February 5, 2011

Review by Moira Richards

LIGHT AND AFTER
by Kobus Moolman

Deep South Publishing
South Africa
ISBN 978-0-9584915-7-0
2010, 64 pp.
www.ukznpress.co.za

The phrase “light and after” suggests some sort of journey or exploration and that is how this collection reads to me. The index shows a listing of three dozen or so poem titles and page numbers but like footsteps on a path, the pieces are not so much discrete individual poems as the parts of a larger whole.

The poet sets his scene with the section entitled “Home”–but what a home it is! This home is a spooky claustrophobic place, narrated in prose poetry and with the distancing of third person. The home, this house, is new, beautiful and modern…yet:

                Something was coming in, And going out again. Coming
in. And going out again. Unable to make up its mind. Something
he could not see. Of unrecognisable shape. Something he sensed
only. With the hairs on his skin.

(“Moving”)

Later, after the un-introduced “he” has determined to escape his home in a boat, a huge crack appears and swallows up the house, the street, him…

                                                                                                                   And
the last thing he saw, as the black wave of the pit closed over him,
was a boat, a small wooden rowing boat, sailing empty-handed
into the sky.

(“The Solution”)

Things get worse still: there is a door with no handle with which he can let himself out; there is a window “that refuses to look at him,” and in a piece written with ominous, chant-like repeats, his dreams of a escape to some sort of peace in the clouds devolve into a nightmarish sky that…

echoes like a man on a narrow bed in a small room
with his eyes closed, and the whole world collapsing
inside his head.

(“The Room”)

The second section of the book, or leg of the journey, is entitled “Light.” This sounds hopeful, positive, but given the subversion of “home,” I am wary. This section is filled with surreal, mystifying, strangely satisfying images and, you’ll notice, the appearance of odd, disjointed body parts:

“Why, even the sky,” the hands
say, “has dropped all of
its clouds.”

(“Winter Trees”)

The stones were born
without legs. They must use
their eyes to move.

(“Loxton – Karoo – Dusk”)

Between the blades of the wind
his dripping hand
stammers

(“Beneath the Yellow Moon”)

And then, with a shift to first person, the “Light” journey ends too, with poetry of repetitions. But this time there is hope, perhaps a sense of incantation to invoke the good spirits–a suggestion of overcoming the odds:

We who quench fire with fire all night
know that wings are not the only ladders
to the dark, that heavy wood swims too
in the tide of the wind.

(“Survival”)

“Anatomy,” the third section, makes use of first person to grab the reader closer into the poetry, into the collection’s journey. Here Moolman’s sequence zooms in to focus on imperfectly functioning body parts–real? Metaphorical? Either way, they have plenty to say to tease and torment the beleaguered narrator.

I hear the hand all day.
I hear it whispering behind walls.

I hear the hand call out, and turn my back.

it is only the hand that
holds me up, that holds me onto
the narrow path, where there are no handholds,
only deep and empty falling.

(“The Hand”)

The foot is a hole made by a shard
of memory.

I hold the foot in my hand every night,

The foot pretends that it has something to say.

(“The Foot”)

By now I feel as if I’m reading a musical drama. The non-narrative and fragmented bits of imagery are laid and overlaid to generate a sense of parable. I turn to the last section of the sequence, “Afterwards,” knowing that I can expect some sort of resolution, acceptance, an understanding that what is, is. And I am not disappointed in the finale–once more repeats of motifs from the earlier movements, once more an inevitability conjured by word refrains:

suddenly all of the sky was behind him
the haze cleared instantly
he could move freely for the first time in his life
without holding on to a thing

and accept that he will never be able to sever his link
with himself that even when he should die
it would not be anyone else’s death
except his own.

I loved the reading of this poetry. I loved my re-readings of the collection because each one yielded more nuance, more texture, another layer of pattern to the experiencing of the text.