Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.

The Boy and his Mother


 

The long black hair lush
Hangs in a curve and sweep to the shoulder with flair.
The woman is large yet by no means fat
Big boned, I have always thought.

The looks are plain but I am told she was a beauty.
Now, however, at 33 with three births behind her
The looks are not what they were, I assume.

But it is not the looks that count. This woman
Projects radiance, an excess of charm almost.
A ready smile that wins all within its range.

This aura has her the centre of attention wherever she is,
Women as alike as men, men especially.
The voice is low and somewhat husky at times.

This woman is not moulded by God as housewife.
Artists, men and women, are never domesticated,
But are animals wild of the night.

The house, no, only the kitchen, therefore, was a complete mess
As if the contents of a dumpster had been emptied everywhere.
On the shelf of the kitchen window, behind the sink,
Were milk bottles half full of coagulated milk.

There was a man in the house, nominally her husband.
But you never saw him, his study door always closed.
At dusk the woman fled the house, her children bedded.

Of she would go the noisy zoo parties. The boy must have
accompanied her for he has memories of them.
Full of vivacious people. Loud life filling every room,
conversation chattering. More than monkeys.

Being a boy of six or seven, you can be sure the nature of the
Conversations were pretty much incomprehensible, adult talk.
Lots of drinking, not much food, but little intoxication.
The artistic energy, palpable in the room, expunging
Alcohol’s toxic effects.

The parties seemed to run most days of the week and usually
Lasted ’til dawn, in time to see to the boys up and off to school.
Probably to sleep while her children were at school.

In those days, when milk was still delivered fresh to the doorstep
By horse and milk float, cars were few, one or two in a street,
Maybe. Children walked to school in all weathers; the city
School authorities ensuring that there was a school in every
Neighbourhood. I guess private school boys travelled by bus.

Corporation bus, uncomfortable, with open rear entrance.
I say school boys because, while there were some private
Schools for girls, the majority were for boys.

And there were a great many of them. More, perhaps than
Any other city in the British Isles; Merchant Schools
They were called, speaking eloquently to their origins.

With a perennially absent spouse, the boy spent a lot of time
With his mother. He had been told by her and other family
Members that his had been a difficult birth. That may account for
Her treating him like a friend, a confidant more than a son.

A favourite son, for sure; several ranks above her other two.
Her “three boys:” all obviously doted on, but him special.
I am sure he felt that there was something particular
To being a grown woman’s friend.

All his life he got on well with women, far more so than his sex
Normally does, with that word being the operating, dominant
Mechanism in their relations with what might be laughingly referred to
As the fair sex. I have never understood what the phrase means;
It belong to a previous era?

The relationship clearly had its advantages over what is usually thought of
As a normal childhood. The boy accompanied his mother on her
Frequent trips to her parents’ home. Her husband apparently was
Unwelcome there.

The brothers presumably stayed at home. But the boy never knew, never
Inquired, even in later years, This exposure to experiences that a more
Regular family environment might not have produced was a formative
Influence on him. What it might have been to be without them, of course,
He couldn’t have said.

The boy’s horizons were greatly expended: born in England but relocating to
Scotland before being a year old reinforced his Englishness
Whatever benefit this might had in later years. He did though leave the
Father’s home as soon as he could to return to his beloved England.

He stayed with his mother’s brothers. Uncles his brothers
Never knew nor met. Neither did they know their maternal
Grandmother or grandfather. The formative influence referred to
A moment ago included the fact that his grandfather and his uncles,
All being engineers,resulted in the boy selecting, later on, that
As his profession, despite its clear unsuitability.

It will come as no surprise to you who read this that he much later returned
To his maternal roots and embraced the arts he had known as a child. But not
Before he had spent a lifetime in a profession, in which, while he excelled in it,
Became progressively oppressive to the point of being claustrophobic.
There is a lesson for all of us in this.

To say that the boy’s mother was artistic is to rather understate the case.
She dripped art, oozed art from out the very pores of her skin. Yet to my
Knowledge, she never had any training in it. The woman could draw.
How she could draw. A small mark, a single mark on a piece of craft paper
Had a form, a finesse, an Chinese like beauty, that others
Could not hope to emulate no matter how much their training.
When, finally, the spouses separated, after the greatest acrimony
for misdemeanours.

We shall silently pass over, and the mother was saddled with her three children,
The artistic life was curtailed as the woman tried to maintain a job to sustain
Her children, bereft of any kind of support from her ex husband. At a time when such a situation Was uncommon, and jobs for a woman without any kind of training hard to find, she gave up the unequal struggle. She abandoned her boys to the care of their father, an unknown being to any of them.

The boy was devastated at the separation, now nine years of age.

“Take me with you!”

“I’ll come back and get you soon.”

She never did.

Malcolm D B Munro
Wednesday 17 February, 2016

 

Filed under: poetry

What I Did in My Youth


i was recently asked on a couple of occasions as to what
i did when i was growing up. when the interlocutors
discovered that i did not play sport, that brought the
conversation to an immediate halt.

my youth was extended from age 9 to the end of high
school, years i was in my father’s care. i suppose that,
strictly speaking, that period, covers me as an older boy
to youthhood.

there were three of us, me, the eldest, and the other two,
a year and a year and a half apart, so we were pretty close.
well, until aged 12 when i suppose i officially became a
yoof.

the subject of sport and my relationship with it is soon
put to bed. outside school i did none. at high school
you had to something so i would engage with others
in the strenuous exercise of cross country smoking, that
sort of thing. my brothers had an enthusiasm for running
round the block, which comprised running round several
neighborhood blocks. there are plenty of parks in edinburgh,
none close to where we lived, at least within reasonable
walking distance, though we sometimes went.

at primary school you had to do gym. the gym master seemed
to wear gym clothes all the time. on one occasion, for some
infraction, he took of one of his gym shoes and whacked me
on the backside. i was incensed. in reply to my expressing my
outrage to my father, he gave the deeply sympathetic answer of

“well, you probably deserved it.”

corporal punishment was encouraged in those days. character
building and all that.

i may have told the sport loving questioners that i am
a couch potato. that is true. reading til 4 in the morning
has been a life long habit for as long as i can remember. still
you get shooed out of the house from time to time.

so you go out and play. for some reason, never explained,
my father would say,

“don’t play around the door.”

the age difference had my brothers and me had us very close. we would
go everywhere together, to the extent that the neighboring kids
would call us, “the three musketeers.” we didn’t do very much.
walk down city streets mostly. on one occasion i was singing,
as usual, brothers get used to this sort of thing, going down
morningside and a lady stopped me and gave me sixpence.

my bothers said that was to shut me up.

we played with other boys at school in the playground,
of course. we were each in different years so the
boys were different.

strictly speaking, we played sports of a kind. we adopted
a cricket club, middle brother was an enthusiast, knew off
by heart all the cricket scores in wisden going back a century.
the extent of our activities with the players was to score keep.
complex let me tell you. oh, and eat sticky buns at tea time.

for a period we went to boy scouts. amazing what adults come
up with to keep boys busy. i mean knots, semaphore, morse
code, lighting fires in pouring rain without matchsticks, you
know, stuff really useful for preparing you for adult life.

on one occasion, one of the scout masters had us build a
raft out of oil drums lashed together with all those sound
knots we learned; clove hitch  and so on, which we sailed
on the union canal at the back of the church where the
meetings were held.

for a while we would go to john menzies, just of the side of
prince’s street. we would read the comics in the showroom.
it wasn’t really a shop because menzies was, and maybe still
is, a magazine distributor. til the women in the showroom
got fed up with and made us feel unwelcome. comics from
america. we loved those.

on turning twelve, my playing with my brothers came to
an end. partly this was because the pater increased, meaning
volume, the hostility with which he had always treated me.

so i pretty much beat a retreat from the house after school
as soon, and as frequently, as i could and didn’t return til
late. which got later and later as i grew older. homework
was completed hastily, if at all. at some, point
at the age of fifteen or so, we enjoined, he and i, a sort of
sullen silence.

having a strict and terribly moral father, we never engaged
in anything which was contrary to the law. only on one
occasion, when we had stolen some airfix kits from
woolworth’s did we. caught, we were accompanied home
by a benevolent bobby. naturally, i took the brunt, as the
ringleader. equally naturally, we did not subsequently do
anything which transgressed in any way. this is true
too for the rest of my life.

life outside school post twelve was busy. dancing. that is
what i did. greatly to the disapproval of the parent. i was
a great dancer and love it still. bill haley had done his bit and
elvis was doing his, him and the everly brothers.

british youths were still getting into their stride. a local
band was heavily influenced by american music. in fact,
that is all they played. autie bbc had a stranglehold on
popular music music. popular with adults, that is to say.

we didn’t have an outlet. tint tinny transistor radios were
just coming in. i had my first listen at scout camp. radio
luxembourg. medium wave. thrilling. frank ifield and the
like.

i would gather after school at a cake shop on prince’s street
which had a lower floor, and sit for an hour and a half with
young boys and girls, all my age, from schools all over edinburgh,
private and government.

we would bus there. no parents had cars. only doctors; rich folk
like that. on one occasion, this now being the early sixties,
one boy, how he faced his parents i don’t know, had backcombed
his hair.

“it’s awfy good fer a boy!”

i would be terribly remiss if i did not mention music. ok, that
started when still spending time with my brothers. we would
go down to the ross bandstand on the castle side 0f prince’s street.

a military band would play every weekend throughout the summer.
rain? i don’t remember, i think they just played on.

later i joined the southern light opera company and sang in such memorable
pieces as chu chin chow, don’t ask… though earlier we, my brothers and i
had performed in the same theatre, the king’s, in gangshows, “we’re riding
along on the crest of a wave,” that sort of thing. place was packed, every year.
same thing. programme didn’t vary. must have been doting parents. though
not ours.

besides dancing, i went to parties. we had lots of them. high school kids,
friends, etc. at one in a housing estate; there were a few, build after the war,
one of those attending, strange fellow dressed in a red suit which was unusual
at the time, got inebriated to the point of my finding him in her parent’s bedroom with
his hands round his girlfriend’s neck. i have never been much of a drinker, and now not
at all. anyway i threw him out of the house. it was quite late at this point.

i stayed the night. the parents were somewhere else, out of town, or something.
the next morning there was a knock on the door. there on the doorstep was a
wee wifey; we have lot’s of them in edinburgh; had. she was irate.

“i’ve got a boy from here at my hoose. ye’d better come over and get ‘im.”

i found him in the kitchen looking very much the worse of wear and quite
sorry for himself.

“what were ye doin’ throwing him out on the street in the middle of the night?”

i didn’t explain.

edinburgh was a fabulous city to grow up. compact. cosmopolitan
during the ediburgh international festival, first in the world, and
parochial the rest. and safe. the only incident i recall was the
“scissors murder” just down from my high school. people gossiped
about it for months afterwards.

notice, i haven’t mentioned girls much. well, a healthy boy and youth
will take an interest in girls, and i certainly did. maybe next time …

malcolm d b munro
sunday 17 april, 2016

 

 

 

 

Filed under: poetry

Edward Halliburton’s Door


Edward Halliburton’s door was purple
Well, no, not really purple
It would take a lexicon of artist’s colours to define the real colour
It would take an instrument of the most delicate sort
A spectrograph worked by a dedicated scientist
Good at analyzing all the colours of the rainbow.

Because the Halliburtons painted their door every week
Royal purple would be mixed with some bright pink to produce lovat and finer shades in between
So that, actually, the purple lay somewhere toward the pink end rather than the Royal.

Anyway, there it stood in the Nash Georgian terraces of Edinburgh’s New Town
Amongst the blacks and browns and carefully created wood-grained varnishes
To proclaim to the sober elite of this elegant town
That this was the house of the Halliburtons.

Edward Halliburton’s door beckoned to the Bohemia of Edinburgh
And in they streamed in the evening until the wee small hours
To party and make whoopee. To celebrate life or otherwise
And this in the town where churches abound and the only partying is done
Courtesy of state laws until 10.30 pm at the local pub.

Edward Halliburton’s door would open to no mornings
It closed at dawn. To exit the last few stalwart stragglers, drunker than most
To wend their unsteady way through city streets
To their own homes and duller doors.

Let it softly be observed that Edward Halliburton’s door
Was an object of much hatred at home. By one half
Because the other spouse would go there frequently.

Did I say frequently? No, let me correct myself. To every party
This spouse went every time Edward Halliburton’s door opened
You might say that this spouse was an habitué.

And the other spouse, the better half in this case, or the injured party, at the very least
(A different kind of party from those of Edward Halliburton’s, you understand)
Was very angry with Edward Halliburton’s door. It was an object of much derision.

With a colour like cerise (this week’s colour) you can quite understand this
Cerise is a colour to get jolly angry with. Especially when your wife, who should be at home
Looking after your boys, and letting you get back to your typewriter, is there.

Edward Halliburton’s door was the subject of some envy and hatred amongst the neighbours
I mean, Edinburgh is the town of the Kirk. The Scottish Assembly Rooms are there.
And the Scots are not allowed to enjoy themselves. Well, not really.
Only a serious attempt could be permitted. But definitely no real jollity.

So the neighbours would complain nightly about Edward Halliburton’s door
And the police would come in their checkerboard hats to view for themselves the goings-on
That absented spouses from domestic bliss.

And eventually Edward Halliburton’s door had to be repainted
But this time it was not purple nor any colour near it.
You see Bohemia and Edinburgh do not mix.

Wine has been banished from the Kirk along with the wafer at the call of John Knox
And anyway, Bohemia really belongs somewhere deep in Europe, God knows where
But certainly not in Edinburgh, where there is not room for Edward Halliburton’s door.

Malcolm D B Munro
1984

 

Filed under: Culture

June, 1976


In Memory of Steven Biko

The nails are being hammered into the black hands of Azania
The spikes are being driven into the body of Christ in Soweto
The lighting masts are being raised into place to create the new Dachau.

The new Romans stand on the hill in Pretoria, to view the Republiek
The slaves are revolting again and many have been shot
It has been bloody, we can say that. It has been necessary.

As we put the wreath of laurels around the head of Malan
To praise him, we do not let them bury their dead in dignity
We stand here in unity, for unity is all, and sing our beloved “Die Stem”

As we sit here in Kaapstad, our mother city, and chat in our parliament
We have passed laws. Pass laws to control them. To our great satisfaction
But they are revolting again. This calls for measures.

We’ll take ’em. We’ll send in our Hippos and Rhinos
as white as our skins. They are made by the British, our friends. We gunned them
With Israeli machine guns. Yah! They’re our friends too, you know.

The nails are being thrust into the black bleeding hands of the new Uhuru
Dead in its tracks. The children are leaving. They’re going north
Ten, twelve, fourteen. They will never see their schools

They’re going north, the seed of the nation. They’re going to learn how to fight
To continue the struggle from Kenya and Nigeria
In camps of peace. Very far from home

Whilst the eyes of the world were diverted
Looking lovingly at the events in Czechoslovakia, in Poland
Down south, in that antipodal world, the smoke from the tire-necklaces is rising

Oh, they’ll never see their schools, the schools they did so love
Administered by the Bantu Education Department, with enforced Afrikaans
The language of their brothers. Ach, we lover them, you know

Oh, they’ll miss their schools that never taught history, nor math, nor physics, nor  sweet, sweet
Technology. But farming instead with a pick and hoe
And tribal affairs, And enforced Afrikaans.

They’ll miss their mothers and fathers and one-roomed shacks
And the dirt roads and no-grass playing fields
And schools with linoleum, cracked and worn, with only one phone.

And they’ll miss the lighting masts of the new Dachau.
They’ll miss the midnight arrests by the whitemen in blue. From beautiful British Landrovers.
They’ll miss pass laws and segregation actions and miscegenation laws.

And they’ll miss ninety-day detention without cause
To be released and interned again
And they’ll miss the bar of soap they might have slipped on, to die accidentally in jail.

Here we stand on our hill in Pretoria, you can hear the roar of the lions in the zoo
You can see our beautiful Jacarandas
And our beautiful valley where we keep hidden the Bomb.

Here we stand on our hill and you can see our lekker, Voortrekker monument
Tribute to the brave who fell to defend our country, the county God gave us
We claim our right to it in His name.

We stand on our hill. You can see our proud universities
Where we teach mathematics, and history, and physics and technology
Where Afrikaans is not enforced, and where we have more than one phone.

Here we stand on our hills and in our valleys
Beside our wine farms and our homesteads
Ach. God this land is beautiful. We’ll keep it that way.

We’ll stand together, we’ll stand proud, we’ll never let go
We love them. Its for their own good we do it. Ask them. They’ll tell you
They wouldn’t have it any other way.

The lighting masts stand in tribute eighty feet tall
A monument to technology
The art of control
The houses sit squat, maybe eight feet small
The illumination blinds you
It can be seen for miles
It it quiet now
Now that the children have gone.

Malcolm D B Munro
1984

Filed under: poetry

The Letter, the Word and the Book


The delicate writer’s pen moves to and fro
Sometimes moving quickly, sometimes slow
As it weaves its web, an intricate tale
Hurriedly scribbling before the words go stale.

The delicate web of a tale fully spun
Lifts from heart, head, to the paper for fun
The butterfly wing of iridescent hue
Is akin to the best that a writer can do.

A humming bird hovering on wing over water
There, in the writer’s mind, the words that matter
Solid objects, molten liquids, vaporous gases
More tangible in the writer’s eye than anything nature passes.

The wonder, the splendour, the magic she weaves
Catches you in a spell to have you believe
The stories, the poems, and the songs she makes rhyme
The soft, plangent rhythm that has you beat time.

The uplifting, the enchantment, the sheer, fierce escape
From life’s toils, spoils, troubles, that she can make
The radiance, the pleasure, all she can give
To have you the trauma of life forgive.

The dark shores made bright
The heavy load made light
The wealth of literature
The word, the sentence, the signature.

Language penetrates deeply, slips past the brain
Permeates the whole body, all emotions in its train
Its power is great, as many books attest
Nothing compares to the word at its best.

Malcolm D B Munro
August 1987

Filed under: poetry

Haunted by Riders


Haunted by riders
Haunted by riders
The mare in the night
(Equus, equus)
The crowd of supple stallions
The roans, dappled greys, coal blacks
Chestnuts.
The equestrian leap
The rush, pant
Froth and foam of
The gallop.
(Darum, darum, darum)
These horses are ridden
Ridden hard in the night
The clink of spurs, the
Sparkle of snaps
Guttural voices
Mutter low in command.
Racing along
The Fragonard feel
The wild-eyed look
The blinkers pulled back
By the stream of the wind
These horses are ridden
But the riders cannot
Be seen.

Malcolm D B Munro
1987

Filed under: poetry

Holy Sonnet 14: Batter my heart, three-person’d God; John Donne)


Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, ‘untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
John Dunn 1609
Posted Sunday 17 April, 2016

Filed under: poetry

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