Category Archives: ONE IS TOO MANY

Isinama ndokunamatela. I, the adhesive grass, will stick fast to you.

The isinama is a kind of grass that sticks to one’s clothing when it is touched, and can hardly be brushed off afterwards. This proverb is used as a warning to any one to avoid a bad habit or an unworthy companion that cannot easily be got rid of.


Mount Warning

It was the mountain
I was always going to climb —
Swore that heat would not tire me,
Flowers and snakes could not
Poison my hands or feet:
Butcher-birds and crows become
Omens of good fortune, guides
To an undergrowth track.

Spurred on by the sight
Of the mountain, hill after hill
I climbed for a vantage point:
Felt the ice of a willow’s breath,
Touched the fire that does not burn
In a flame-tree’s midday leaves.

Its summits clouded in mist
Or the end-of-spring fires,
I walked through ploughed fields
To its foot-hills, chewed
Grass and swallowed rain-water,
Gauging its height from burnt-out stumps.
Cattle followed like a scattered procession,
Pausing at the creek.
I returned home
By a different path — plagued by
Its shape and my hesitation.

Under the cover of sunset
I opened my door to its shadow —
Abysmal at the threshold!
Prayed that winds and rain
Might wash it backwards, into
The desert overnight.

Talking to people, trailing
Mullet and catfish,
Searching creek-banks for rainbow-birds
And tortoises — day and night
The mountain haunted me
Like a dying parent’s curse.

It became the wish
I never made—the child I never had,
Promise I was not to keep,
Bible I should never open:
Tomorrow’s mountain, always there,
To be climbed without loss and fear.

Unsifted by memory for the shallows of a dream
I left the mountain like gold in a stream.

Peter Skrzynecki