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Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Series Two, Part Five)

Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times (Series Two, Part Five)

In times of uncertainty, many readers turn to poetry, seeking not just consolation but clarity. “Unlocked: Poems for Critical Times” brings South African poems to those facing the isolation, confusion and unease engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic. In a situation in which information is being transferred at disquieting speed, poetry asks us to slow down, to attend with care to the way poetic language re-creates our singular interior lives and loves as well as our shared social and political landscape.

Editors’ note to readers: The automated sound device that accompanies articles in the Daily Maverick is to assist readers who are blind or have reading difficulties. It is not designed for poetry. Where possible, we advise you to read the poems rather than listen.

Gus Ferguson, poet, cartoonist and publisher, is an engaging figure. His modesty, generosity to other writers, wide reading, witty but never vindictive humour and his inventive play with words have endeared him to numerous readers. The quick-fire drawings may look like doodles, but they are not. They are vehicles for an intense scrutiny of the order and disorder of the things of the world. His influences seem to be Belloc, Ogden Nash, Basho, jazz and cycling, not necessarily in that order. The most enduring poems and images focus on the literary world, especially the egos of poets; on the follies and tribulations of middle-aged and older people; on snails and their philosophical perspectives; and like all great humorists, on life, death and everything in-between.

May you enjoy this sampling of his work, drawn from his numerous books with the help of Jo-Anne Friedlander.


Thirteen Haiku


Tired of book and tract
And thesis, I turn to life
For exegesis.


—A Dialogue Proving God’s Existence

“Look how perfectly
That small chameleon there
Is camouflaged!” “Where?”


The rain, when it pours,
Beats through the trees like discreet
Japanese applause.


Just the briefest glimpse;
Then all eternity for


In a single star
Hotel, a bedside lamp sheds
Light on the Bible.


—from Matthew

Lots of people in
Plumstead, Dad, play pianos
At night-it’s lank sad. 



How wonderful to
Age: Two moons and a double
Plenitude of stars. 


We paid sixpence (it
Was a lot then) to see the
Invisible man.


Wooden poles support
The vines. The dead and
Living intertwined.


Die verre sterre
Wink. Die kosmos is beslis
Immer en bewus.



Eight ’o clock; the cars
How urgently they rush to
Reach the traffic jam



On cold crystal nights
A galaxy of grounded stars –
The city lights.


Out of the harbour,
A little effort, a few
Waves – the land is lost.

Cartoon by Gus Ferguson

Love amongst the Middle-aged

For Nicky after 11323 blissful mornings

Each morn at dawn the slanting light,
Romantic in my failing sight,
Surrounds, like love, her perfect form.

She moves about our nuptial dorm
And murmurs as in deep despair;
‘Whatever is a girl to wear?’

I watch with tea cup in my grip,
Its rim obscures my trembling lip,
And realise how much I’m blessed:

Awakening from a long night’s rest
To witness, freed from lust’s blind curse,
My daily striptease in reverse.

Cartoon by Gus Ferguson


Cartoon by Gus Ferguson

Alzheimer’s freight

Those things that you wish
to remember are not lost

or forgotten, but
packed up and sent on ahead.

Cartoon by Gus Ferguson

Geriatric plight

Oh, let us all give
copious thanks:

that we are each other’s
memory banks.

Cartoon by Gus Ferguson

Paradox gained

I read all the classics. I studied the news.
I stared at my navel. I still had the blues.

I trudged in the mountains. I walked by the sea.
I carried a burden. The burden was me.

I put myself down and, with consummate ease,
I floated away in the afternoon breeze.

But who is this self that’s free from all woe?
And what is the burden abandoned below?

These are the thoughts, and many such more,
that trouble me now as I weightlessly soar.

A word to the aged

When ageing brains deteriorate
and memories get short

it’s difficult to separate
within an addled head

those lovely things that one has thought
from those that one has read.

Cartoon by Gus Ferguson

With thanks to Nicky Ferguson for permission to reproduce Gus Ferguson’s poems. DM/ML/MC


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