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Selection of poems by John Eppel
November 20, 2006

If you would like to contact John Eppel please email him at

Let us now Praise

Nu sculon herigean, not famous
men, for God's sake, nor our fathers. Let's praise
those with nothing to say, and infinite
ways of saying it, like the singing head
of Orpheus, poet who overstays
the blooming rose, sings worlds into being,
sets sportsmen and chartered accountants free,
but only once he's lost Eurydice.

Nu sculon herigean, not Stalky
and Co, though their humble work continues.
Let's praise Philomela, the nightingale,
ravished, wordless singer (heard long ago
by Ruth, homesick, standing in tears among
strangers), but only once she's lost her tongue.

Hillside road in August

This avenue should have been lined with trees
large enough to nest hamerkops, shelter
vervets, resolve the discord of a breeze;
shade road-rage, allay the helter-skelter
of wheelbarrows, bikes, cars, trucks, juggernauts,
stray donkies, bumless boys with attitude,
buxom girls in tackies and mincing shorts . . .
trees that could claim the public's gratitude.

Instead it's dotted with colonials
too scrawny for children to climb, or snakes
to whisper in. Yet when that blossom spills
its incense on the smouldering grass, takes
to heart a variegated pink, a white
slipper: there comes a moment of delight.


Hair is alive and dead.
It has a good smell,
like wax crayons.

Hair is a paradox:
it's dead and alive;
poets love hair.

Hair can be dissolute.
Woman of my dreams,
let down your hair.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
please let down your hair
that I may climb

into your cosy bed,
that I may linger
in paradise.

Woman of the attic,
your hair is on fire;
Bertha grunting

Come down to me, grunting
Bertha, that I may
sojourn in hell.

Hair is a conversion
of subject-object;
a paradox

beloved of poets;
hair is redolent
of wax crayons.

Hornbills in my garden

Reborn I am among the hungry ghosts;
again I hear the hornbill's plaintive cry;
attended to once more by all the hosts
of heaven and of hell. "Cast a cold eye"
says the poet, but I am too attached.
Hornbills by the number have come crying
into town; yellow-grey and dusty, hatched
in coffins of mopani wood, flying
high then dipping like soup ladles; crashing
bashing in the branches tall, calling . . . call
me to the table, serve me, kiss me, sing
to me. God have mercy on me, and all
he has to disobedience consigned,
and don't forget to kill me once I've dined.

Sing Me a Song

Canta mihi aliquid, boubou shrike;
something new, not that same old soulful tune
that brings into being the sun and moon,
which accompanied our marathon hike
to the Jessie Hotel in wintry June;
recalling a childhood that, all to soon,
played itself out - on a car tyre, a bike
attached by knickers to a red balloon.

Canta mihi aliquid, saddest bird,
but nothing that recalls a certain girl
with ankles of coral and eyes of pearl.
Sing me something new, something yet unheard
that brings into being ashes and dust;
stillness; something to sink my wanderlust.

Grass in Winter

I gather armfuls of tow-headed grass:
the dusty smell is intoxicating;
then I dance until the last flaxen stalk
drifts away on a cross-breeze. In winter
grass is blond like the children of settlers;
and at dusk, there's a wisp of gold, a rasp
of strawberry, a rustle of ash, a
sighing of bottles without corks. The moon
begins to climb, then all is platinum
cooling my nostrils, corners of my eyes,
shells of my ears, fingertips. Winter
spins itself into a blanket of love,
which, neither puffed up nor vaunting, briefly
transcends faith, and hope, and doubt, and despair.

(after Botticelli)

I use the same knife to amputate my
little toe, and to cut the olive twig
poised like a paint brush; then turn to the sigh
reeking of locust, wild honey, dried fig,
which escapes from your slackening mouth, dear
John. Notice how like a pencil I hold
the dudgeon. Look carefully at the smear
of our blood mingled with slime in a fold
of my lace-edged smock.

                                      There's a wind blowing
against us; our water bottles are dry,
and there's some kind of conflict going
on in the background. Many souls will fly.
My slave, bearing your head on hers, looks vexed,
but I'm resigned: your cousin will be next.

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