Tamajeq necklace

Why I Choose a Life of Regret

Tamajeq necklace

Clicking on this image will take you to more photos of “Tuareg” jewelry.

The other day, we popped into Ten Thousand Villages. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a necklace, and I immediately knew where it was made: Niger. TTV is carrying a number of Nigerien pieces at the moment, it turns out.

I went again yesterday and I looked at them all for a long time. Haunting, the designs, most of them engraved silver. So expensive as well. $175 for a necklace. $75 for a pair of earrings. It is strange to think how much less these would cost back home. How I used to own a necklace like these and lost track of it, because it was commonplace.

How little I prized or learned of Nigerien culture, when I lived in Niamey, Niger, for four years. I took Hausa lessons for four months and don’t remember a single word. I don’t have a Nigerien friend. And I didn’t when I lived there.

It was a good boarding school, Sahel Academy, where I attended those years in Niger, but I deeply regret its insulated world. I still grieve those four years—the Lost Years—how preparation for re-entry into the West swallowed up a precious opportunity.

I regret them so much that when I took my husband to see where I grew up, I refused to spend any time in Niger. “I want to be in Benin every single day I can,” I said. But, as true as that was, I was ashamed for him to see what my life in Niger had not been.

Staring at these necklaces and earrings, evocative of a landscape of dune and the grace of stars, the tradeoffs of a life abroad sit inside me like a meal of pounded yam.

There is nothing so heavy in the gut as sokoru.

This is what took me to Niger: education, and preparation for re-entry into North America.

There is no quality high school in English in Benin (where I had lived since age five). But in Niamey, a seven-hour, pot-hole-ridden trek north of my home, stood Sahel Academy, an international school, and it offered long-term boarding.

There was no question in my mind about homeschooling instead. I adored learning in a classroom. And Sahel Academy was American. Well, it tried to be international (it offered testing for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education—”IGCSE”s—through Cambridge University), but culturally, it was predominantly American. Americans just made up a disproportionately high percentage of expatriate workers in Niger. So much so that the lingua franca in expat circles was English, unlike in Benin, where we used French. (Lots more Europeans in Benin.)

I absolutely did not look forward to this culture change. But I knew how essential it was that I prepare for The Departure. When I left West Africa on finishing high school, it would be to study in Canada (my mother’s homeland) or America (one of my dad’s homelands). I had known this before I even knew what a university was.

The Departure beat down on my back every day, a burning sun, baking my resolve, hardening my natural enthusiasm for living. Oral histories—laments over derailed re-patriated “Third Culture Kids”—swirled in my consciousness. I would not derail. I would conquer.

Bring on Sahel Academy.

Bring on walled compounds and air-conditioned vans sliding through the humanity of Niamey streets to their own tinny Christian pop culture tunes. Bring on weekends watching softball games in the exclusive “American Rec Center,” bring on expatriate church services. You could wear pants and shorts. Go bareheaded. You never had to speak a word of French, or Hausa, outside of language class. Some places had lawns. And this was the edge of the desert.

It was a fast-moving current of friendships and shopping trips and homework deadlines. It was a well-meaning effort to give us—the kids—the best approximation of the life our parents gave up for us. It was the dream of our own green lawn and softball field, so we wouldn’t even have to drive across the city to the American Rec Center. It was the prayer for our own vine and fig tree.

It was sincere, and good for me, and how deeply I regret it.

I am thirty years old now, on the other side of The Departure, and I gnash my teeth.

Here’s the thing: all the people in the Sahel Academy “bubble” were good people. Those years enriched my life. I made some friends I still have today. I learned a lot from wonderful adults who invested in me. And the education, while not as high quality as my primary school education, was still very good. I am grateful for the IGCSE training from Cambridge, especially. Its approach to learning was writing-heavy (read: perfect for me) and kicked my butt. I owe every A+ on essay-style exams in college to that training.

Yes indeed, Sahel Academy transformed me from a “bush MK” to an urban MK who made the transition to upstate New York with relatively little drama.

Educated. Prepared for America. I mentally checked off those boxes. As did my parents, who suffered more sending me away to school than I did being sent. (If, reading this, you dare to wonder if my parents were selfish in sending me off to boarding school, HERE’S THE DOOR. I saw the furtive tears. I read the longing letters.)

But West Africa is not a home for Yes or No, This or That, Either Or. It nourishes Both And. Inconsistent beliefs flourish. When it comes to understanding my past, I am a syncretist.

So I don’t have a problem saying those good years were Lost Years. I don’t have a problem saying I bitterly regret four years that helped me out tremendously.

The anger and grief in the creases of your inner elbows and knees—you continue to feel their damp sweat as you lie on your bed, no matter how thorough your shower. It’s hot season. There’s no point in fighting it. Just lie still in your sweaty sheets. Just admit you are raging.

“Why? Why does this have to be so expensive?” I lament to my husband.

He is studying history at the University of Kansas, and I am wishing I could audit classes. KU is proud of the breadth of its language courses. As a former employee of a college admissions office who sat in marketing meetings, I smile in amused disdain reading KU’s enthusiastic plugs. I assume there isn’t much substance to them—that they probably carefully crafted their statements to make something grand of rather average facts.

But I ‘m wrong. As I discover when I find that KU offers over 40 languages, among them Hausa—advanced levels of Hausa, in fact. Curious, I Google schools in the USA that offer Hausa classes. There are virtually none. And KU is one of the few that does. I have no idea why. KU is smack dab in the center of the USA, far from culturally- and linguistically-diverse areas.

And here I am, also smack dab in the center of the country. Regretting the semester of high school Hausa that did not get me anywhere.

Is this Fate?

Nope. A single class would cost me around $1,000 as a non-degree-seeking resident of Kansas.

There is justice in this world. But of an odd kind.

Some people would tell me, Tineke, calm down. You did experience Niger. You lived there for four years, in which your skin cracked, you wrinkled your nose at the damp smell of the niim tree, you timed your early morning jogs to the call of the minaret for crying out loud! And your Hausa teacher was horrible.

You could fairly say that I did experience Niger. I had an expatriate experience of Niger. It was interesting.

But can I tell you a story?

The people among whom I grew up—my people—are called the Bariba. No matter how many times you might tell someone that the Bariba people call themselves the “Baatombu,” they will continue to call them the Bariba. White people…other foreigners…the Baatombu themselves, if they are educated… they still say les baribas.

Because when the storied French traveled up from the coast and asked the Yoruba people what “those people beyond you are called,” the Yoruba told them “Bariba.” Based on the names Baatombu give neighboring ethnic groups, Bariba can’t have meant anything nice.

I think about this when I turn over a pair of earrings, also made in Niger, but this time out of soapstone instead of silver.

Tuareg “ax” design is traditionally used on wedding necklaces to symbolize the tools a bride uses to shape hearth and home. This handcrafted jewelry is made from smoked soapstone, polished, etched and decorated with black leather dye. From Tuareg artisans of Niger in Saharan North Africa. The Tuareg are found in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Chad. Traditionally nomadic herders, some Tuareg now cultivate crops in fertile oases, or work as traders.

Tuareg is not exactly the right name for this people. They are a traditionally nomadic people, spread across much of the Sahel and the Sahara, and bear different name variations. Within Niger, they call themselves the Kel Tamajeq (or, the people who speak Tamajeq). I asked an American friend who grew up among them and later married a Tamajeq man, to help me understand the relationship between the different names; she and her husband relayed to me nuances too complex (but fascinating!) to share here.

Some say that “Tuareg” is a pejorative name other ethnic groups gave them, meaning “abandoned by God.” Another story attributes it to the French. Perhaps the origin story was the same: French colonists asking the wrong people for information. Ever since, the West, an extension of the “Other,” has controlled the conversation.

At this point in time, the true names of the sub-groups and clans of this people group have become politicized. The media in French West Africa is saturated with stories about rebel action, nationalist action, terrorist activity, often in the name of ethic identity. To insist on the true names could be misconstrued as an intentional political or religious statement.

Tuareg is practical, whatever its beginnings, since it has come to represent all the regional groups. It has lost most, if not all of its offense, to many modern Tamajeq. And considering how little the wider world knows or understands of this people group, perhaps it’s just as well to use the name the French distributed.

That’s how many French-speaking Baatombu might put it, when pressed. Nobody recognises their true name, in a world where very few even know them by their “wrong” name. They could so easily disappear, so easily burn to the ground in a forest fire of globalization raged out of control.

An example of soapstone work

An example of soapstone work

Looking at the Ten Thousand Villages earrings in my hands, I dwell with regret on yet another missed opportunity. Whoever the “middle men” are between TTV and the artisans who created these stunning , evocative pieces, they did not provide TTV with the correct name.

We don’t know their reasons. Practicality, probably. Being part of the global conversation, on its terms, can definitely seem more important than rehearsing the particulars of a people group whose way of life is about to disappear into the sandstorm—especially when the advocates of the purist alternative are so volatile.


Is it another manifestation of the neocolonial guilt complex? A twist on the White Man’s Burden? Some may argue that my shame over squandering the opportunity to learn more about Sub Saharan Africa is tainted by an exaggerated sense of the importance of my role. What does it matter to Niger that you, a white woman from North America, regret that you did not grace Niger with your interest?

I am fascinated by “old” colonialism (which is still alive and well in my landlord, sadly). I am fascinated by neocolonialism, too. The Western world’s tendency to work itself into an apologetic frenzy has intrigued me since I was a teenager. As Americans, we have paroxysms of compassion, sporadic spasms of awareness of famines, wars, genital mutilation, AIDS orphans, etc.

It is, in some respects, a form of cultural narcissism. There’s a dire problem somewhere? It must be our responsibility! People are dying somewhere? What horrible, self-centered people we are to be deaf to their cries for help!

This past year, my newsfeed offered so many berating posts about how America’s only sincere concern about the Ebola crisis consisted of its paranoia about the spread of the disease on her own soil. And I read many bitter laments about the disgustingly short attention span of American people for the sufferings of anyone but themselves.

As a friend, Kiefer, expressed after visiting a genocide museum, in Rwanda, and realizing every single visitor was white: “What is it about our culture as Americans and Westerners that allows us to think that feeling deeply is a substitute for action?… When did empathy become a form of apathy?”

The social media sphere was awash with emotion.

American paranoia about Ebola on American soil defied reason. And yet, it didn’t. Here were Americans driven by fear and jumping to conclusions over misinformation—pulling their kid out of school because a family from Angola (thousands of miles away from the epidemic) had moved into the neighbourhood, for instance. And over in West Africa, people fretted that hospitals were deliberately contaminating people, and wondered if the government could be making the epidemic up. Conspiracy theory is not an American invention.

Americans flagellating themselves over their lack of action over Ebola was, in some ways, noble. It was also noble, in a way, that many West Africans called for widespread fasting and repentance, convinced that their own selfish sin had brought the end times upon the rest of their country.

“It’s natural!” I often want to yell, when I read these posts.

It’s natural to feel more empathy and concern for what touches you most directly! It’s natural for people to have difficulty keeping the deaths of thousands of strangers across a vast ocean on their minds. It’s natural to fear for one’s own safety more keenly than for the safety of strangers in a different world. It’s natural to wonder if you bear personal responsibility for calamity, since you know yourself best.

That we (I am speaking as an American here) have a responsibility, is true. That we could afford to be more outward-focused is also true. But if only we could give attention, funds, and help as friend to friend. Equal to equal.

I would like to think my regret is that of a friend, an equal.

Well, that’s not quite the truth. I am not a friend to Benin, or to Niger. I am not just an equal. I am a daughter. (I am speaking as an African here.)

Nen meero, a man suru kowo. A wa nge na nen tombu dwaari.

Mon pays—ma maman—j’ai tellement de regrets. J’ai laissé écouler des opportunités jamais à retrouver. J’avais mon attention ailleurs, pour bonnes raisons, mais comme je me peine d’avoir en même temps perdu une connaissance plus intîme avec mon pays.

My Mother, I am so sorry. There were such good reasons to focus my attention on preparing for The Departure. But they taste like lucinia leaves in my mouth.

In Niamey, Niger, I learned to speak “American”; I did not learn to speak Hausa. Or Zerma. Or Tamajeq.

I will have years and years in this my new country, by the look of things. But I can never retrieve the opportunity to come to know, understand, and love Nigerien people. Even if I made penance by returning there today, it would not be with the eyes and heart and mind of a young person. It would not make up for the years I spent passing through in an air-conditioned bubble. It would not make up for the friendships I did not have.

There are days when I consider the painful, awkward, confused entries other, less-prepared missionary kids make into Western society and think, “Better to suffer a brutal loss of your world suddenly than to lose your world before you even left.”

But I don’t know. That’s someone else’s story.

And there’s a sense in which, even had I the money, I should not purchase one of these Tamajeq jewelry pieces. It’s too late. And it seems oddly fitting (if just as irritating) that learning Hausa here is out of reach.

There’s a sense in which walking away from the display is the most respectful response I can give.

Conversation with Culture. Subject: The Future.

prairie homestead refrigerating-eggs-basket

Why are all my eggs in one basket, you ask?
Well, I only have the one basket. And this dress,
being made for a woman, has no pockets.
Are you offering me a basket? Can you spare?
Is that why you slowed down at the side of the road
to stare?

Why did I smash my dozen dreams, you ask?
Why? I only had the one basket. And these dreams,
as dreams will, were fast spoiling. I hurried.
What do you think? I slipped, and here you are, witness.
Have you soap and water in your car if you’ve stopped
to stare?

Am I going to turn back and fetch new eggs, you ask?
No, I’m going to stay here at the side of the road
so you can stare at me. I have no extra dreams at home, no.
But I still have my basket. No pockets to hide these hands
sticky with hopes regretted, but— How much longer are you here
to stare?



Photo source: https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/05/refrigerate-eggs.html

To Turn Around

Seaglass stack against sky

We took the train to the shore.

‘How far should we go?’ said Matthias. I wanted to reach the headland, to stand across from my favourite island, to look senselessly for the pair of socks I lost there months ago. I wanted to do The Whole Walk. Even though it was beyond my strength. ‘Let’s turn around now,’ said Matthias. ‘How about we turn around now?’ said Matthias, still later.

I stopped, my mind snatching at the island, at the headland, at the socks I still missed. I stopped, but I wasn’t sweet about it. I turned. And there was the sky.

Have you seen a sky like I saw? The sea glass in my pocket rose into the clouds to wash up on a new shore. Colour translucent. This sky had been there behind me, behind us, so serene, smoothed, taking some air before the coming storm. But I didn’t know.

We made our way slowly back to the town, to the station, as rain began to fall. I realised I wanted to hold his hand. The inside of my mind, like the tide pools, coursed clear and quickly back, returning, turning (in)to the Sea.



Photo source as far as I could trace it: https://pin.it/nt5mmnvruilqxd

Missing: Socks

Milsey Bay c Richard Webb

It is a beach on the North Sea ate my socks.
They’re missing, and I can only think they tumbled
out when I got out the picnic blanket.
And we all know how sand muffles a fall.

They are emerald green with heels
plastered in yellow lichen. Soft
like rain hissing on choppy water.
I took them to the sea because they’re a pair.

I have the sea now, but no socks
and I’m in a fit. Embarrassing!
Why do I need my socks the colour of the sea
at the seaside anyway! Well, I do!

The sea has my socks and doesn’t need them.
This is all I can think about.
The sea is already emerald. Already footed
with lichen. The sea doesn’t need my socks.

If you see my socks, please phone this number.
I will pay you the North Sea in notes on the spot.



Photo credit: https://www.thebeachguide.co.uk/south-scotland/lothian/milsey-bay-north-berwick.htm

The apple tree I tried to grow in Africa


The apple tree I tried to grow in Africa

did not bear apples,
did not grow much taller
than the day it came home with me
from the tree nursery
in a black plastic bag.
‘It will not do well,’ my father said to me
gently. ‘I’m afraid it will die,’ he clarified.
‘I’m not even sure it is an apple tree as you know it,’
he said. ‘It’s not what you think.’
But an apple is beautiful.
The point was never to eat apples.
The point was never to climb apple tree limbs.
The point was that an apple is beautiful.
It is a shape you could not imagine, ever,
like the cashew nut and its fruit.
Everything beautiful I can find
is for Africa who let me sit in her lap
and who separated strands of my hair,
wrapping them with black plastic twine
so I could look as wiggly pretty as she did,
knowing perfectly from the start
the twine would slide
from my slippery copper head.
‘It will not do well,’ Africa’s grandmother said
gently. ‘I’m afraid it will die,’ she clarified.
‘I am not even sure it is a human as you know it,’
she said. ‘It’s not what you think.’
The point is I am a colour no one could imagine,
like the inside of the cashew fruit.
I remind Africa’s grandmother of the poison
fumes Africa burns off the cashew nut
to make it something safe to eat.
It is not possible to imagine me as beautiful.
But in her lap, with kindness only, Africa
has made me safe to eat.


Domestic Joys


I am the first fire
of the morning, my Love.

I’m telling you,
the thing’s just done—
It’s only been minutes!
The wood just took. Look
at it! The poem I made
is burning strong. I am
the first fire of the morning.

Warm your hands. Here.

Ah, look. Here they come. Every
small housemaid in the village
is coming to my hearth for coals

Have some! Have some!
Please. I’ll surely borrow
a poem of my own soon, soon.
It’s not every day the sticks
of this brain are dry.

a poem for a cold morning!
Tell your mistress I send
my respects. What a poem!
What a morning!

Here’s your porridge, my Love.
Extra tasty today.


Photo credit: http://www.mediamaxnetwork.co.ke/439931/urugi-kuhitukira-nguu-nyumu-na-micakwe-ni-uracungiriria-gutherema-kwa-mirimu-ya-cancer-na-asthma/

The Kite


When I found you afloat in the North Sea
the heart in me saw straight away what you are: a kite.
I did not know water bones could be so white,
so fisted, although the mind in me did.

Your carapace is a squat pebble with nothing of stone
inside—what an egg wishes it were before it cracks.
You have eight arms, but one is bent back on itself
and the heart in me squeezes why.

A thin tether of frail translucent seaweed trails
from one crooked crozier. You are ardent
for air and someone to wind out the reach
of your kite heart in me. Your sister heart in me.

Wondering to stillness, my heels sink. Undertow
of memory I wish I could comb back from selfishness.
Were you alive—near—when I stood on this beach
before? What colour are you really? Is a crab’s blood red?

Memories pinwheel down and the mind in me knows you
were there every moment, but you I don’t remember. My fingers
stream sand. In photographs, your smile is secret and lonely.
The heart in me dives for you but the water swirls brown.

You have no organs anymore. You dispensed with the heart
in you, the turbulent intestine torment mind. When
did you scoop them over the side? Did they weigh so much? When
did you know the sea dreams were for somebody else?

Little sister. Nobody fastened a string to what the heart
in me now knows are your wings. It was you who tied it.
You whose seven arms curled in with self preservation
but broke your own bones bending the eighth toward the sky.

Soon you will be light, dry, ready. Ardent you, ardent me.
Kite you are, anchor I can be. Turn on turn, kite, girl.
Ardour to our ardour, will the Wind curl into your pebble
with no stone inside?
Pry her legs into rest, let her fly.



How will we say no this time?
How will we forget how small he was
and how the whorl of his lately-licked fur
between new eyes
followed the rain troughs through the clay
to the long-empty stream?
How will we forget how steady
was God’s hand as she drew in kohl
beneath his eyes
and how ardently she smudged the oils
down the swollen slope of his nose?
How will we forget?
His hooves are seed pods still furred!

You have killed his mother
while she still had young.
as though a rebuke will change how small he is.
(And is this a rebuke here?)
You thought to yourselves
We will sell him, and aimed your guns.

As you try not to look
into the duiker antelope’s eyes
your hands hang by your side, big
as the machetes strapped to the hunters’ backs, big
like you only just realised your presence
in this country did the deed.
You assume too much!
The duiker blinks like equatorial suns
both slowly and before you are ready.

We remember the darling of mum’s heart.
We remember how she doted on her antelope baby
as she did not know to dote on her daughters
or her son when we were this small.
We remember how her darling sapling-stepping antelope
disappeared one day, grown so strong
on the bottles of powdered milk she fed her.
We saw her near the road, the neighbours said.
You are not telling me everything you know,
you replied, trying not to gesticulate.
You must not unman yourself
with a raised voice or a gesture too wide.
What is that I smell
on the ghosts of yesterday’s fire?
Darling darling antelope that Mum pitied!

How much will you pay?
Not one abashed. They are ready to play.
If you do not buy him he will die,
in tones they learned sucking
at Fate’s dry breasts.
He has no mother.
You close your eyes.
Who else will care for him?
You flare your nostrils
but not too unmanly wide.
You are a Stoic adaptation.
They consider this your play.
And why does he have no mother, eh?
They grin. They know our ways. Our antelope darlings.
But if I take pity, you will only slaughter more.
Don’t you know these hills were once full of deer?
Full of warthog, monkey, baboon?
And now! Now see this baby antelope
we will forget.

Many, many years later in a windowless kitchen,
eating rice and beans again
while the windows of bills
shake out like tin foil beaten too thin,
I won’t be able to bring myself to save
even twenty-five dollars of my tax return
against calamity. And I will realise
the true question.

It is not
How we would forget
(we did)
but how could you not shoot?

Spending every last dollar
of the furtive movement in the tall
savanna grass
I will know.
The temptation to sell the fawn
was never the justification
to kill the mother.

Will the brash embroidery
and bells on the backs of a Wasingari past
fill daughters and sons?
Only Nikki parade grounds.
If you beat the splendour
of wild horses into obedience
will you hold back the hunger
felling the forest from inside, bribe by bribe?
No, I realise.
If you didn’t eat her, the neighbours would.

You would not be a laughingstock that day.
That was our job, wasn’t it?
Foreigners are good for something.
Laughing is the only way to cry
in Wasingari country.

Will we decide this time
that the former glory of these hills
is yours to lose?
We have never lived off this land.
Our own country is merciless enough
to keep our guns trained on the underbrush
in the season of the young.

(Picture credit: Tracey Beer. This print is available for sale: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/baby-duiker-tracey-snyman.html)



A forage for courage
is like gathering sɔmbu from the Wonder Tree:
in the teeth of bees.

Doucement, doucement I tend
the trance conditions and
the sɔmba stirs
severs from the twig
punctures its
squashy green sleeping bag as it
thuds down
and the bees come. Oh they come!
Can’t my instinct move
any faster? I mutter.
How come bees get to the nuts before me?

Stealing sɔmbu out from under them
is my gathering of strength:
a turn of phrase here, a cadence snatched there.

The pleasure-bent bee
desires like all the tongues
of the five thousand anteaters
left in the wild.
And here am I, outside
the Wonder Tree’s cool canopy
hesitating, spying my chance,
my corrugated tin skin pings in the heat.
How come I taste the hills outside my home
so relentlessly
yet I can’t tongue language?

Discipline (old friend!)
is a practiced pinch in where the pulp sags:
muscle memory spits the word out of its casing.

The slimiest, smoothest, glossiest
brownest brown brown
nut of the sub-saharan plateau
is just the eye of a bushbaby
in the front garden at night.
Nothing is less secret
than what is right before me if I still
and shine a light.
How do I make myself understand
that writing is the only way I will see?

This forage! this forage! this forage!
morning by morning by morning
is the worthy work.
Sɔmben gum will keep the skin of my soul.

I will be supple all harmattan long.
I will oil off the white flake on my arms
wash chalk off my blackboard legs
fill the dry season river beds
of the bark of this sɔm tree skin.
I will make it through harmattan.
(God is willing.)
When the trade winds blow these bees off-course
I will rub the butter of the sɔmbu into
a mind that will soon be brown with
bravery, resolve, habit.

I will not have to say to my neighbour, again,
Please borrow me some shea butter.
Not unless I want conversation.

I have this my own Wonder Tree.

(Photo credit: https://www.cirad.fr/en/news/all-news-items/articles/2014/science/shea-butter-in-burkina-faso-better-incomes)

Week Five: Poetry Resource Lists


I am reading poems, right enough

but not the ones.

I’m to read poems upon poems upon poems
to learn, learn, learn
in journals
and chapbooks
and manuals
and anthologies
and those horrifying spoken word ordeals
to pick up voices I have never heard before.

Right, I say. I can make this work for me.
Haven’t I been meaning to
learn, learn, learn about West African poets?
I will read
Nigerian poets
Ghanaian poets
African immigrant poets.
They’re not from French West Africa, but
close enough? Closer than
Anne Stevenson
Hugh Macdiarmid
Seamus Heaney.

But the libraries here
don’t have poems upon poems upon poems
by African writers,
even the anglo ones.

And how can I stop reading
poem after poem after poem
about starfish and swans and owls
and too many mentions of flowers
learning and learning and learning
to be as astonished as Mary Oliver?

And how can I stop reading
my guide, John Leax,
few of whose poems I even begin to understand
when soon it could be too late to write
a proper letter he would accept?
To tell him thank you I did read your book


Thank you for writing beyond
my ability to understand.

I am amazed.
I am lost.
I am finally hearing the voices I already


The Poet of Action

Airthrey Loch from bridge

Airthrey Loch, University of Stirling

As I sat by the loch to eat my sandwich, my head was full of water. I longed to swim in the sea, in the loch—anywhere wild I could swim. I began to card this wool of longing around a chip of wood, winding words. I will write a poem about this, I said. I will write a poem about how desperately I long to swim in this loch, swim in the sea. I begin, I am Tineke. All I ever want is to swim in the sea. When I dream of canoeing, it is that I want to be the canoe.

A sudden, neat plunge! A man is swimming in this late September loch! A man is swimming in this late September day! Swimming across the loch, arm over arm, his head in a bathing cap, his hands propeller blades.

The poem can no longer be about longing. The poet is ashamed.