December Evening

By Leon Joffe

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The red-chested cuckoo cries a carefree song: three brazen notes
Repeating, repeating, repeating. Once in Somerset West
In a cottage in the mountains we heard such a bird's lusty boasts
All night, and couldn't sleep.  Yet of all birds, some love this one best.
I favour diederick's cuckoo, he of white-flecked emerald wings
Whose whistle soars then falls; then starts again.  He is here, darting
Amongst the swallows as they race the storm. And all things
Are themselves. Yet we are not; our metamorphosis only now is starting.

It is evening (whose? ours? and do we deserve more day?
All creatures must face their night some time - yet ours
Seemed so far off. Now for you and me entwined there is no way
To prolong the peace of this late afternoon; our last troubled hours
Where we can still grieve, feeling the change. Once a butterfly
Emerges, can it recall its caterpillar moments? Will you remember
Who you once were, and what I meant to you, you and I
Together in the twilight this possibly last rational December?)

The cuckoos sing; and wind waves the fine-leaved limbs of the bark-bean
Tree. In winter its pods will split and curl like arthritic fingers;
Yours clutch mine so tightly I feel some of their pain between
Those other pangs. Flies buzz around the green stamvrug fruits, stingers
Who lay eggs in tiny holes; one sees the white sap. In a bad year
There is no fruit that can be eaten. Yet the worms live and become flies-
Who should they care for but themselves? Only you care
For me, and only I will care for you. There are no other ties.

Bark is peeling from your beloved ochna stems, gleaming white
In lightning streaks that tear across the sky like riven wires.
The small deck on which we sit coccoons us from the coming night.
In these first moments of the storm nothing matters, nothing tires,
Nothing changes except the universe, and what little matter is that?
Your head rests on my shoulder (or mine on yours?), your blowing hair
Tickles my cheeks, my nose. When I smile, it is like the cheshire cat -
A mad grin that must fade. And in my heart nothing but wild despair

Opening closetted memories; nights camping in the mountains when the rain
Fell so heavily we lay all day in our tiny tent, reading
Novels and magazines. Tree names didn't matter to me then, and sane
People hid themselves away from the world, its glitz and speeding
And cheerfulness that hides pain. And other nights teased by the frogs
And crickets to believe that darkness hides life. Days climbing rocks
To photograph cussonias, you teasing me to see trees as more than logs,
And laughing when my shed shoes revealed blisters and worn socks.

Each Sunday's morning walk past weeping pendulinas, across the busy highway
And into farmlands, where you show me the wild mispal whose coarse
Fruit is an acquired taste; and groves of the quiet rare burkeia
Tree; and teach me to interpret the lonely whinny of a single horse
Whose mate has been carted away, maybe only for a short while
But how can he know that?
                           Hating such memories
I let them drown in the falling water. When I touch your cheek you smile.
In these moments you can still remember the names of trees.

Converted to HTML by Renette Davis with permission from the author, Leon Joffe, whose wife Pitta has Huntington's Disease. Send comments to Renette by clicking here.

Last updated: Nov. 30, 2010