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In The Kalahari Desert Analysis

Author: poem of Craig Raine Type: poem Views: 8

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The sun rose like a tarnished

looking-glass to catch the sun

and flash His hot message

at the missionaries below--

Isabella and the Rev. Roger Price,

and the Helmores with a broken axle

left, two days behind, at Fever Ponds.

The wilderness was full of home:

a glinting beetle on its back

struggled like an orchestra

with Beethoven. The Hallé,

Isabella thought and hummed.

Makololo, their Zulu guide,

puzzled out the Bible, replacing

words he didn't know with Manchester.

Spikenard, alabaster, Leviticus,

were Manchester and Manchester.

His head reminded Mrs. Price

of her old pomander stuck with cloves,

forgotten in some pungent tallboy.

The dogs drank under the wagon

with a far away clip-clopping sound,

and Roger spat into the fire,

leaned back and watched his phlegm

like a Welsh rarebit

bubbling on the brands. . .

When Baby died, they sewed her

in a scrap of carpet and prayed,

with milk still darkening

Isabella's grubby button-through.

Makololo was sick next day

and still the Helmores didn't come.

The outspanned oxen moved away

at night in search of water,

were caught and goaded on

to Matabele water-hole--

nothing but a dark stain on the sand.

Makololo drank vinegar and died.

Back they turned for Fever Ponds

and found the Helmores on the way. . .

Until they got within a hundred yards,

the vultures bobbed and trampolined

around the bodies, then swirled

a mile above their heads

like scalded tea leaves.

The Prices buried everything--

all the tattered clothes and flesh,

Mrs. Helmore's bright chains of hair,

were wrapped in bits of calico

then given to the sliding sand.

'In the beginning was the Word'--

Roger read from Helmore's Bible

found open at St. John.

Isabella moved her lips,

'The Word was Manchester.'

Shhh, shhh, the shovel said. Shhh. . .


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