Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
—'This must be the place', Talking Heads

Everyone hates a bore
Everyone hates a drunk
Everyone hates a sad professor
I hate where I've wound up.
—'Sad professor', REM

Father, I have my kingdom of rats.
In some rented room—
the basin stained like a smoker’s teeth—
in its crawlspaces where I hunt,

in cupboards I root, there is first
the unmistakable smell of rat.
They scatter royal droppings
and flout their despised life.

When I stagger through sleep to piss
in dream, a rat clatters or drags
its belly and disappears God
knows where down holes

gnawed against hope
through hardboard, mortar, stone.
And all is still.
Then it is morning, or evening.

The sky, diesel. Summer.
But the homeless burn plastic
against the cold. They circle
and mutter below my window.

Impeachments float up to me,
drift as if through sleep, fade
then rise, and rise, then are still.
But tomorrow, father, tomorrow

an accusation will rise again,
an acrid reminder flung at the world
from a fight between husband and wife
who every day below my window

salvage dinner from garbage.
Father, I do not care now
how easily irony comes to me;
do not care to hesitate and turn from statement;

do not care to embrace nuance,
the difficult art of infinite politesse;
or the wry, powerful indifferences
that beckon as our lives grow small

and sad each night, our minds
hardwired for and bristling
at the least drop of an inflection,
and gurgling at the quotidian

of our Cape Town we shore up —
hope against all hope
that it is the least bit monument
to our silence, our intellects

founded on hesitancy,
on the heroic gaze
turned from the breasts and cocks
washed at streams along our Sunday walks

* * *

From my neighbour below,
the indiscriminate thump of R&B
20 years old, or a brash, ignorant
new music. And the heaving

approaching orgasm as she fucks
another man today. I wish
for her voracity, her abandon.
Or his sinecure. And grip myself

in a lounge without thought
where slow comes a death
as I fry my brains on chatter:
televison, the drug of the nation.

Father, try as I do, I can give
no full tongue to this verse:
a stingy square
where Yeats and fucking Eliot

still ricochet from walls and stone.
These aridities. Where no one
will enter for rest, my verse
no garden. No sound

of the autochthon. No tourist destination
offering roast peacock
and all the other scars
of curios frozen in their craze.

* * *

Autumn perhaps. For weeks
I leave anti-coagulant.
The poison disappears
and I measure out more

and more, as I imagine
I feed a colony of rats
melting from the inside
until they are no more

but stain and fur. Underneath
my room, father,
lines of maggots advance
and the catacombs expand.

One hot day there is
a rat fighting off its death,
blood smears on the linoleum,
the thing sluggish

and cowering in the right angle
where a cupboard meets the floor.
I write this as it mewls
behind me, counting quatrains

until I’ll lift it with a spade
and feel its cold tail
draw one last shiver
as it curls weakly at my wrist.

* * *

Weak light. In Cape Town’s failing sun,
pied crows wheel and dip,
dart at and cajole each other,
then fall fast behind a sheen

of leaves—tall bluegum
that now ready themselves
to suck in in imperious draughts,
still slow in coming, winter’s rain.

One crow shoots into sight again
then tumbles, a stray, black
barb against the impossible blue sky.
So the birds play out autumn,

dusk falling fast each day.
Along a wall some form of ivy
plays its role in turning red.
This city that will not be my own.

Father. Comrade. Whomever you are
unlikely interlocutor,
how many exiles will the heart endure?
And Ambition?

When no line is ever equal
to this or to that?
To the suburb lost under fog;
to the hush of cars under soft rain;

to the impossible green
of the oak leaf wet with rain
or the clarity in summer
smudged by wind and dust;

no line equal to the blood warmth
from a dead rat’s cavity
breathing to anyone who cares
its terrible soul.

No line ever equal
to what is said or remains unsaid
as every night a million scabs

and the poison thins and retreats.
No measured tone ever solace
or equal to impossible angers.
No line no line ever father

as everyday I am poisoned
by the startled look
the clutch at a bag

the acid of fear;
in every quotidian day
one more of a kingdom of rats.

* * *

At the mouth of the subway
close to my block, I hesitate
at a garbage bag, discarded
and torn, the promise only of pages

I find in my own hand—junkmail,
the rot of food.
And a rat that darts into the brush
past a pile of rank human shit.

I heave my rucksack up,
clutch at groceries
and walk through,
glad to be home, glad

for rest, for sleep, or night’s
huddle over a desk
doing nothing
calming the world’s oldest anger.

Or I cook or buy chickens
and throw them out,
throw out loaves of bread,
half full bottles of wine

knowing I feed no one
and nothing but the bitter—
that face I dare not lose,
for I am harsh.

* * *

My house decays, my mind grows
squalid. Squalid. And heaped
with the news of the world
from last year, unclipped, unread.

My gut fat with comfits, it knows
no poverty. And father, God’s Avenger,
you swoop through my dreams
and turn it to nightmare. Always.

I wake and curse God
for this dread
heavy as an indictment,
a debt to and dread of the world.

* * *

Grime thickens in the corner,
cats’ hair, rat’s ear, a dry gecko
hunted and gutted
a year ago and left uneaten by the cats;

collections of bottles collecting
patina, film, crust.
I freeze between kitchen and lounge,
not knowing why I came here,

to this room or that corner, thinking
now of adjectives piling up
behind me: unrealised promise;
aspirant of fourteen years;

choked; piss–stained crotch.

I’ll half look behind me, shrug
and brush ash from my shirt,
pick at dried fat from last night’s
meat wolfed down: lust, then guilt.

These years. All these years father,
is the cancer eating at you,
and the time bomb ticking,
are these my heirlooms?

* * *

And who now will be my comrade?
Accept this dry aloe of verse,
everyone weaned on talkshows?
And turned from the world

to care in neat rooms
for personal accounts
well–cut and quaint
as an English garden,

delighted in a cube of sunlight?

I know the tumour, have watched
its protozoan crawl, its slow
ambition. Know its law: negation.
I abandon myself to its wiles.

But, father, I still want it all,
for all. And want to eat
not inherit the earth.
To deny bitterness is no release,

for the knife that cuts the cancer,
brings its own.