Title: Sport 40: 2012

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, 2014, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Conditions of use



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Sport 40: 2012

Michael Roes

page 232

Michael Roes

In the Land of Deaf-Mutes

In the beginning using language was
   child’s play, an art of slips and promises

Not sentences alone could be true or false
   From grammars we built small ships

and let them sail across the sky-sea
   until the discord soaked through. They

didn’t help us sort the poisonous words
   from the wholesome ones, nor to

ignite a poem without phosphorous and stone
   Your description of utopia was a mistake

For you were only teaching us because the future
   Was more frightening to you than the past

I would have choked on my own childhood
   if I had trusted your lessons

Without rage they’re infertile lessons
   I left the books behind, the asylum

of your truths. My toes are more likely to find
   my mouth than your latex metaphors
page 233 The seam of dirt under my toenails
   feeds my word fever more than the one under the

clean foreskin of fathers. My retching
   is not just a gesture, not just a dance

It’s also a stigma in the land of my choice
   I won’t get older, born old

Among the herds of deaf-mutes
   I make up for my childhood

Layla and Majnun

My folly bakes stones. Don’t laugh at it

When I addressed you in words as cautious as the
new moon, you invited me to your fire

Every greeting already contains a farewell
and every touch a deathly blow

Why don’t you trust the waves that brought
us to one another and without reproach

Until our strength leaves us, they are the
gentlest companions we’ve ever had

Your hands are calloused from baking
and don’t distinguish the crust from the skin

page 234

Under this olive tree, at the top of which I
should hang myself, I sing praise to the trees

Nobody expels, nobody stones us
My skin is no banner, my soul

no broken wing. Silence is not
hell, innocence no paradise

All brotherly love is mixed unwittingly
with sexual desire

Is this why you fear desire, for doubtless
it also contains brotherly love

I would gladly tell you the truth
if I knew what truth was

You are not the abandoned landscape
and I am not the fleshless shadow

of myself. My nakedness is neither
heroic nor a reason to blush

Into this bed of fire that you have ignited
only an angel or a fool will throw himself

When you go, don’t expect a song of lament
Wait! Don’t go wordless! Just look—

you’re going the other way

page 235

Marginal Notes

They take my rings from me,
but I’m left with my fingers

After prayers the sky is rolled up
and stored in big baskets

The summer night shatters
in its frame

I, the good son, am the last string
between bridge and peg

My father is the man who asphalted Israel
my mother a smiling gold tooth

My hair in the grate of her hard
tattooed hands

My tree name is not
the name my enemies give me

My bush name is not
the tautological father-word

Only the voice of the forgotten commandment
still troubles me

From Durus Arabij—Arabische Lektionen © Michael Roes, 1997. English translations © Richard Millington, 2012.