Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Karoo Moon by Ruben Mowszowski

karoo moon

You are in a train, dozing as the poles race past, the koppies
behind them moving more slowly, the mountains hardly at all.
You drift off. You wake. Deserted station platforms. Occasional
sheep. A car overtakes. You are in the car. The blur of bushes.
The sameness in your life. You slow down. You stop. Between
the bushes, red earth. Look deeper. The divisions between mind
and matter blur and then dissolve. You are here. You have always
been here. You are stone.
The warm heart sinks into the land
which rises to embrace you with your countless lives
demonstrated by the fossils in the rocks
that have led you to this present time.
How far back shall we go? To the ships with white sails that arrived
three or four hundred years ago from continents once joined? Or should
we go to the very first moment of cosmic expansion and what then?
Time here, if there is time, is all of time. Time space and form,
mantis hare and moon, are but different aspects of one face.
Earth and sky interpenetrate. Some people talk about a deeper
breath. There can be sadness not related to anything one knows.
Language fails.
Go to the veil. Here with eland blood in ancient sedimentation is
perhaps the greatest exploration of mind ever undertaken.

The clock on the church steeple has stopped at 11:30 am and no one
has noticed.  The woman walking down the dusty street has hardly moved.
In some invisible aspect of itself the town is hurtling away and
time is stopped or slowed down.
The dusty streets and unentered houses hold a strange silence. You wake
to the sound of an owl. Dogs bark. You sleep, you wake. The stones are
still stones but no longer dead or inert. They radiate an inner life,
the unseen spinning, the hills shimmering with an invisible light.
Time comes in waves. Sun sinks, moon rises, hare stops,becomes stone.
Moon dies, sun rises, sinks, moon is reborn. Does the lizard know that
to which we are blind, or do we too have a gland, atrophied now, which
feels time as a dimension of a rock or a tree?
To put the matter in time we tell it thus: four and a half billion
years ago the planet forms, a billion or so later is life. Now skip the
rest till we get to recent times: two hundred and fifty million years
ago a glacier melts and a basin is revealed. Africa is as yet undisclosed
but the basin we can see from the train, or out the window of the car
on the long black road.
But the koppies, you say. What are they? Ah, my friend,gather closer
round, for we are talking secrets of the land.To the dispossessed the
moon was male and so was the sun. This is the body of the earth and up
there – yes, turn your head – in that star-struck sky are the daughters
of the rain. Now reach down and touch her gently. You too she feeds.
The sun and moon were not always thus
whisper the rocks. Time’s motion is a recent thing.
Far from here in the south by candlelight
the dispossessed, taken chained and bound,
tell the secrets of the land to one who writes it down
and dies. These stories are still carried by the wind
that was once a man and then a bird
in the koppies, in the caves.
The sun comes, the darkness goes, the sun sets, the moon at night,
the sun comes out, the moon decays, goes painfully away and is reborn.
Yes, but there is death, you say. Time’s measure is the finite life.
Without death time does not exist. Where is its home? you ask.
In the pool the hamerkop whispers. In the pool wherein fall the stars.
Beneath the surface a death is falling into life at the same time as
the silver surface captures the shooting star.
Where there is death there is life.
Where the void is, there is time.

Copernicus was never here, nor Newton, nor Galileo. Never gone the
long history’s people, the space long known where the distance of a
star can be felt as easily as a mother’s waiting embrace. (It can be
ascertained with the naked eye from it’s fixity relative to a mountain
by a man who can run a buck to exhaustion.)
Long before Einstein, the people here, later dispossessed, were painting
relativity and space-time on the rocks. The paintings work like a holograph:
the observer provides the mental light for paradoxical journeys through
fistulas in time.
The projection of the stars, themselves projections of some other sort,
in the silence of the night animate tortoise, buck and hare. Descartes
divided mind and body but here sight faster than light penetrates the
hardest stone.
Once a deep compulsion drove springbok to trot
oblivious to obstacle and attack toward the west Atlantic shore
where they drank the water and died by the million
along thirty miles of coast. Some say it was overpopulation
or too little space that activated an ancient impulse ignoring
disasters on the way. If so, the desert might heal us of that affliction,
wake us out of the trance that sends us unswerving
toward the precipice in our own apocalyptic time.
The healing is not imagined. The chest expands, fills with breath.
Breath is thought, wind formerly a bird. One soars,
finds unity with the stars.
We can see it in the shimmering rock and eagle wing – they interpenetrate.
Go to the images. Stand close. Watch them separate.

The long straight road, the railway line, koppies, a cloudless sky,
pumpkins on the iron, emptiness. That’s one version of it.
Or, where there are sudden storms: a gentle cow with wisps of
breath, or if it is male, then hail, sometimes on a sunny day.
In the distance lightning fetching those, now stars, who pick the
flowers of the rain.
The movements of stones gripped by ice are recorded on the pavement slate,
each scratch a single act in time too large to comprehend with senses
geared to a single life. Sandstone tells of periodic floods,
giant reptiles dying into mud. Layers of slate suggest rivers of clay.
Magma bursts like a woman’s flood. All  of history leads to
where we are now, early mammal-like reptiles they were, we say
to avoid the embarrassment of us being they in one and the same moment of
unified time, immigrants from the north in the middle Permian.
We talk rather of what the farmer saw: a frozen buck wakes, shakes off
cracking ice, a lizard’s eye tells it when its warm enough, thick mud
walls and shutters keep out the heat, snakes, lions, strangers, the
There is another story told in wind
of wind that was once a man then bird
dropping bloodstained feather into a pool
among the daughters of the rain
ostrich becoming ostrich again
while sun thrown up into the sky
reshapes the moon that does not die
for ever, but reborn gathers souls,
and clouts the hare and splits its lip
for doubting resurrection of the dead.
Form and time, time and space, when we leave the car beside the road,
interpenetrate. Preserved in sediments of rock, and rock itself from
bacteria deep within, when we lose ourselves in the larger time,
we are the fleeting moment in its trancelike state. The dispossessed,
more than those who brought the sheep, know that wind was once man,
and birds living matter in flight.
A world at odds with what we learned at school, their images take us
into a world denied, and sadden us who have been made blind or who
blind our children to the realm.The interpenetration of our separated
things is the clue to what’s represented here.Behind the fixity of
form, an Eden, monstrous often, evokes longing for the exiled home.
But if rock and rain and plant and sheep are one and the same, where
is the structure that guides them to their form? Not DNA – in the
larger time it too is born and dies – but memory perhaps, the thoughts
and histories invisible to our senses that draw  us to our destinies.
The present moment, marooned, scars the stone,but thoughts leave no
apparent residue.Is that why the car goes past and doesn’t stop?
It’s the Karoo my dear. There’s nothing here.
Born as bacteria in the rocks we unable to grasp the picture
except with tears. The paintings tell it all. As long as you don’t
interpret them.

The church spire pinwheels the cosmos which spins around the
unmoving town built on shale of dinosaur bone and ancient
plants. The silence of the night is punctuated by the windmill’s
cry. Water from deep down is directed onto dust and great
landscapes rise and fall echoing an history embedded in the soil.
In the surrounding hills the owl and the jackal are about, and
the wind of the stars and the sleeping town speak to each other
in the enfolded night.
The wind pump turns, refracting light onto the stone wall of the
dam. Emptiness is not empty here but what fills it has no name.
Dry, the river but water speaks through mint, as does the owl
through perforated shell, the jackal through feathered carcass
and the farmer’s gun through the stuffed eagle in the town’s
It is speculated that the images on the stone
when the dispossessed were in their ecstasy
separated and took form in space
through which they passed into the death.
Not the death we say is at the end of life
but the ocean of light in which rocks now rest.
The same melt of space from the dying ice
is around the farmer’s house and the eagle in flight.
The eland are gone and we marooned among cars but here
where form becomes time, mind penetrates the hardest stone.
For the road and the railway are our lives, but for the veil the
two worlds would meet.
Here is a world of spirit in stone. The penetration of it in mind -
the dissipation not the passing through – is what I mean. Here is
the time of the early race played out in landscape unbounded by
form. Here, carved on pavements of stone, are the secrets
longest known.
According to modern physicists, we are constituted of dimensions
infinitely small for which we have no senses, or at least none
of which we are aware. Perhaps one day our parietal eye
stimulated by a reborn sun will allow space-time to bathe us
more apparently.
We are born in silence and reborn in silence. To become the
veil means to abandon road and railway, to empty time of time.
For the destination is the departure and not beyond. The rocks
are our teachers. The rocks, the windmills, the tracks of small
animals in dry river beds, the scent of mint.
Ruben Mowszowski

I spent time with Ruben Mowszowski when I returned to South Africa earlier this year. His crisp writing and hungry-yet-careful eyes on the world wake me up to new ways of seeing. Ruben lives in Kalk Bay, the same salt-licked fishing village as my dear friend, ceramic artist Katherine Glenday

One late afternoon in January, we sat in an enclosed courtyard garden in the shade of an old syringa tree, eating olives and almonds and talking about travel, children, desert spaces, esoteric philosophy and astronomy. . . I was thinking back to some of that conversation two weeks ago when I posted David Wagoner's poem The Silence Of The Stars with its images of the Kalahari Desert and the !Kung Bushmen, ears tuned to the not-so-distant songs of stars. 

I've long been drawn to desert spaces. We walk and listen differently in them. This past week I've been in New Mexico with two dear friends and - two nights ago - a  very full moon. We have wandered the high desert landscapes, from deep rift valley to mesa-tops. It's impossible not to feel connected to the stars out here. 

I used to say I found comfort in the knowledge that no matter where in the world we are, we all live under the same sky; I still feel this, though recently there's been a key change. . . I've replaced the word 'under' with 'in' which allows for a whole new experience. 

We live in the same sky. 

I invite you take a swing on a pendulum and visit Ruben's website where you can enjoy his penetrating and poetic essays. In Karoo Time Machine Ruben witnesses a project to build the largest telescope of its kind in the Southern hemisphere. . . 

(And thank you, Ruben, for permission to post Karoo Moon here)

Stephen Inggs - Terra Incognita I (from the Palimpsest series - 2005)
Handpainted gelatin silver emulsion on paper, Edition 2/20

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
 Helen Lowe is this week's TP editor with an important and challenging poem - VA Hospital Confessional - by New Zealand poet Brian Turner


  1. Beautiful work full of rich images. Even words like "Karoo" sound so plump and poetic.

    I know so many South Africans and even one of my brothers-in-law is South African. I'd love to get there before I die because everything I've seen and heard about its landscape is intoxicating.

    The fact that they have great surf is also an attraction.

  2. Wow, that's a poem, Claire, full of sense of place yet also dislocation--I think I shall have to return several times to take it all in.

  3. This is vast. And breathing all the way through. I really enjoyed your take at the end, too. This notion of "we live in the same sky" -- I just love that, and it resonates with the idea that we all share the same stars, moon, sun, no matter where we are on this globe. The opening photo too- I am drawn to it. Will have to come back again and again to this one, I think. Have marked it especially. Thank you for this marvellous post.

  4. Thanks for this Claire. It's magic and I need to revisit slowly. I understand what you mean about in the same sky. I have spent nights camping in the ouback (Australia. Do you think it's something to do with the curve of the horizons in those large open spaces? No buildings to hide the sky.

  5. Thanks Ben, Michelle and the two Helens. You may be interested to read an article I have written on the proposed location for the SKA telescope in the Karoo.

  6. "We live in the same sky." Oh I loved this, Claire. The poem and your words. And yes, replacing just one word with the other changes he whole perspective.
    I'm off to visit Ruben. :)