeds

in capturing

just enough breeze

to make

                  a further

quarter-turn

                          and hold

if only for a moment,

 

within its cup

 

                               the dropping sun.

  

 

Emma Lake

 

 

HOURGLASS

 

The evidence lies everywhere. Grains of sand.

Our day are lost in the trivia of meetings,

appointments, To-Do lists, post-it notes stuck

 

to cupboard doors where we can’t miss them,

magneted to the refrigerator door like commandments,

or posted like tearful pleas for lost kittens,

 

terse reminders how our lives have become

a musical score of comings and leavings,

the sound and voices of calendars and daybooks.

 

We ignore the image – the bottom half,

its increasing sand. It is funerals we attend

with growing frequency that give us pause,

 

make us feel the measure, the urgency,

the anticipatory drum roll.

Beat by beat, grain by grain.

                                               

LITTLE ENOUGH

remembering John Newcombe

 

What we want from the start,

most of us, is never little.

 

Our dreams, our desires

seldom come as miniatures.

 

Our appetites are rapacious,

our lusts loom mountainous.

 

Time erodes them all –

dreams, desires, appetite, lust.

 

Floating dust motes in our lives.

Little becomes its own desire,

 

its own measure. Little will do.

It is little, but it is little enough.*

 

*Hierdie laaste reël kom uit ʼn gedig van John Newlove (1938-2003), ʼn vriend van Sorestad. Newlove het om dit saggies te stel ʼn stormagtige lewe gehad, meestal weens sy verslawing aan alkohol. Die gedig waaruit Sorestad aanhaal bevat tot ʼn groot mate outobiografiese materiaal en omdat dit vir my ʼn treffende gedig is plaas ek dit graag.

 

THEN, IF I CEASE DESIRING

 

Then, if I cease desiring,

you may a sing a song

of how young I was.

 

You may praise famous moments,

all of them, of the churches

I broke into for wine,

 

not praise, the highways

I travelled drunkenly

in winter, the cars I stole.

 

You may allow me moments,

not monuments, I being

content. It is little,

but it is little enough.

 

Enkele gedigte uit die pas gepubliseerde Along Okema Road.

 

EARLY MORNING OWL

 

I was awakened about five this morning

by the persistent calling of an owl.

Whoo-hoo, hoo-hoo.

 

I don’t know whether it was horned or barred,

grey or white, long-eared or earless –

I did not see the owl at all.

 

Whoo-hoo, hoo-hoo,

it seemed to call straight to me through

the open window of the cabin.

 

Was it an omen? I ask myself this now,

later in the day when the hooting returns

to resonate loudly inside my mind.

 

I’d rather not see this as an omen or premonition.

Nothing in the articulation or tone made me

think for a moment it was my name

on the creature’s tongue, nor that the bird

intended its message just for me. Perhaps if I

was of the Pacific Coastal people of the rainforest

 

who link the call of the owl with impending death,

I would be predisposed to view such a visitation

as a dark precursor, enough to set every nerve

 

on edge – but I don’t see it that way at all,

perhaps because I regard myself as one who resists

absolutes of most belief systems. Show me.

 

But then, but then…

If I am recalling this early awakening

with accuracy and not creating specifics

 

in the aftermath of the creature’s presence,

something any writer might well incline to do,

I seem to remember the owl hoo-hooed at me

 

from different locations at different times,

spokes on a wheel, the hub being the cabin

where I lay, my eyes looking out a skylight

 

at the morning light, my eyelids still heavy

with slumber as if they ere weighted down

beneath a pair of large George V pennies.

 

FOUR AMERICAN POETS WHO NEVER VISITED EMMA LAKE, BUT IF THEY HAD…

 

Carl Sandburg

 

Rain comes along

with a soft-soled shuffle

on the cabin roof,

stays a short while,

then moves on.

 

 

Robert Frost

 

Something want saying about this spruce –

The homely, forlorn way its limbs droop

As if the Creator had been playing fast and loose

With its upward-reaching arms. A somber troop –

These conifers, ramrod straight, refuse to stoop.

 

 

William Carlos Williams

 

So much depends

upon a green luggage cart

 

with four rubber wheels

waiting in the parking lot

 

empty and expectant

alongside a black spruce

 

 

William Stafford

 

Brother Wind, what news today?

Stop a moment in your turning

of birch leaves and speak to me

of all those places you have been.

 

Perhaps you will recall a house,

abandoned on the gritty plain,

the gathering dust, shreds of hearts

still clinging there, including mine.

 

 

 

 

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