Virtual Anthology of SA Poetry

Ken Barris

Drawing a bat

I take courage from the proud,
the delicate skeletal spread
of this wing, the charcoal-
shaded translucent fabric,
though not from the sere
ugliness of the face, a virus
drawn too large and riddled
with fear. Both belong
to a bat I would draw,
if I could, on a thick
sheet of cartridge paper,
exactly square.

I cannot see its whistle
in flight, the cut and snatch
of its path, or the vital sonic
organ of its brain. It’s too dark
now, and the aromatic pencil
shavings remind me of something
marginal and clean –

they’re windswept beaches
in miniature if you straighten them
carefully enough. Besides,
there are other animals waiting –
greater, more fierce, or oxen-eyed
with rough human feet – to be done.
Let the imprint of the bat wait then,
its spatchcocked body sundered,
thrown to the void, but obtusely
present in the lead
I’ve destroyed.


Dialogue for one

It’s crowded in the room.
We turn about and breathe
the vapours other people breathe.
Where are you going this summer?
My feet are broken alabaster,
unknown bits of the Venus de Milo.
That mask you wear was once
my face. I’m reminded that the skin
is delicate, prone to tear.


Long beach

Limitless greys, the abrasive whisper
of sand. The gulls leave off wrangling

and lift into the wind, tracing
so carefully its clean anatomy

its faceless design.

Here is an empty shell won
from the anthologies, the spiral

staircase broken; there the black
casing of a shark, twisted open.

The sea lifts itself gently, gently
collapses; only my blood’s dull

trochee counts the time.

Ken Barris


Ken Barris writes poetry, short stories and novels, and has won literary awards in South Africa for work in all three genres, including the prestigious M-Net Book Prize. His first novel, The Jailer's Book (Kagiso Publishers), appeared in 1996, and was followed by Evolution (Zebra Press, 1998).


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