Wednesday, August 14, 2019


            in memory of Norman Morrissey

your bedside lamp
made sommer with an 
empty graça-bottle  ̶
the etiquette still in tact

my eyes linger on the subtitle
casa de ouro
house of gold

yes! i shout
gold is this house
which flows with
music and poetry
tea and honey

(mumbling aside: one day i'll unscrew
the bottle-stand,
fill 'er up with
your favourite drink,
screw it fast again
and flick the switch!
the heat will suffuse your bedroom
with intoxicated light
you'll get graciously drunk
without having a single sip!)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yet to notice

The zoologists say
they don't know
about the mating ritual
of the Olive thrush, but

it's always the male who leads,
and there are definitely no pheromones, and
if they were making the same gestures
it could well have been two males

And I ask myself
whether I stand charged
as guilty
of anthropormorphising
when I surmise

that even a lady Olive thrush
can be so uniquely motivated
as to take initiative,
to say, here, let me show you -
this is where
I'd like our nest;

her partner not put out
by her gentle feminism -

which she may well have copied
from observing the animal
I am - the one the zoologists
have yet to notice.

- Silke Heiss, 29th October 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018


Walking the old path
- from rock ledge to lookout,
through gardens past Labyrinth -
an Olive thrush stops me in my tracks.

Bows, wings held askance
from her body a skirt, or jacket,
tail fruffed,
everything a-shimmy
in the trills
of purpose.

He follows her. Or is it she
who follows him? Twinned
on their orange legs
the sun shines through

they hop and turn
as if on the most delicate of portals -
elevens of togetherness -
those legs that do not stop

their running, hopping, turning
dance duet, bowing and fruffing,
both of them lifting up Mozarts of tails
till I wonder, are there pheromones
that keep them strung
so close, so on the move

It happens all the time,
each day, each year, each hour.
Common as common those two -
where's the charm?

To the human in me
it's the fact that they're doing
no harm.

- Silke Heiss, 27th October 2018 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Covenantal Selves

It was at Mike Hallier's funeral
the thought 
first struck -

the covenantal selves
configuring in us
- shaping us subtly anew -

in each encounter
with each person
we really meet.

In spokes about his coffin
such a mandala

of such different folk
I felt

all the beings he'd been,
all the warm-flesh masks he'd worn
so fluently,

so authentically
as the moments of his days
met him

each peopled, each scripted
as situations
nuanced into idioms

never quite before acted,
never quite
to be acted again;

from that dead centre
the web of an extravagant life's
Protean patterns

iridesced out
as instants of relationship
each arced

between selves
just for that scene.

We are 
just who we are
but always so

as each new meeting
calls out of us

the exact answers
each meeting

as a covenant
between two seekings
along the paths of truth:

so evanescent,

- Norman Morrissey, 29/10/2012 

Monday, October 15, 2018

soos wat die water die grond dreineer

soos wat die water die grond dreineer
sypel daar 'n hoopvolheid deur my rugstring
my kop is besig om die dag te verteer tot 'n gedig
my oë verdrink in die vriendelike lig wat
deur die vensters breek
hoe so een toneel my hele wese omkeer en uitkeer
totdat ek deel van die wolklandskap word
daar is nou niks ekstern of intern nie
alles is nou een en inmekaar
niks om weg te steek of af te loer nie
skamigheid het verdwyn
geheimenisse is nou 'n blootgestelde feesviering
die dans van die atome word sigbaar
ek skud my spiere deur die gordyne
die gedig stop hier want haar arms verander
in die vlerke van 'n skoenlapper op vlug
om al die verstotenes terug te roep na die kern

 - Lara Kirsten

Thursday, November 16, 2017

House of Blues

You live for these songs you inhabit
time and time over:
In them you uncover
nerve endings of truth, distil the essence
of longing and loss –

They fit you like old shoes, a favourite jacket.
Like broken butterflies they visit
through cracks in windows
and shut doors.

You cradle a guitar, your body sways
with the melody.
In your voice the miles
of distances travelled,
the warm contours and frayed edges
of the places your heart has been.


Now and again I strike a match in the dark
and scratch the surface of longing.


To be steady in one’s work,
and patient as a sail
that waits for the wind to fill it.


Birds stitch the morning into being with their song.

“View from My Window at Dawn”

The darkness lifts, becomes something lighter.
From her window
she watches the light, now only
a shift, a paler patch of sky,
trace the beginnings of the day.

Lights go on in windows, while others stay dark.
A brushstroke light or firm –
colours and textures revealing a city
half unveiled,
suspended between sleep and waking.

She paints quickly.
A desire insistent, frustrating, to render all of it
truthfully, as it is.
A lightness, gladness in her heart –
in this silence, alone at dawn.

This blue-and-grey-tinged world, she knows, will soon
disappear, give way to a harsher light;
to the traffic and noise
of the street below.
But as it is lost, begins
to fade away, she sees that some of it, at last,
is there now:

a threshold place of light and dark,
of lights in windows, of chimneys and rooftops,
and far off buildings;
and of a light which, like the sky,
seeps through by degrees
from the window, porous, wet still,
of the canvas.


Now, if only for this moment,
no other world exists
save for the one she conjures
in this lamp-lit room.


Figure in a painting –
she emerges
from the canvas,
tells the painter
of her dreams.

 - Eduard Burle

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A flame that burned to the end * – by Harry Owen

The sad truth is that, before I first came here ten years ago, I knew almost nothing about South African poets. That changed very quickly, however.
One of the first books I was given (in May 2007) was called Dog Latin by someone I had never heard of at the time but whom I would later come to know as both fellow poet and friend – Norman Morrissey. A year later, in June 2008 at the launch of his new collection, Triptych, at the old Reddits Books & Coffee in New Street, he signed my book with the note: “Harry, The first copy sold!” I had come a long way in twelve months.
So it was with a sense of profound sadness that I learned of Norman’s death last week. He had retired owing to ill health in 2002 from his career as a lecturer in English at several South African universities, including UCT and Fort Hare, in order to concentrate on his writing at his home in Hogsback.
But before that he had to undergo lengthy treatment for profound depression, a debilitating condition which he faced with candour and courage. As he writes in ‘Preface to St Mark’s Diary’ about poems written during this period: “I was working through a breakdown, doing cold turkey on years of sleeping pills and painkillers, and at last getting full clinical diagnosis on a condition that began with an infection trashing my nervous system in November 1962, a month after my 13th birthday.”
Undoubtedly, Norman struggled – and so, inevitably, did those with whom he shared his life; he could not then have been easy to live with. Yet he wrote his way through it all, latterly with the love and companionship of another poet – Silke Heiss, whom he married in 2013 and who added immeasurably to the quality of his final years.
That same year I was privileged to include a wonderful poem by Norman in the anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World.  Called ‘Lord of Life’, it tells the magical true story, from when he worked as a ranger for the old Natal Parks Board, of Norman’s relationship with a bull rhino whose “quiet gravity saved me, I’m sure/ many a vanity or vagueness of phrase”. I heard Norman read this poem twice: once at Reddits Poetry here in Grahamstown and once at the McGregor Poetry Festival in 2015.
So while I will certainly miss Norman Morrissey I shall also continue to be inspired by his courage, his fortitude and his unrelenting belief, enriched ultimately by the devotion of his wife Silke, in the power of love to prevail over all hardship. This was his prayer, and I think it was answered.


The candle gutters down
till the wick floats in the last wax,
burns at both ends,

gives twice the light
of its nearing extinction:

let me
like that

the whole thread of my life
a flame
from childhood to old age

in one
clear, unwavering

Norman Morrissey
(from Strandloop, Echoing Green Press, 2016)

Norman's Memorial Event in Hogsback will be held tomorrow, Saturday 5th August 2017, in the Vula Vista Conference Centre at 3:30pm. The Memorial Event at Outeniqua Moon near Mossel Bay will be held on Saturday 2nd September 2017 at 3:30pm.

*This article appeared in Grahamstown's Grocotts Mail, 4 August 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Four poems for Norman by Brian Walter


Your monkey troop clambers
in the winter magnolia – chuckling
and chirping and reaching for buds,

scampering and riding
high the bending branches
like boys in a Frost poem.

And in the lit morning,
from the next house, the strains
of Pianoman finger the air.

These are the sounds you hear
in a poet’s garden, he having left
this while, and roving out west. 

29th July 2017

On an autumn day in Africa
you came from your mountain

to tell of a face you saw
in your almond tree.  Nothing

you say could alarm me: I trust
your eyes and mind: ancestors

have been kind enough to call
on you.  Myths are making you

their own.  When you left, humbly
I plucked for my autumn vase

a living twig of wild olive,
the last sprig of almond

from my tree, and one bronze
chrysanthemum, the first

this season.  Autumn: you see past
foliage to the very word of tree. 

from Tracks

Gaga footbridge

                   Alice days, for Norman Morrissey

Time was the skies opened,
and we on a motorbike
going home via Chitibunga’s bottle store:
but the dip of the Gaga was flooded,
so we ducked off right, and over
the footbridge, undaunted and soaking.

After our transaction, kindly and warm ‒
do you know the big guy was later killed
by robbers, right at his till, and he so hardy
and big-boned ‒ you held our two packets
of beer, one in each hand, on the pillion,

balancing, arms dependent. Times like these,
I remember the first beer, standing now
in dry clothes ‒ watching the downpour hitting
at everything, water washing in gushes
where we never thought water would flow ‒

and laughing,

life balanced in your safe hands,
motorcycle passenger,
over the straight and narrow footbridge.
from Poems Packed for Travel

Ngqika’s Kop 

A smoke haze rises from far-off forests
this weekend, while we work about the house,
or watch patches of cricket on TV.  “Pine-forest fire,
in the hills,” we agree, and consider
how the forecast cold front, that now chills
the test in Cape Town, will soon quench this blaze.                         

But tonight flames still crackle in the dark,
crowning the mountains, right up where the stars
hold the sky.  And then ― this Monday morning ―
snow.  That African hill stands majestic,
wears white Ethiopian skirts, and appears so brave
and blessed that all looks well with the world. 

Watching from our lowlands, we did not know
that you’d spent the holidays fire-fighting,
beating raging flames from neighbour houses,
smoke-choked and seared; and how your team
of volunteers rushed to ever moving
crisis-points, calling details and command;                                           
how, late that Sunday night, so many of you,
hearing sounds of peaceful susurration,
left exhausted houses to stand outside,
calm in the dousing rain that at last fell,
then crept indoors to sleep; and how your dreams
coalesced collectively into snow.

from Mousebirds

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


dozing, wrapped in a blanket,
the fire alive as a serpent’s tongue

I’m lost
in the events
amidst the embers.



All day
I’ve been the snake of the medicine cards:
weaving over the sands of my mind,

thoughts coruscations I slide across
and leave
along the way.



My legs folded,
I went down on my knees
before the filthy gutter

– but kind folk came,
got me back on my feet,
steadied me,

the experience


No matter

Where can we write:
tissues of visions
that melt into one another
no matter how one withers.

17.7.2017 (This was Norman’s penultimate poem)

Norman Morrissey

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Best drier

The best drier
of tears
is the wind.


Still calls

I put your underpants
back in the drawer,
your t-shirt into the cupboard.

A time will come
to lose
those rituals

but for now
the Wood owl
still calls.


In each other

At our usual
picnic spot
on the R63

I stop
to note my gladness
at these places

the country
we shared.

We were
without wanting
to be

a restless pair
forced to travel
these roads

– never really
at home



Silke Heiss

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Three women sit,
cooking, eating lunch,
while the working team
shovels and pours cement,
pounds down the shapes.

At the door of the container
where wind swirls, it is cool.
Inside, the office part
and storage space for brick-making machines
is deeper in heat.

The women’s shoes are sensible,
like boy’s shoes,

cement splattered, shaped
to the work, speaking
of their place on this earth,
this work, hard lives.

We’ve had to wait for our meeting,
because cement, mixed,
waits for no one as it sets. 

- Brian Walter

Sunday, March 26, 2017

            Peace in Our Time

This bronze dome
drove ants to nest
in the moistened pot of the Peace Rose,

they have leached the roots
so there can be no flower
– the bud that tried

starved on the stem,
Peace in our time
sorely struck:

Isis gnawing at the guts of its own civilisation,
Malema preaching genocide,
a Trumpet of Jericho braying in the White House.

The rough beast
has slouched to Bethlehem
– been born.

 - Norman Morrissey


a raven
wild about the hollows of my head

– croaking fears
I finally talked back
into the skies,

made my heart a scarecrow
to keep him

 - Norman Morrissey

Monday, February 20, 2017

Helenvale evening

In the twilight the last children
play the pavements,

pigeons circle the waning grey
where a few kites tug
their twine,
the boys catching the last breeze:

and close to the houses

night’s first bat.

 - Brian Walter

Friday, February 17, 2017

Carry on

Numb from news
– hate-speech, violence, lies,
noble essays, reasoned tries
defending values, hoping
to avert bad trouble, blues –

pained by poems
I’ve proofed
– by children and their guides
in townships under siege
by gangsters (“Satan’s servants”) –

I walk The Bluff
knowing, seeing,
but not feeling
the cliffs caressed by mist,
grey old bracken bending,
looking at their young
in bright green hoodies
coming up.

Will I ever be
at one
with what I see
again? Grieved I stand
for loss
of me.

The mists heave lightly,
sucked by sun’s eternal thirst,
revealing slopes of trees
that never have been cursed,
the Proteas and Watsonias
hold up and shake
with flirting birds
(whose avian tongues dispel the worst)

and this
they do:
cancel me
to pull me through.

And I continued
I saw a Longcrested Eagle …
the wind flipped
through his crest
as if it were the Yellow Pages,
and there in silhouette:
he was all focused, black
and grand
and free
to look about him
on The Bluff;

and a little mongoose
did its delicate staccato stipple,
frittered over the path
and was gone;

and I knew
I must go on
cancelling my self
– cancel news and lands of pain –
if I want
to carry on.

                        20th November 2016

 - Silke Heiss

Sunday, February 12, 2017

between the cavities of my ribs

that is where i want to be
there where continents of sound
flow from my throat and fingers
and i give birth to a whole new earth

there where the mighty poetry
determines the rhythm of the day

i feel the interminable knocking in my throat
the never-ending pricking of my ears
i stand to attention
ready for the mighty verse
to land on my palms with full-blooded wings

i dig in the seashells in search
for the truth of the word
i scratch under the toenails of the ostrich
hungry for the metaphor that will surpass all other metaphors

the words lie like ghostly footprints
on the shadows of the night
refusing to be seen or captured

and yet, like small black poppy seeds
the relentless willpower of
the poetry

when the word comes
i know how rapturously the syllables
will melt like ripe slices of avocado on my tongue

let me lie deep within the grip of the word
make me swoon, make me unconscious,
make me fly, make me laugh,
make me shiver
make me free

 - Lara Kirsten