Marechera has a very distinctive theory of poetry. He wrote ‘poetry is more a musical notation than a reasoned imaginative structure’. While he did not see a huge difference between prose and poetry, he did exploit its greater ‘concentration and density’. As these excerpts from Throne of Bayonets, a poem written in 1982/83, after his return to Zimbabwe from his sojourn abroad, testify to the power and originality of his work.
Throne of Bayonets
Where to sit still
And slam the door
Against fear of tomorrow?
Brute black rain
Pummels my brainpaths
Unleashes areas of despair
In my once sunlit memory.
Nothing but blows and kicks
Greet the friendly eye of thought
Which bloodied muddied shakes the dust
To all humanity
And discovers terror the totem of truth.
Within tiny blue eggs
In abandoned nest
Within derelict tenements
And the battered souls
Of battered souls
Of wrecked hopes
The shades of incinerated history
Hums my song, hums all the wrong.
Slug, table football, borrowed beer
Furtive lust — these the knowing sneer,
Plans dressed in tom overalls
Share cynical cigarettes in Cecil Square.
Time’s mutilated beggars (harvest
Of Chance, Folly, or Slogan?) hold vigil
Over custom’s empty ceremonial tin cup:
I look at Harare, my hair stands on end.
At midnight Gaunt skeletons
Urinate by the roadside.
Against The polished blackspread of sky
The scarcely visible moon
And the satiated roar of waiting thunder.
I look around at the shuttered houses
The eerie neon signs, the car speeding past
To some distant unknown home, and I lie down
Again within the hibiscus hedge, my refuge
From wind and cold and dour premonition.
Did I mistake the corridor
And the doorway (each step
Now the Room endless black rain
And the blood distant vistas
Of photogenic Falls?
Rather My butchered father
On a mortuary slab, and I,
All of eleven years old, refusing
But forced to look. I know now: Learn
Mortality early and you are doomed
To forever walk alone.
For others the dark blue pond
And darkling plush of day
On the ear sweet, liquid
From all round I hear dark
“You think you are a poet “
“You are black and buggered.”
Lightning flashes, thunder hurls his
“No escape from the whips of Chance
“Only escape to sit down and write.”
Buckets of rain, drums of water, cauldrons
But my arm holds his gate, holds it hard
And my mind makes of the sky-tumult
A cleansing soul brightwhite on the black wave.
What brute hand clamps
over my mouth
What seawaves brutal/broken
roar over me!
From inside empty bedrooms
trees and the Moon
Project grotesque silhouettes
into my sunlit dream.
Depression’s ironclad has not
fired his last salvo
And hours and minutes still attend
those about to die.
With the dying the hungry milling
Is it enough to write lines like
Between root and shoot
The worm and I;
Between bough and branch
Birdsong and sky.
Blow softly summer’s breeze
In Black Rain dreams I sail;
Anxiety ends, thoughts cease
On that brightest furthest shore.
But not yet the bliss of oblivion
The gasp of nothingness —
A thousand Cares the hairs on my head
Turning grey, turning time white:
Vast Winter Sky of tiny
A myriad of stars over cold
Or, with thoughtful sneer note how
The Void blows its nose
States of Mind taste of
Or, with linguistic detachment, sing of
Waterwine, sing of
Streamsong — who the questioner
what the answer?
As roses thorns and loneliness
a rhinoceros hide …
(I turn in-
But in the region
I find — naked, bloated,
And picking still from
the Bloodied cauldron an arm
A severed breast —
Myself gleefully at banquet.)
— sound of revolt
From transmitters more certain
than the stars
I hear Franz Fanon and the muted unborn;
“WHEN! WHEN! WHEN!”
I throw Sundays
like steel rings interlinked
To net bright horizons nearer;
“WHERE O tenant Soul
Where are you?”
The poem hastens slowly —
Like the slow shimmering sights of Winter-dawn
The poem screams quietly;
Like flying fish in the oilstrewn burning sea
The poem is dying alive.
As the crow flies
The distance between
Certain death, and
Is three centimetres of harsh, and
Harsher ideas AHEAD —
This film of dust
Under my lovesong dustcloth, when
From the brilliant blue sky
Falls summer’s rainsweet perfume —
(Where lived heart’s delight
Passion is bricked up; my dreams on a spit
Turn a tender goldbrown
Over the fires of awakening.)
“HERE! Tenant soul, OVER HERE!!”
Earning endless day after endless day
After endless day:
PUT EVERYTHING DOWN AND RUN!
On the empty lawn a violent throng
Toward the Throne of Bayonets
Eating violet flowers: long
Lost friends whom the struggle buried. They
Chorused, leaped into dance; they aroused satisfied
Desires older deeper than the Universe.
But my butterfly’s waterpiano said;
“His fierce Wings begin to droop
“His thoughts are less than tricycle pace
“His piercing eyes have glazed over
“His barrel trunk and vigorous stride
“Have collapsed like a Gipsy accordion” —
No way out of the collector’s bottle
No escape from the needle pinning my
Throat to Hararean velvet cascades.
The human sleeping-bag stirs
Waking from profound (but
This dark region of the mind,
By the womb’s poetic skin?
These vibrations, those voices —
Endless possibility at the tip of the fevered
Breathtaking horizons sparkling like newly-washed
Or gut reaction
To terrible truths
Which the mouth shapes into a soundless
Even as the life-force speeds to the stars
Like the luminous flight of a burning, sparrow?
The reasons, like coats
Are hung on a nail;
The circumstances, like teacakes
Are passed around, nibbled.
We sit on the verandah of Destiny
Sipping vermouth, speculating
Whose knock opened the steel
Doors of the soul,
What heralded the bitter cup
That will not pass?
I shift my weight from the right foot to
The left’s radical compassion; from faith to
Cynical resignation; from furious debate on atheism to
Does there lurk design in Chance
And in my place therein?
Reasoning thus I came upon a legless fragment
Of humanity, his toothless scowl
An attempt to accommodate humanity.
Did Antigone, entombed alive
Shrill to her own ears the shriek
Other ears dare not hear?
A hot hungry landscape
Has etched itself on the steelplate
Of the future —
Toothsmiles and wrinklewords
On that verandah
And the view a permanent drought of Probabilities —
Rainscathed phantoms haunt the Second Street bus stop:
Destination unknown — in the brilliant blue sky
Steel flamelilies (crowned with Soapstone
Workers of the world Unite!
Riderless riders have hitched their horses
At the Ambassador Hotel, harbingers
Of horror. Their pith helmets
Are stained red by too many drizzly investments.
I dine on stone and clay
And roam the streets at the end of the day.
Let music, soft and low
Underline the loneliness
That’s passion’s source;
I lick my knuckle-busted lips
And of the vinegar take another sip.
Ice? A dash of lemon peel, sir?
Do placid faces mask frightful
Dare I light my cigarettepoem
With traffic accident statistics?
Or let the words
At the Playboy
Do their striptease
For the Minister
And the clerk?
Or so seduce the sense
From the meaning
With experiments random
And indistinct construction
That I resort to the label
O for Black Rain to cleanse the blues!
A queue as long as the Original Snake
Has since dawn waited to buy cooking oil
Paraffin, petrol, and matches; Prometheus
Has donned his Mask
And proceeds casually to the prostitutes at the Kopje.
Minds of every hue intermingle with matter
Only of concern to the Censor; Athena
And Malcolm X are the hosts, dealing
Out dagga and kachasu to freedom’s veterans.
Black sky, dark stingray — O To drown in deep waters!
This dried-up Lake Kariba
Of censorship peering over,
That tumultuously waterless
Of writer after writer
Hurled to the seething hell below.
I gave her the pure bloom of jacaranda
The fiery ecstasy of flamelilies
This continuous gnawing delight
That now is nothing but painful memory;
And few the luminous seasons in her eyes
Which to sheer adoration toss grudgingly
Bits of psychological speculation,
Bits of political condemnation
Were Hell other people
And not myself I could willingly
Diagnose the scratchings at the other side
Of the door.
The telephone rings: from the other end of the line
My name and voice introduce themselves: Poet.
Finger-fat delusions wash themselves
in the dish of dollars
And proceed to eat liberation’s sadza and stew.
Take cast iron pains
To maintain their ignorance;
Their wide bellies and Castro beards
Are the matter of many a snide joke.
What can violet flowers do
Their perfume Baptist to Thrones of Bayonets?
I came out of the Harare barber shop, my hair white
And bright like icecream melting.
A single finger traces on the sand
The simple finger traces on the sand
The simple design of death
Whose centre is everywhere
Whose circumference is nowhere.
The sight of blood makes me hunger
After raw tomatoes
After the cream and rose complexion of Nordic
Makes me thirst for the Masai’s bull-wrought
And perhaps a glass of Gerac, that savanna sundowner
Of redneck modalities.
Were regrets basket chairs
We’d be condemned to sit for life,
To sit still passionately; the Siamese cats
nuzzle against my ankle, purring.
In the garage of the imagination
Quietly sparkling, a Rolls Royce, Pulsar, an
Alfa Romeo …
I will smear my face with soft Lanoline,
With American Girl Hand Body Lotion
With Ambi skin-lightening cream —
With pasteurised and bionised dung.
It’s Disco Time at Scamps and Chantelles
You and I in platform boots and imitation Levis
Will mimic the hours in twirl and stomp
The like of Gary Glitter;
Icecream hats and Rasta T-shirts the emblems
Of our liberation’s arrival — Guitars, trombones,
Ukeleles, harps, synthesisers, instruments of wind and air,
I think of Stravinsky (Soldier’s Return)
And hibiscus/violets in the shadow of Great Zimbabwe,
Shadows! Their salttaste a judgement
On common reality,
The oblique equation on mirrorlike poems.
To make or unmake the impulse which kills
All other impulse,
To do or not to do the deed of commonplace key
And say ‘‘This was Hamlet”,
Untold doors behind me are slamming shut
Each labelled Harare.
Ti saa har Gud elsket verden, att han utgav
Sin enfödde Son, para que todo aquel que en el cree,
Mas tenha a vida etema.