The ‘Tamil Sangam’ Sequence
The ‘Tamil Sangam’ Sequence was first published in the South African literary magazine Stanzas.
The mountains impress
the plains as the sunlight
reveals their beauty.
In the morning haze
I trail my hand along the tall wet grasses
until my fingers are dripping
And I am refreshed.
(what the lover told his friend, the young woman overhearing)
The evening market is busy
with traders and customers
bargaining under lamps and lights
word-wrestling for the best deal.
Only, one stall is unattended,
empty, with no seller.
And the world rushes by.
(what the wife told her friend, awaiting her husband’s return)
The dog looks longingly
at the food,
intense. Silently willing
the satisfaction of the meal
through the determination of his eyes.
He waits, focussed,
but his master eats everything.
(what the lover told his friend about his lost love)
Echo of angels.
as rain on a summer’s day.
Here, in this chaos,
(what the young soldier said to himself, remembering his mother)
The journey is long
into far off places.
I have not heard from him
neither has he heard me
since this searching began,
he only asks is his food ready,
have I seen the laptop charger.
(what the wife told her friend, the husband overhearing)
It was only recently, just now,
I learnt what none of his family knew.
That their pride and my hope
shared his ripe fruits
with a secret love,
and let her eat and wipe her mouth,
the day before he made vows to me,
and sang our wedding song.
I’m not sulking but suing.
I’m not dying. I’m divorcing.
(what the wife told her friend, the mother-in-law overhearing)
The waves wear down the beach,
whose skin is cracked and drawn.
At dusk the seagulls flap and caw
but finding only scraps they fly.
My youthful beauty slowly fades
and my desire is smoke that rises.
This adventurer, on his journey,
is missing moments he cannot reclaim
and I am missing them with him.
(what the wife told her friend, complaining of her husband’s absence)
*This sequence of poems is styled after the Tamil Sangam poetry of South India (roughly 3BC-AD2). Each poem falls into the akam (interior) genre and adheres fairly closely to one of the five thinais (contexts) with the exception of 4 and 5. 4 is non-romantic and, although occurring on the battlefield isn’t technically ‘exterior’ or public (punim). 6 (marutam) plays on the idea of the husband’s absence in search of wealth metaphorically: he is ‘miles away’ in the next room, surfing the net.
While these verses can stand separately, it is hoped that they generate an interest in the delightful Sangam verse tradition.
Akam – inside, interior, heart, mind, sexual pleasure etc
Punim – outside, exterior, heroism, leadership etc
Thinais – ‘land’, the places and regions, the setting
Kurinji – clandestine meeting of lovers (the hills – night or cool season)
Mullai – hopeful waiting of the wife (pastures and woods – late eve and monsoons)
Marutam – the infidelity of the man and the sulking of his wife (countryside and plains – mornings and all seasons)
Neidal – the wife’s anxious wait for the husband’s return (seaside, beach – nightfall and all seasons)
Palai – the lover’s departure and travel through wilderness in search of wealth, education or adventure (wilderness, waste land – midday and summer)
Kaikkilai – ‘inferior’ love, one-sided or unrequited
(The above definitions are adapted from Venkatachalapathy’s introduction to Love Stands Alone Penguin Books India, 2010)
©2016 Lex Loizides
Kolmanskop is a deserted town in Namibia. After the discovery of diamonds in the desert by a railroad worker buildings were erected, workers brought in, and much money was made. However, once the final diamonds were taken Kolmanskop gradually died. Now it is empty with the sand filling the deserted houses. Tourists can visit the surreal town. Several themes are dealt with here: greed, injustice and racism, the transience of human endeavour, the patient superiority of nature over frenetic human greed etc.
They’re all gone now.
They deserted Diamond Town.
The splintered beams and glassless windows
of abandoned buildings echo only
the more persistent scale of ascent:
This block for the labourers,
This house for the manager,
This dream for the Boss.
It was a railway worker,
it was Lewala,
sweeping the tracks,
found the first fallen star.
Curious, he brushed away the sand.
And hid it for two days
Before he opened up his hand.
Busy with papers, Stauch looked up,
His concentration masked a grin,
His jutting innards forced into a calm.
Of course Lewala was handsomely rewarded,
Oh that boy did well. He was promoted,
Became the driver of the Baas’s coach,
The first of his family to own a silver watch.
And then they came
like khakied geckos shuffling in lines,
day and night,
winning swimmers breast-stroking in the sand,
lifting out stars in the moonlight.
This was an addiction beyond pleasure,
‘They lay as thick as plums under a plumtree.’
‘One of our men returned crazy, in wide-eyed silence,
No more room in his pockets;
He had a mouthful of diamonds!’
A sudden rush, the great white interest came,
fingering the sand dunes for her jewels.
A town was born, like a real town
with real accommodation for labourer, manager, Boss.
For a time the world was miraged in the sand,
a Casino in the desert,
satisfying the thirst of thirsty men.
It’s not as though there wasn’t enough…
This poverty thing. This resource thing.
But God rained them down,
He rained them down in the desert.
We found diamonds in the desert!
So it was us then? This poverty thing.
Lewala was sent to Cape Town,
all the coloureds had to go. It was the War.
Stauch returned to Germany richer than stay awake dreams.
They call it the Ghost Town.
poking eager heads through the empty frames of windows.
The desert’s in the house today
the rising climb of mountain ranges in the hallway,
vast sand dunes rising to the ceiling,
stretching out majestically,
the horizon kissing the faded outline of a picture frame
on the patterned wall.
This is a landscape in the lounge.
We built a town called Kolmanskop.
There was a rush all right,
Frenzied fishing in the sand.
But the stars have gone,
and the slow inevitable weight of sand has won,
pushing through the hallway,
elbowing into the dining room,
swallowing the past.
©2014 Lex Loizides
The Explorers was first published in The South African Literary Journal: New Contrast
We were adventurers then,
Lost in all our finding,
Little conquerors over a streaming brook,
Leaping from stone to rock,
Peering into the sun-warmed ripples,
Bending with our hand-made nets,
Scooping up our sticklebacks and stones.
We were the happy venturers,
Laughing in our jungle,
Leaping across our Amazon,
Balancing on the boulders of the world.
Further on, the river curved,
Yielding the discovery of a small
smiling stretch of sand
It was our favourite miniature, the Beach.
And whenever we reached it
We’d made it to the Beach.
I ought never to go back there.
Back to where we were.
I know it’s either all gone,
Or is just the remains of what
it actually may have been,
Just the end of something,
a small brook
At the back of the V Park, Enfield N9;
Now a paltry remnant
With some half-sunk junk
And the meagre waters
Disappearing darkly under the dual carriageway.
And my kids would say,
‘Dad! Why have you brought us here?
Why have you brought us out here?’
I know. I know.
But when we were the Explorers,
It was a day in the country then.
And I wish I could take you there,
Oh I wish I could take you out there.
© 2015 Lex Loizides
the mountain and the sea
the mountain and the sea was first published in The South African Literary Journal: New Contrast in 2016
you can’t see where they meet
where the waves are folding into one
two turbulent oceans merging into a dream
the sudden beauty of the mountain
calms the landscape
go back in time
and fast-forward the changing view
the wooden homes and taverns
a stone grey fort
an almond hedge
curved white facades
and pillared colonial assertions
on busy banker’s streets
then graceless angles
now swiftly rising scrapers shining
above as etching shadows
of days months years epochs pass
the immutable mountain stands majestic
as the sea blurs into photographic calm
the shadowed statues shift or fall
straining at the echo of a voice from city hall
in the still present
slow rolling waves of cloud descend and disappear
over her tranquil top
beautified by each day’s differing shades of light
presiding as if for ever
over our turbulent seas
© 2016 Lex Loizides
Drop me to the page
The phrase ‘drop me to the page’ was the last line of a spam email supposedly from a woman eager to hear back from me. This immediately suggested the process of writing verse. And, as the Greeks knew, an interaction with the Muse was both enhancing and demanding.
Drop me to the page, poet,
Lay me line by line,
Fret over my form until
I’m satisfied you’re mine.
Sculpt my shape in syllables
And fix me for an age
Draw me from your dreams, poet,
And drop me to the page.
© 2016 Lex Loizides