'Bowl After Singing Bowl of Horizons,' a prose poem of my life in sections, part scrapbook, part travelogue, an immigrant poem of the always arriving with its tracings of memories of the singing bowls of horizons traversed, maps a journey across continents...and is embedded in the following nineteen photomontages.
for my father, D. Richard Clews, 1922-1984
My father pulls me
over an ever-changing horizon,
one country to the next.
I am an immigrant,
the landed and converted,
one of the millions from elsewhere.
I arrived when I was ten,
and I am still arriving.
I crawl over the globe,
composed of bowl
after singing bowl of horizons.
I am a trajectory;
I have no roots;
only the tracings of memories
of the continents I have lived on.
between earth and sky,
dividing one from the other,
the horizon holds us in place,
the horizon keeps us here.
It surrounds us like a bowl,
an arc, a place of vanishing...
What is on this side
is now, the actual, the real;
what is on the other side is sky,
the unfathomable, mist,
what is disappearing into the beyond.
I am from elsewhere,
over and past the horizon,
from the place of vanishing.
The horizon opens before me
and closes behind me.
He strides over the landscape
khaki pockets full with stone shards
dust in his hair, on his clothes
hundreds of sample bags in canvas carriers
reading the land, its composition
the way I read a recipe.
My father, the geologist,
emptying our tiny apartment
onto a truck, packing us into his jeep
journeying deep into the bush in Zambia,
dirt roads bumpy with potholes
untouched raw land, savannah, grasslands, forest
the jungle closing over us, like vines, tall winding grasses
like branches of baobab trees grown thick as roots in the sky,
pushing the petrol pedal with his snake boots
our surroundings thick with insects
alive with the fauna of jungle animals.
Two hundred miles from the nearest town
our encampment in Kafue National Park
half a century ago, without fridges or stoves or bathrooms
or the TV that didnÕt come to Africa for another decade,
joining a team of white explorers,
an American mining company prospecting for copper.
Our house, stamped dirt walkways
between mud huts:
living room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, bathroom, outhouse.
We travel from hut to hut the way you walk from room to room.
My playground, all of the outdoors.
Singing bowl of life, the Kafue River flowing clear,
fresh, pure, under a deep, pure sky.
We live among the animals:
slow and awkward giraffes, lazy belching hippos,
crocodiles as sly as water-logged logs,
long slithery pythons, blinding spitting snakes,
deadly black mambas, panoplies of birds,
herds of lumbering African elephants,
buck nimbly dancing over the savannah,
ants as huge as the paperclip holding these pages,
and once a lion who was blonde and noisy.
Kafue National Park, established in 1950, one of the largest game parks in the world, 8,650 sq mi, or 22,400 sq km, consists of a vast plateau through which the Kafue River flows. It is noted for its lush vegetation and abundant wildlife.
Sources for images, starting at upper left and going clockwise:
Giraffe by Bernd Brinkmann:
Elephants and Giraffe at watering hole:
The Cheetahs: http://ww...
My father, the prospectors
digging trenches, taking samples
following the flow of the river,
My Nanny, who I climb all over,
welcomes me into her brood of children,
and Neddy, my first best friend...
though forbidden, I go often to their village,
sit in dark huts, roofs of thick dried grass
and bright sarongs for doors, eat meals
of mealie-meal, a young white guest...
the Ndembu people, their hospitality
their stories of the many spirits their
rituals appease in the beyond for the here.
On weekends we hear drumming,
and the gigantic ones used to send messages
from village to village, and there is dancing
and singing, this drumbeat in my heart.
Then, the mystery, our encampment,
from miles around, for years, bearing gifts,
laying them at my feet, precious blue eggs,
prize chickens, irridescent feathers, clay goddesses,
prayers and offerings, we never understood,
me, clinging to my motherÕs skirt, hiding,
when the witchdoctor in full regalia
came shaking his rattles.
Image on lower left from, Sean Sheehan, Zimbabwe (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2004) p.60
I am the only white child.
I am blonde, blue-eyed, pale-skinned.
I am an English transplant.
I am worshipped, honoured, adored.
I am shy and frightened, and always
ride away on my tricycle as soon as I can.
I remember those ebony people,
their dark eyes, so shiny they reflect you back to yourself,
huge baobab trees, cerulean skies, flies and mosquitos,
spectral warmth of sun, their hair, curly and fuzzy, soft,
bushy, that I love to touch, their language, its short
fast syllables that I speak better than English,
the vivid patterns of their wrap-around clothes, and elegance, carrying huge baskets of fruit on their heads,
their sensual movement, the way they speak
like a music of rivers flowing into the Falls,
and try to understand why, why not a black child?
Sources for images: Marshall Cavendish, Zimbabwe (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2004), baobab tree, p.13; crowd, p.99. Gregory Scott Kreikemeier, Africa, A Photographic Journey (Racine, Wisconsin: Western Publishing, 1993), women carrying supplies, p.24.
Lorries come and go
carrying supplies, medicine in
samples of rock and soil out.
Before the rainy season
a convoy of trucks appear,
sacks of flour, rice, potatoes,
cans of condensed milk, powdered milk,
fruit, vegetables, corned beef,
crates of beer, wine, coffee, tea
a truckload of toilet paper,
everything a civilized group needs.
Then the land closes in, and the rains come,
and flood our dirt roads, and everybody stays in,
waiting, playing cards, arguing, writing reports,
struggling with mosquitos and isolation.
Background image of truck from: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Feb2002/200202151h.jpg
For four years, collecting samples,
waiting out the rainy seasons,
flying into town and back
in the small bush plane,
then the mining company
looking for copper shuts camp,
and we journey out of the jungle.
Out of the back of the jeep,
the horizon like a green snake
holding the earth on this side.
The dome of the jungle sky
unfolds from the earth
clear blue in daytime,
dense black in night-time,
clustered with billions of stars,
the great lights of the sky,
calling us beyond
For the last time
that dome of night sky
unfathomably rich with stars.
The lights ahead spread like stars,
each town we come to,
streetlights, cars, movement, energy,
the rectangular glow of office buildings,
lights emanating from windows
of rows of warm houses
kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms,
places to eat, relax, sleep,
everywhere this light
twinkling if you are ascending or descending
in an airplane,
meaning, always, inhabitation.
Everywhere in the world.
The world of the jungle vanishes
behind the horizon as we journey on
now a family of five, to Lusaka, capital of Zambia.
No soft earth underfoot here,
concrete and tarmac,
stiff school desks, whites only,
our house in the suburbs,
the tiny concrete box out back
with a mattress and shower
for the black servants,
my playmates, my friends, my teachers,
my soul mates, this apartheid.
Map of Zambia: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9801/02/zambia.kaunda/zambia.lusaka.jpg
Apartheid poster: http://www.keykids.nl/images/apartheid.gif
Servant quarters: http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/case-examples/images/zambia-coreshack-kal-lt.jpg
in the shadows
of my bedroom in our brick house
where only the angels
Angels whose wings
are like iridescent rainbows in the spray
over Victoria Falls,
the smoke that thunders.
sources for images of Victoria Falls: http://www.nyanjasafaris.co.uk/images/devils_cataract.jpg; http://www.nyanjasafaris.co.uk/images/vicfalls.jpg
My father pulls us through the southern tip of the continent,
leaving Lusaka, a year later, on our way to England,
whirling through the eyehole of Capetown,
birth place of my parents,
here, grandparents, aunts and uncles,
and dozens of cousins, all strangers.
I am seven years old, the merry-go-round in the park my favourite place, spinning around and around,
as I thread the horizons of my life.
I am learning to make friends and to leave them.
Curl of ocean foam, white sand beach, mountain flat on top
this picturesque picture remains.
Boarding a huge ocean liner,
relatives like mirages, people I am connected to but do not know,
strangers whose genes I share, of whom I am an offshoot,
waving, waving goodbye.
I am leaving something I have never known,
extended family, a brood of belonging, an understanding of heritage.
I am an immigrant, always from elsewhere, always under my
eyelids another vision plays its scenes.
The ship, like a village on the ocean, massive, luxurious.
From the porthole in my cabin
the slosh of ocean blue against blue sky.
Only this stark horizon of the leaving of Africa.
A man dresses as Neptune as we cross the equator.
Long flowing white scraggly hair, stamping his trident on the deck,
a sack wrapped around his torso, judging.
Beautiful women are captured by crew,
their hair scrubbed with flour and water,
thrown into the pool.
People are drinking and cheering.
The whole ship parties.
I hide while I watch,
not wanting to be dowsed with flour and water,
not wanting my hair turned into solid snake strands.
My brothers and I are twirled in streamers
as we race from NeptuneÕs helpers.
Sources for images: Ocean: http://w3imagis.imag.fr/Publications/2002/HNC02/tempest_03.jpg Table Mountain from a Capetown beach: http://wordtravels.com/Travelguide/Countries/South+Africa/ Ocean liner: http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/Simplon_HAL_PCs.html
Tropical heat, its comfort radiating
everywhere, the freedom of sundresses and shorts
drifts into the haze beyond the horizon as the air cools,
cooler, approaching the English shore,
grey, dismal, raining landscape.
Damp and wet and cold, I shiver for months.
When I discover the new snow one morning
I cry, the cold, my feet burn, my hands, red and frosted.
We live in Frinton-by-the-Sea for a year,
then move to Barnet for two years.
My accent is strange, my skin, sun-browned.
I am shy, an outsider
who doesnÕt fit in
until my Zambian accent
submerges under an English one
and my skin becomes as pale as cream.
I look and sound like any Engish school girl.
Africa is not a very romantic continent to come from.
Union Jack: http://www.information-britain.co.uk/images/britflag.jpg
My father is always away working,
in Zimbabwe prospecting in the fields,
now Uganda, researching his PhD thesis,
then home to write in the tiny room we share,
by day his study, my night, my bedroom,
then offered two positions, in Australia, in Canada,
deciding Canada is better for raising children
he leaves half a year early to find and furnish a home.
My father, the geochemist, running a lab in Toronto
by the airport, hundreds of bags of soil samples arrive daily.
Later he runs the company, travels, publishes, speaks
at conferences, becomes a world authority in his field,
always bringing gifts, charms for my bracelets,
from every continent, county, state, province,
Indian elephant, English teapot, Mexican sombrero,
Egyptian cobra, Polynesian fish, tiny silver clogs from Holland,
a French Eiffel Tower, Chinese pagoda, Norwegian reindeer,
memories of his travels, tiny chinking bells wherever I go.
The journey across the Atlantic, stormy, cold,
the ocean a heave of blue and black depth, icebergs float
nearby near Canada, land of extremes we are coming to.
My father prepares us, shows us pictures
of the hot, steam-filled Summers and the cold, snowy Winters.
He says Canada is like America, but less violent, safer.
Canada, an answer to the apartheid he chose to withdraw from to protect his family and his familyÕs family. Without us, he would have stayed to fight the system from within.
The P.O.W. who did not want his sons conscripted
in a battle he did not believe in: Give Africa to its rightful peoples.
The man who struggled with Apartheid in his bones,
the food he was raised on, the way it built his culture,
and the clash of a contradictory belief in democracy,
education for all, a fair and just society for all.
South Africa, what he escaped from, returning once,
twenty-two years later, a memory of pain.
He did not live to see liberation.
Ocean image from: http://www.arscammell.k12.nf.ca/Town/Pics/Newpics/Icebergs/iceberg13.jpg
They are shouting, Canada! Canada!
I run to the top deck and hold the railing
looking at the land that is drawing us in.
My first sighting, the evergreen forests on the St. Lawrence.
Tall, straight, fern-straight trees, imposing, not letting you in,
this grandeur, these trees that survive heat and cold and high winds,
not like the overflowing chaos of a tropical jungle.
We land in Montreal at night, car lights, streetlights, train lights,
throwing bags from one vehicle to another, as if in a dream
and catch a train to Toronto...
Toronto, where I live for 40 years of the four seasons,
school, university, falling in love, marrying, having children, becoming
a single mother, this not uncommon story.
Yet the child who arrived here is always drawing another landscape
behind the horizon of this city.
I look Canadian, I sound Canadian, I know the history
of this country and who the prime minister is.
But I am a counterfeit Canadian.
I have traversed continents, my accent replaced three times.
In the back of my consciousness
the two great continents have not drifted apart but remain fused,
under the layer of the North American continent
the African subcontinent.
These lands, different as they are, interlace,
svelte pine forests and the tangle of jungle,
crowds of shoppers on Queen Street and the amassing
of villagers before a dance and feast,
cars, trucks, trolleys, noise of the city, ambulance sirens screaming
and the jungle at night, roar of animals, prey and predator, sounds of death.
Two transparent layers vying for authenticity.
I carry dual citizenship.
My overlay, Canadian; my underlay, other.
Images of the St. Lawrence River and the world map: http://www.ec.gc.ca/science/sandemar00/images/article6-1.jpg http://www2.ifjf.uib.no/SEIS-SCHOOL/ariadna/Worldmap_2D.jpg
I am not a woman of colour, my accent, not foreign,
my ethnicity not carried like a passport, IÕm not from
romantic Europe, or the lush Greek Islands,
or the exotic Middle East, nor the Russian expanse,
no cradle of Western art and thought,
nor South America, its pre-Columbian heritage,
or the panorama of Oriental countries, their
early writing and ornate art, and architecture,
nor sensual and spiritual India, rich with culture,
and even EgyptÕs wonders classified Ancient Near East
as if to distance it from the peoples without a holy book
of their own, the strange black shadow, the land
of warring tribes, of wooden stone art, where
starvation and AIDS kill millions, an orphaned land,
the primitive continent.
I carry Africa as a proud heritage.
I was born in a country in the lower end of Africa
with perfect weather, not too hot, or cold, or humid,
lush, rich, flowing, abundant.
Now that country is ravaged by disease, poverty, a despotic government.
Now it is the saddest country in Africa.
That is where I am from.
I did not grow on Canadian soil,
my mother was not nourished by these skies,
she didnÕt carry me through three starkly different seasons
and deliver me into a fourth season
as different from the other three as ice from snow.
I am an African transplant.
I was born under a canopy of stars in a small mining town,
Sinoia, in Southern Rhodesia, an English colony.
My mother says my head was covered in blonde wet curls.
A white child in the black country of Zimbabwe.
I am a colonial transplant.
(That's a baby picture of me at 6 months; and at 20 standing outside the Maternity Ward of Sinoia Hospital when we went back on a trip.)
Do I belong anywhere?
Lured by warmer winters, the lush green
rainforest that bathes the city in one long season
most like Spring, a horizon of ocean and mountain,
I leave Toronto for Vancouver.
Outside my window the twinkling lights of houses
like stars nestled against the mountain.
Is Canada a gathering of the many,
a mosaic, like a pointillist painting?
How many of us are from elsewhere,
carrying our memories?
As I write, I see many belongings,
glossy-haired Native Indians, the original beholders,
and English and French colonial settlers
and their descendants, stars, spreading,
inhabiting this expanse of northern land.
And peoples from every country on the globe,
arriving, living their lives from this moment, here,
other horizons, translucent memories, but here, their families,
a dance of many-hued races, colours, a multi-ethnicity.
These charms singing, these horizons of singing bowls.